Highland broke open a back-and-forth KMAC girls’ basketball game with a 20-point fourth quarter, as they came back to top host Mount Gilead by a 53-42 margin Saturday afternoon.
Dakota Shipman opened the fourth quarter for the Indians by hitting a basket, drawing a foul and draining her free throw to turn a 33-32 deficit to a 35-33 lead. Unfortunately for MG, they would only score two more points in the next 6:30 of action.
Highland took advantage of that slump, getting seven straight points from Brooklyn Baird to surge ahead by a 40-35 margin before a Madison Cecil basket gave them a seven-point lead.
Maddie Fitzpatrick hit a pair of free throws for the Indians to break their slump, but Highland got three points from Kenzie Fuller and two each from Erica Sardinha and Baird to increase their advantage to a 49-37 score.
“The difference was we were starting to rebound defensively as a team,” said assistant coach Payton Woodruff. “It really helps when you limit the amount of shots they get.”
While MG was able to finish the game with a pair of baskets, one from three-point range, from Fitzpatrick, Highland was able to get four free throws from Sardinha to preserve the win.
After the game was over, Indian coach Ryan Stover lamented his team’s fourth quarter slump, as well as a slow start that staked the Scots to an early lead.
“We went into a dry spell and for three to three-and-a-half minutes, didn’t score,” he said. “The girls played real, really hard. We’re steadily climbing uphill with the program and girls.”
Highland jumped out to a 11-3 lead in the first quarter, holding MG to a three-pointer by Holly Gompf while getting five points from Cecil and two each from Gena West, Baird and Sardinha. While MG’s offense woke up in the final two minutes of the quarter, they still trailed 15-9 entering the second quarter. Stover noted that his team struggled to move the ball in the early going, leading to some sloppy, turnover-riddled play.
“We decided to move the basketball,” he said of his team’s improved performance after the slow start. “Once we got movement, we were able to get our inside-out consistently. Take out the first three minutes and the three to three-and-a-half dry spell and we played really well.”
The roles were reversed in the second quarter. After Fuller scored for Highland to open the period, MG got eight straight points — five from Fitzpatrick — to tie the score at 17. Cecil temporarily broke the tie for the Scots, but the Indians finished the half with baskets by Baylee Hack and Alexis McCoy to take a two-point lead into the intermission.
“We were missing a lot of shots early and hoping they’d fall later in the game and they did,” said Woodruff of his team’s second-quarter struggles. “We were just missing shots and they were challenging lots of shots.”
The teams went back-and-forth with the lead in the third quarter. While MG led by as much as four points, they were unable to hold onto that advantage as Highland got a West back with six seconds remaining to take a one-point lead into the final period of play.
After the game, Stover noted that his young team is getting closer to getting over the hill.
“We are turning the program around,” he said. “Considering every girl we have works hard every practice and every game, we have gotten a lot better. Once we figure out consistent scoring, we’ll be fine.”
Fitzpatrick led the Indians with a game-high 19 points. Highland got 14 each from Cecil and Sardinha, while Baird added 12 and West scored eight.
“For sure, this was a big win for us,” said Woodruff. “We’ll celebrate today and go back to work Monday. We have Fredericktown Wednesday, but we’ll enjoy this win.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS