Highland worked to control the tempo at home against undefeated and state-ranked Fredericktown and it worked for nearly all the game.
Unfortunately for the Scots, their opponents were able to hold them to two points over the final four minutes of the game, allowing them to turn a 33-30 lead into a 42-32 victory.
“I thought we did a great job playing with some mental toughness,” said Highland coach Christian Toombs. “We’ve kept preaching that if they give everything they have — and they have — we’ll give them everything we have. That’s why I feel so bad. We couldn’t help them change the outcome.”
For much of the game, Highland did a good job of taking the air out of the ball and keeping the tempo at a slower pace than the Freddies would have preferred.
“With the studs they have and coach (Derek) Dibling at the helm, I don’t think 42 points is a thing they want to do,” said Toombs.
Only six of that total came in the first quarter, as a three-pointer by Highland’s Jordan Bellamy provided the only points scored by either team over the first four minutes of action. A basket and free throw from Gavin Hankins, two points from Rider Minnick and one free throw by Garrett Fitzpatrick boosted the Scot lead to a 9-3 margin before a Kaid Carpenter three-pointer brought the Freddies within three after eight minutes of play.
Baskets by Fitzpatrick, Hankins and Wyatt Groves helped the Scots lead 15-10 midway through the second period, but Fredericktown would battle back to take a slim lead into the half. While Bellamy scored four points for Highland down the stretch in the quarter, the Freddies got five from Lincoln Cunningham and four from Caleb Sheriff — including a bucket in the final seconds of the half that gave his team a 21-19 lead at the intermission.
Neither team got much offense going in the third. Four points by Bellamy and a three-pointer by Brock Church allowed Highland to take a slim 7-6 advantage over those eight minutes to cut the Fredericktown lead to a 27-26 margin.
The teams remained close in the early going of the fourth. While Cunningham hit a pair of shots for the Freddies, Highland got two each from Fitzpatrick and Bellamy to stay within a 31-30 count. Two free throws by Ty Hatfield put the Freddies up by three with 4:35 left. Nearly 50 seconds later, Highland got two free throws, but could not convert.
After that, Sheriff made the home team pay, scoring seven straight points over a two-minute stretch to put Fredericktown in front by a 40-30 score. Bellamy hit a pair of free throws with 1:20 left in regulation, but his team would not be able to overcome that late Fredericktown run.
Bellamy scored 15 points to lead Highland in the game. One game after hitting eight three-pointers in a close loss against Cardington, the Scot junior did most of his work inside on this night. Toombs noted that he was pleased with Bellamy’s efforts.
“We’ve asked Jordan to do a lot this year,” he said. “We moved him to point guard, two-three-four games into the season. We ask him to run the offense, score for the offense and also play defense. I couldn’t be more proud of him as a player and young man. He took the ball hard to the hole and created contact and he made his free throws.”
After a week in which his Scots had two close losses to two of the top team in the KMAC, Toombs feels his players just need to continue working to improve in many facets of the game — from the weight room to continuing to progress both on and off the court. However, he did approve of the overall effort his players showed against the Freddies.
“I thought we did a good job playing tough offense,” he said. “We ran time off the clock and got the shots we wanted.”