Furious run to regular season's end
With winter weather interruptions, it is hard to get to the end of the regular season. For Highland, ICC, Westside and Brookland, to name a few, there almost wasn't enough days in the week to get the games, senior nights and other activities in before the end. My goodness, Highland still hasn't crowned its Winter Royalty yet.
Highland played two games to start the week. The Lady Rebels beat the Lady Redskins, who were ranked number four, at Pocahontas, 43-39, on Feb. 7. The Rebels lost to the Seminoles, 77-40, at Osceola on Feb. 8.
Then the snow hit and everyone stayed home.
By Friday, Highland coaches had the challenge of not only getting in the rest of the regular season games, but finishing up the junior district tournament. Rebel Head Coach Chad Arnhart had to be at Valley View on Friday evening for the Junior Rebel contest against the home team, so the senior game against ICC at Brockwell was moved to the afternoon with the Lady Rebel game to follow. The Highland game was ICC's chance to honor it's seniors.
"I know they appreciated us coming over there. I was proud that we got a chance to go ahead and play," said Lady Rebel Head Coach Harlan Davis. "From their standpoint, I wish it could have been an evening game so they could recognize their kids and be a little bit more traditional."
The Cougars beat the Rebels 52-44, and the Lady Rebels defeated the Lady Cougars 65-37.
On Saturday, the Rebels honored their seniors and wrapped up conference play with a 41-38 home win against Brookland.
Earlier in the day, the Lady Rebels lost to a Westside team (19-6, 12-2) that needed the victory to win their first conference championship in 31 years. They share the crown with Valley View.
When the Lady Redskins visited Highland in December, they were able to jump on the Lady Rebels quick and run to a victory, but that wouldn't be the case at Pocahontas. Played to a good, but not typical crowd early in the day, because of weather concerns, Highland stayed out in front for the first half. They led 9-6 after one and 21-16 at halftime.
"I thought defensively we did a better job of not letting them get in the style of game they wanted. We didn't turn the ball over when we went to Pocahontas," explained Davis. "The biggest key is they weren't able to run it up and down the floor as much as they like to."
Even though they suffered a four-point third quarter and let the Lady Redskins tie the game at 23-all midway through the period, Highland was only down 26-25 by the end.
Junior Sydney Shackelford started the fourth with a 3-pointer and a steal and Highland was quickly up 30-26. The game tied again at 36-all, but the Lady Rebs never gave up the lead.
Alex Isaacs led Highland (13-12, 8-6) with 17 points and Bobi Jo Cooper added nine.
For two teams that haven't been in the same conference for about six years, the two Brookland-Highland matches have been fairly contentious with a lot of rough play and each team getting a technical foul in Saturday's game.
"I tell you what. We had one win in the conference. They had zero wins in the conference," said Arnhart. "That's frustration. We're both scrapping for wins and I think it just got intense from that standpoint."
The Bearcats played just a little better in the first half. They got an early 4-2 lead and kept it for most of the game. To Highland's credit, Brookland's lead got to nine at one point, but typically was around five.
Brookland led 11-7 after one and 22-17 at halftime.
Sterling Stowers, who had three treys in the first half, scored a bucket-plus-one to cut the score to 28-27 with 1:33 to play in the third. Brookland finished the quarter two of six from the free throw line to end the period up, 30-27.
"Sterling Stowers probably had his best game of the year. We've been waiting for that to happen," said Arnhart. "It's a good time for that to start."
Senior Brad Harris started the final frame with a bucket and two free throws to give Highland their first lead since 2-0, and they never relinquished it.
Brookland continued to struggle from the charity stripe going three for eight in the final quarter.
The Rebels got scores from Jalen Belleton and Harris Young, to go with eight of 12 from the line to secure the win.
"In the second half, we got more intense. When you're more intense and you play harder, it seems like good things happen for you," explained Arnhart.
Stowers led Highland (5-16, 2-12) with 17 points. Harris had 12.
Although Westside was playing for a conference trophy, the Lady Rebels were only playing for pride and momentum for the district tourney. They would be the fourth seed win or lose.
The Lady Warriors scored on their first four possession to jump out to an 8-0 lead in the first three minutes.
It took another three for Highland to tie the game at 8-all. Westside led 12-11 after the first quarter.
A 3-pointer by Hannah Young, a single free throw from Whitney Davis and Britney Bair, 10 turnovers, and a quarter-ending bucket by Isaacs is all Highland could manage in the second finding themselves down 31-18 at halftime.
"I thought we came out a little flat. We came out so intense the last four or five basketball games," said Davis.
The Lady Rebs outscored Westside 10-6 to cut the lead to 37-28 after three.
Late in the fourth, Isaacs hit four straight free throws, because of a foul and a technical foul on the Lady Warriors. This made the score just 46-40 with over two minutes to go. However, Westside outscored Highland 5-2 from the line to finish the game.
Isaacs led the team with 16 and Cooper had nine.
Young got a quick bucket for Highland and ICC struggled to hit a shot in the first quarter going two of 11 from the field.
Jed Yarnell gave the Cougars a free throw and Caleb Cowen and Preston Harmon each hit 3s to give ICC a 7-5 advantage with three minutes to go, but Jason Long hit a long shot to retake the lead, 8-7, at the end of one.
Harmon, who hit one three in each quarter, and Kyle King overcame a Stowers trey to start the second quarter and return the lead to ICC 12-11. There would be two more lead changes in the quarter with Highland finishing up 22-20 at halftime.
Cowen, Trenton Hatman and Dalton Grigg led the Cougars on a 6-0 run to start the third period and retake the lead from Highland.
Garrett Johnson gave the Rebs a two and a 3 to start a series of six possession with each team taking turns leading the game. It ended with two Ryan Walker free throws to make it 32-31. ICC was up 37-31 after three.
The Rebs' Johnson and Young began the final quarter on 8-0 run to take their final lead of the game.
The Cougars went on their own 10-0 run to get up 47-39 with just over two minutes to play.
Johnson and Young cut the score to 47-44, but four straight free throws by Hatman sealed the victory for the Cougars.
"They came in with a good record and they're one of the best teams in their league. We were toe-for-toe with them throughout the game," said Arnhart. "Every position is so critical for us. We let them get a couple of easy baskets and that's the difference in the game."
Harmon and Hatman led ICC with 12 and 10 points, respectively. Young scored 12 and Johnson 11 for Highland.
It took over two-and-a-half minutes, but finally Britney Bair scored to give the Lady Rebs a 2-0 start against the Lady Cougars. Amber Hall gave ICC five and Ashton Simino added three in the quarter, but Highland took a first-quarter lead, 11-8.
Issacs scored 14 of her game-leading 20 points in the second and the Lady Reb defense forced 10 turnovers to get into halftime up 34-19.
Lady Cougar Sami Wagner scored four to lead ICC in the third.
Bair scored seven to keep Highland out front, 48-27.
ICC was led by Hall with nine points, Simino added eight, and Kaydie Campbell six.
In the Feb. 8 game at Osceola, the Rebels held for a while their own against the Seminoles.
They were down just 21-14 after one and 41-31 at half, but Osceola went on a 13-0 run to start the third and Highland only scored four in the quarter to find themselves down 65-35.
"They got hot and they got the momentum. We just never could stop their momentum," said Arnhart.
Harris led the Rebs with 12 points.