By BRETT MARSHALL
LEOTI — In the late-season surge by the Syracuse boys basketball team, there have been two areas that have proved to be difference-makers for the Bulldogs: limited turnovers and the sudden emergence of junior Latigo Petersen as a third legitimate scoring threat for coach Bill Peeper.
Those two areas proved crucial in Friday night's 50-40 triumph over the Meade Buffaloes in the first semifinal contest of the Class 2A sub-state tournament in Leoti.
Friday's victory puts the Bulldogs (18-4) in position to face top-seeded and highly-ranked Spearville (20-1) in tonight's 7:30 p.m. championship game. The same two schools will also meet in the girls title game at 6 p.m. Spearville's teams both are top-seeded and Syracuse's teams came in as the second seeds.
In a game that started eerily similar to last year's sub-state championship game in Johnson, this one started with Syracuse coming out of the blocks fast. With senior Andrew Brown scoring nine of his game-high 15 points in the opening quarter, the Bulldogs were seemingly on cruise control with a 19-8 lead.
"We got up early and it wasn't quite as dramatic as last year (33-16 halftime lead) and I thought the kids did a good job right off the start," Peeper said. "We did a good job of taking care of the ball and that's been very important to us here in the last couple of weeks."
The play of the 6-foot-1 Petersen was also critical for the Bulldogs as he came off the bench to score 13 points, including 5-of-7 field goals. The second factor — turnovers — saw the Bulldogs guilty of only nine miscues while Meade committed 17 turnovers.
"Latigo has really become more aggressive inside in the last several games and it is big for us," Peeper said. "When you add in another dimension to our scoring, it takes a little pressure off Drew (Brown) and Tate (Housholder). He's just been a big spark for us."
In this once-a-year battle between these teams, the Bulldogs once again got the best of the Buffaloes, but not without a tug-of-war battle.
"You know they'll always come at you with their best effort," Peeper said. "We've had a good string going against them and now we have put ourselves in the position we've wanted — a chance to go to state again."
The Bulldogs were coming off their best record in school history (23-3) and a third-place finish in Manhattan, their best-ever placing, and they've had a few games where things were not in sync. That problem, though, seems to have been solved as they finished off the regular season with a road win at Holcomb and now two victories in the sub-state.
"A lot of teams would like to be where we are," Peeper said. "These kids have worked very hard to get back here and they know what it takes to get to Manhattan. We're aware Spearville is a good team and we're looking forward to it."
Housholder got into early foul trouble for the Bulldogs and sat for much of the first half and managed just six points, but did have a team-high nine rebounds.
Randall Friesen had 10 points and 12 rebounds to pace the Buffaloes (15-7) but the team could muster only 4-of-19 from 3-point range after knocking down three of their first five.
"I thought we defended well against them and their big guys got into some foul trouble and it turned into a guard game," Peeper said.
Syracuse would see its lead slip to 28-21 at halftime and by the end of three quarters Meade was right back in the game at 35-32. While the Buffs could never regain the lead, they were still down just 41-38 when Colton Little connected on a short jumper with 4:07 to go in the game.
That, though, was the last time the Buffs would score until 37 seconds showed on the clock. By then, Syracuse had built the lead back to 50-38 and closed the door on the game.
Syracuse 50, Meade 40
MEADE (15-7) — Hernandez 4-15 0-0 11, Little 2-6 0-0 4, Temata-Frost 1-3 0-1 2, Cordes 1-4 0-1 2, Benear 3-4 2-3 9, Friesen 5-7 0-0 10, Gleaso 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 17-41 2-5 40.
SYRACUSE (18-4) — Parks 0-1 0-0 0, Brown 6-16 2-3 15, B. Simon 1-6 3-3 5, Housholder 3-8 0-2 6, Petersen 5-7 3-8 13, D. Simon 2-4 0-0 4, Burkett 3-7 1-2 6, McAllister 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-49 9-18 50.
Meade 8 13 11 8 — 40
Syracuse 19 9 7 15 — 50
3-point goals — Meade 4-19 (Hernandez 3-14, Little 0-1, Cordes 0-3, Benear 1-1), Syracuse 1-5 (Parks 0-1, Brown 1-3, B. Simon 0-1). Rebounds — Syracuse 32 (Housholder 9), Meade 31 (Friesen 12). Turnovers — Meade 17, Syracuse 9. Fouls — Meade 15, Syracuse 11. Fouled out — Meade (Benear).