A fast start propelled the Highland girls’ basketball team past Mount Gilead by a 62-32 margin on Highland’s court Thursday night.
The Scots jumped out to a lead that got as large as 20 points over the first eight minutes to take control of the game and never relinquished that advantage in moving to 6-5 in league play and 7-11 overall. MG, still looking for their first league win, possesses a 3-15 record after the loss.
“That’s what we wanted to do,” said Scot coach Whitney Levering-Smith about her team’s great start. “After our great win at Centerburg, we wanted to have that mentality on our home court and kick some butt.
Kenzie Fuller opened the game with a basket for Highland, but Dakota Shipman connected with one-of-two free throws to make it a 2-1 contest. The Indians wouldn’t score for over seven minutes, though, allowing Highland to go on a 19-point run. Taylor Belcher tallied seven points during that run, while both Erica Sardinha and Kelsey Walters added four, as Highland jumped in front 21-1.
Highland’s defense played a big role in them jumping out to their big lead, as they were able to both get several fast break chances due to strong perimeter defense, as well as prevent MG from working the ball inside.
“Taylor (Belcher) had a lot of steals, especially in the first half, at the top of our 3-2 zone,” said Levering-Smith. MG coach
Ryan Stover agreed that Highland’s defense added to his team’s offensive struggles.
“We have improved so much this season,” he said. “We just can’t find a way to score. Their length played a big part in the first half and they played the passing lanes well. They played hard.”
Baylee Hack ended the first quarter with MG’s first made shot from the field, as she drained a three-pointer to make the score 21-4. The Indians continued to hit from beyond the arc in the second quarter, getting long-range shots from Madison Fitzpatrick and Hack in the first four minutes of the period. However, they would not be able to narrow their deficit, as Madison Cecil scored eight points, including six from three-point range, during that span to keep her team in front 29-10.
Highland would get a basket from Walters and a free throw from Fuller to move up by 22, but MG was able to score six straight, getting two points each from Samantha Sullivan, Shipman and Hack to narrow their deficit to 16. One free throw by Sardinha made it 33-16 in favor of the Scots at the half.
After Shipman hit from the field to bring MG within 15 to open the third quarter, Highland essentially slammed the door with a 10-0 run sparked by five points by Walters. While Mount Gilead got three each from Fitzpatrick and Sullivan to get within a 43-24 margin after the third, Highland finished the game strongly to wind up winning by 30.
Levering-Smith noted that her veteran team has worked hard to improve from last year through this season.
“Last year, especially, we had a lot of work to do fundamentally,” she said. “We still struggle a bit turnover-wise, but they do work very hard. Every day has been preaching and talking about giving 100 percent effort no matter who we play. We struggled with that during Christmas break. At that point, they realized four quarters and giving it all and we keep preaching that.”
As a result, the team already has won more league games than the five they claimed last year.
“We notice we’re 6-5 in the conference and that’s better than last year,” she said. “We’re celebrating tonight, knowing that we’ve progressed.”
For Mount Gilead, Stover noted that all his team can do is continue to improve, adding that a lot of his team’s struggles came from not running the offense properly early on, causing them to fall into too deep a hole in the early going.
“We settled in the first half,” he said. “Late in the first half, we decided we’d run the offense like we’re supposed to. The biggest thing is we don’t quit. All the girls have a lot of heart and pride in their community and we are tremendously better than we were day one.”
Hack hit three three-pointers and led the team with 11 points, while Fitzpatrick added eight. Highland got 11 from Sardinha, Walters and Fuller, while Cecil added 10 and Belcher scored nine.
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS