Preston Saunders led the Tigers with 17 points in their SE District Sectional Quarterfinal win over Washington, Monday at Southeastern High School. (HCP Photos/Stephen Forsha)
Preston Saunders led the Tigers with 17 points in their SE District Sectional Quarterfinal win over Washington, Monday at Southeastern High School. (HCP Photos/Stephen Forsha)
CHILLICOTHE — The McClain Tigers have been putting in the work to prepare for the SE District Sectional Quarterfinals, and on Monday night in the Division II tournament game, that work paid off in a big way as they defeated the Washington Blue Lions 59-25.

No. 15 McClain’s win advances them to the sectional semifinals on Wednesday as they’ll face the No. 2 seeded Jackson Ironmen, which is another Frontier Athletic Conference rematch, just as the game against Washington was on Monday night at Southeastern High School.

Before they take on the Ironmen, in their tournament game against the Blue Lions (0-23) the Tigers — though they gave up two points early on — dominated the first frame with a 14-4 lead when eight minutes had ticked away on the clock, as this was the third time this season the Tigers have defeated the Blue Lions.

“It is one of those wins where you are tempted to say if you could only see how hard our guys worked in preparation to make that look easy because it really wasn’t easy,” MHS head coach Joe B. Stewart said. “Our guys really expended themselves, and our defense has made a lot of progress since the start of the year when we faced Zane Trace.

“To be able to win a tournament game was important to each and every one of our kids and frankly to our program. We feel like when we take care of the basketball, we develop some options. Our young guys have really improved, and our junior class is continuing to come along. Dakota Pollock (a senior) is everyone’s big brother. He’s a unifier, and he’s a guy when he’s on the floor everybody is rooting for him. Tonight is just one where everything came together for us.”

In those opening eight minutes of basketball, the Tigers tied the score at 2-2 with a bucket by Preston Saunders, followed by consecutive points from Braden Wright (who totaled five points in the win) and a free throw from Bryson Badgley for a 7-2 lead with 3:51 left in the first frame.

“Braden isn’t a guy who is going to fill up the scoreboard, but he had four offensive rebounds on our first five trips up the floor,” Stewart said. “I told him on the sideline, ‘Whatever it is you ate, eat that again because you had a lot of spring.’”

Saunders led the way for McClain with 17 points, including four two-point baskets and three 3-pointers. Badgley finished with 16 points with three two-point baskets, three 3-pointers and he was 1-of-2 in his free-throw attempts.

Following a basket by the No. 18 seeded Blue Lions, the Tigers ended the first quarter with a layup by Saunders, a jumper by Badgley and two made free throws with no time on the clock by Camden Closson for the 10-point lead at 14-4.

The second frame had more of the same from the McClain squad, as the team from the “School of Beauty” again handled their business in the ensuing eight minutes to build a lead of 34-17 at halftime.

In the second frame, McClain had two 3-pointers from Saunders, two 3-pointers and a basket by Badgley, a 4-of-4 performance from the free-throw line by Lyle White and Closson going 2-of-2 from the free-throw line as well.

White finished with eight points in the win, while Closson totaled six points.

Washington’s 13-point second frame included seven points by Tanner Lemaster, four points by Calum Brown and two points from the free-throw line by Mitch Lotz.

Having the 17-point lead entering the third frame was just the start for the Tigers, with them outscoring Washington 16-3 in the third for a 50-20 lead when the quarter came to a close.

McClain opened the third with a 14-0 run, which began with a layup by Saunders and two points by White. Next was a 3-pointer by Badgley, followed by two points off a basket by Saunders.

Saunders sank a 3-pointer with 2:34 on the clock for a 46-17 lead. The run of scoring concluded with a jumper from Closson. Following a free throw by the Blue Lions, the Tigers added two more points from White in the quarter, and the Blue Lions were last to score in the frame with a basket.

There was a running clock in the third frame as McClain had a large enough lead over their conference counterpart for it to begin. MHS won the frame at 9-5 with their points coming from Badgley with a basket, four points by Matt Bliss with his two buckets, plus Dakota Pollock made one field goal and Noah Reeves ended the game with a free-throw conversion for the 34-point win.

Washington’s five points in the fourth were from Kaison Runk, Brice Cartwright and Brown.

Runk led the Blue Lions with eight points, and next was Lemaster with seven points. Brown totaled six points in the Washington loss.

As a team, the Blue Lions totaled nine two-point baskets, one 3-pointer and were 4-of-8 from the free-throw line.

McClain finished the game with 15 two-point baskets, six 3-pointers and they were 11-of-16 in their free-throw shot attempts. MHS out-rebounded the Blue Lions, 27-13, and going into the fourth frame the Tigers had committed just two turnovers.

“This was a nice payoff for a whole lot of work, and this group now believes when we do our thing and stay on script, we are a hard team to play right now, and we hope that rings true on Wednesday,” Stewart said.

The Tigers will play again Wednesday, Feb. 19 at 6:15 p.m. at Southeastern High School against the Jackson Ironmen. JHS won the previous two meetings against McClain this season.