By ROB HAMILTON
While a spirited second-half comeback nearly propelled Highland past Northmor Saturday night, the visiting Knights were able to rally and hold on for the win.
In a 43-38 victory over the host Scots, Northmor led by as many as 12 points before Highland was able to erase their deficit. Two free throws by Brock Pletcher and a basket from Demetrius Johnson gave the Knights a 27-15 lead at the 4:45 mark of the third quarter.
However, the Knights would not score again in the period, giving the Scots a chance to claw their way back into the game. Mack Anglin hit one-of-two free throws to start their run. Shane Carney then drew a foul while hitting a basket. While he missed the free throw, teammate Colten Liszkai was able to score on a outback to make the score 27-20 after three quarters.
“I thought we competed hard tonight,” said Highland coach Matt Bradley. “I’m proud of our effort. We competed hard against a quality opponent.”
The Scots would then start the fourth quarter with a 9-2 run that tied the score at 29-29 with 5:50 remaining in the contest, as Carney contributed five of those points.
“I thought fatigue set in and we made bad decisions,” said Knight coach Zach Ruth of his team’s long drought. “But that was just a good team effort tonight. Hats off to Highland — they stayed with their game plan.”
However, the Scots would then go nearly four minutes without scoring and, during that time, the Knights got four points from Pletcher and one more from Gunnar Lilly to jump out by five. While Dylan Tuggle responded with a three-pointer to make it 34-32, Northmor would close the game by hitting nine of their final 10 free throw attempts to maintain the lead the rest of the way.
“Normally, coming out of timeouts, it’s our rule of thumb that the seniors say ‘family’ on three, but Gunnar (Lilly) came out and said ‘grind’ and we ground it out,” said Ruth.
Other than that stretch over the third and fourth quarters when Highland went on their 14-2 run, Ruth was pleased with his team’s performance. In the early going, they staked themselves to an 8-2 lead three minutes into the game. After the Scots got within an 8-6 margin on buckets by Quin Winkelfoos and Carney, Pletcher hit back-to-back three-pointers to make it 14-6.
Pletcher would add another three before the period ended to stake the Knights to a 17-10 lead after eight minutes. Then, over the course of the second period, the two teams combined for only eight points.
Highland scored the first two points of the quarter on a Max Schreiber shot, but went scoreless over the final seven minutes. During that time, the Knights got a basket from Johnson, a free throw from Lilly and Pletcher’s fourth three to take a 23-12 lead into the half.
“I thought with our press, we didn’t get a lot of turnovers, but we forced them to rush their shots,” said Ruth.
Bradley felt his team did turn the ball over too much for his tastes, but noted they had a lot of good shots miss the mark.
“We turned it over a lot, especially in the first and second quarters,” he said. “We got the shots we wanted all night inside the pain, but they didn’t fall.”
They wouldn’t start falling for the Scots until the third quarter, but Highland wasn’t able to put the finishing touches on their run and Northmor was able to claim the win to improve to 5-6 (3-4 in league play). Highland falls to 3-8, 2-5.
“That’s two in a row,” said Ruth. “Most importantly, it’s two league wins in a row.”
Pletcher hit four three-pointers on his way to scoring a game-high 22 points. Tyler Kegley added nine, including seven free throws down to stretch to help clinch the game, and Johnson scored eight. For Highland, Carney tallied 12 and both Tuggle and Winkelfoos scored six.
Bradley noted that his team showed a lot of heart in the game, but just needs to put the full 32 minutes together.
“For us to be tied with four minutes to go after being down big, I’m really proud of how we competed,” he said.
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS