The Highland boys’ basketball team made it two wins in as many days during their Holiday Showcase when they topped Cardington 46-37 Wednesday night.
Defense was the key for the Scots. After giving up 14 points in the opening period, they held their opponents to single-digit scoring in each of the remaining three quarters.
“Something we’ve really focused on recently is getting back to playing defense the way we were earlier in the season and I felt we did that tonight,” said head coach Mike DeLaney.
In the other locker room, Cardington coach Jason Rice simply felt his team isn’t executing as well as it needs to on offense.
“Offense has not been the problem all summer, but for some reason right now, we’re going through an offensive spurt where we just can’t get guys to shoot the ball consistently,” he said. “In practice, we shoot it and shoot it and work on our offense. We make them in practice, but we just have to be able to carry it over in the game and it’s a process.”
The Pirates did start the game out well on offense, which allowed them to keep up with the Scots in a back-and-forth first quarter. Three points by Kalin Briggs and two from Merek McClure countered five from Highland’s Kort Sears in the early going.
Then, trailing 12-9 with 2:33 left in the period, Cardington got three points by Journey Williamson and two from A.J. Brehm to hold a 14-12 lead.
The Scots would finish the quarter with a tip-in by Brock Church and then took some momentum into the second quarter. Four points by Gavin Toombs — two of which came on a dunk — staked Highland to a 19-14 lead.
The Pirates would battle back, though. After not scoring in the first 4:25 of the quarter, they got a free throw by Williamson and baskets by Warren Garrison and Brehm to deadlock the game at 19-19.
Rice felt his team’s defense did a lot to keep them in the game.
“Getting up in transition on defense really helped us in both the second quarter and fourth quarter,” he said. “We really have bought in defensively and it’s kept us in almost every game this year.”
Two free throws by Gavin DeBord and one from Ranger Steck sandwiched around a Cardington bucket by Jason Bockbrader allowed the Scots to hold a slim 22-21 lead going into the intermission. However, they would pull away in the second half.
Leading 25-23 with 3:16 left in the third, they got five points by Steck and two each from Toombs and Dane Nauman to open up an 11-point lead. While Cardington answered with a 7-0 run to end the third quarter and start the fourth, they wouldn’t be able to get over the hump.
Leading 34-30, the Scots got a basket off an offensive rebound by Zach Schmidt and followed that up with back-to-back threes by Brock Church to open up a 42-30 lead with just under four minutes left.
“That was huge,” said DeLaney of Church’s shots. “We kept talking to Brock. He’s a really good shooter. He’s been in a tough stretch recently, but it was good to see him knock a couple huge shots down and allow us to push the lead out to 12 points.”
The Scot coach added that he felt his defense did a great job of making things tough for Cardington in the second half — crediting his team’s depth.
“I really felt like our depth as a team kind of wore Cardington down the way we were defending them and the way we were able to rotate people in and out of there,” he said. “As the game wore one, I thought we were finally able to get away from them.”
After attaining that 12-point lead, the Scot advantage wouldn’t dip below a seven-point margin the rest of the way as they picked up their second win in as many days to end the 2022 portion of their schedule.
“We knew coming in that the first half of the season was going to be tough for us,” said DeLaney. “We’re through 10 games now and we’re looking forward to the rest of the season.”
Toombs led Highland with 10 points in the game. Church finished with nine, as did Steck. For Cardington, Williamson led all scorers with 14 points.
Rice noted that the main goal is simply to continue improving and getting more used to playing a more up-tempo style.
“Having a younger team, you will have ups and downs,” he said. “We knew going after the Danville game, we had a brutal stretch with Northmor, Centerburg, Mansfield Christian and Highland. We still have Pleasant and Mount Gilead coming up. We knew that this was the stretch. It’s just a belief system that we’re playing fast all the time. Even if they make it, we’re hitting back. If they miss it, we’re definitely trying to score in transition.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS