Great defense paved the way for the Highland girls’ basketball team to advance in the Division II Central District tournament Monday night.

Hosting Bexley in the first round of sectionals, the Lady Scots held their opponents to four points in each of the first two quarters and led comfortably for virtually all of a 41-29 victory.

“We knew from the start, it’d be defense on both sides,” said Highland coach Whitney Levering-Smith. “We were involved, active and communicated the entire time.”

In the first quarter, Highland jumped out to a 4-0 lead after a pair of buckets from Gena West. Bexley would get on the board at the 5:10 mark on a shot from Shyla Hutchins, but the Scots responded with eight straight points — four by Madison Cecil — to open up a 12-2 lead.

Bexley would get two free throws to end the period and then tallied the only point during the first three minutes of the second period to get within a 12-5 margin. However, Cecil would come to her team’s rescue, scoring seven points in the final five minutes of the half to give Highland a 19-8 advantage going into the half.

“That’s pretty much what she’s done all season,” said Levering Smith of Cecil’s performance. “If we struggle, she steps up and makes something happen for her or for other players.”

Highland assured themselves of the win with a pair of second-half runs. Holding a 23-14 lead early in the third quarter, the team put up seven straight. West opened the run with a basket. Brooklyn Geiger drew a foul and hit the first of two free throws. The Scots maintained possession when the second was missed and Cecil connected for two more. Then, leading 28-14, the team got a basket from Madison Gordon to lead by 16.

Bexley would battle back to get within a 31-19 margin going into the final period, but the Scots came out playing well on both sides of the ball in the fourth. Defensively, they shut out their opponents for the first four minutes of the period. On the other side of the ball, Peyton Carpenter and Cecil both hit three-pointers and Brooklyn Baird and Gordon both scored from two-point range as the Highland lead ballooned to a 41-19 score.

“We knew it was our home court and we wanted to finish it out strong,” said Cecil of her team’s plan entering the final period.

While Bexley scored the final 10 points of the game, it wouldn’t be enough to get them back into the game. Cecil’s 17 points led all scorers, while West added eight.

Next up for Highland will be a trip to Beechcroft Friday night for a sectional championship. Levering Smith said that if her team can put forth the same kind of performance defensively as they did against Bexley, they’ll be able to earn the win, but noted that their opponents have an aggressive offensive style.

“They like to run, push the floor and shoot threes,” she said.

Highland’s Madison Cecil drives to the basket against Bexley in her team’s sectional victory on Monday night.’s Madison Cecil drives to the basket against Bexley in her team’s sectional victory on Monday night. Rob Hamilton | Morrow County Sentinel

By Rob Hamilton

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Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS