By ROB HAMILTON
Highland was able to hold off Cardington in a tightly-contested boys’ basketball game on Friday thanks to no small amount of resilience. Started the game with two injured seniors (Thomas Wheeler and Trent Mason), the Scots suffered a blow in the first quarter when a third senior, Shane Carney, went down with an ankle injury, leaving Highland with a line-up full of underclassmen. At that time, Highland also had to deal with some hot shooting from Cardington’s Devin Pearl, who’d drained a pair of three-pointers in a game that was 8-6 in favor of the Pirates at the time of Carney’s injury.
However, the Scots would bounce back, getting seven first-quarter points from Max Schreiber in tying the score at 12-12 after eight minutes.
Scot coach Matt Bradley noted that his team did everything asked of them in the contest.
“We talked about executing and defensively and offensively, we executed everything we were trying to. Colten Liszkai came off the bench and gave us great minutes and Quin Winkelfoos and Max Schreiber were phenomenal. Everyone did what we were trying to do.”
In the second quarter, Garrett Wagner got the hot hand for the Pirates, hitting a trio of three-pointers. However, the team only got two other points in the period on a late bucket by Luke McCarrell. Meanwhile, Highland was able to use their length to get inside and score many baskets in the paint, with Winkelfoos tallying six points and Liszkai adding four.
“Our defense was terrible,” said Cardington coach Rod Brown. “They broke us down up top and got it in the middle. Matt did a great job. They had one starter who started the last time we played them. They came here with a purpose and played well.”
Bradley gave a lot of the credit to his team’s guards, who did a good job of moving and distributing the ball.
“That’s a credit to our guards, Andrew Wheeler and Dylan Tuggle,” he said. “They did a good job of getting in there and dishing it off.”
That good play in the second quarter staked the Scots to a 27-21 lead at the break. Then, in the third quarter, they would fight off a couple attempts by the Pirates to cut into that lead. Trailing 32-24 early in the period, Cardington got back-to-back shots from Trey Williams and Pearl to get within four. Dylan Tuggle and Williams then traded shots, but Highland would get a free throw from Alex Mason and a basket from Liszkai to go back up by seven.
Two straight long-range shots by Wagner would make it a one-point game at 37-36 with just under two minutes to play in the third, but Highland struck last in the quarter, as Winkelfoos made a shot, drew a foul and connected on the ensuing free throw to give his team a four-point lead with eight minutes to play.
The Scots then held Cardington to two points in the opening five minutes of the fourth quarter. While they only got baskets from Alex Mason and Winkelfoos and a free throw from Schreiber during that time, it was enough to get their lead up to a 45-38 margin with just over two minutes remaining in the game.
“They’re a tough match-up,” said Bradley of Cardington. “We had to play zone more than I wanted, but did a good job of contesting their shooters.
Brown noted that the Scots did a good job of controlling the tempo and not letting his team play at a pace he’d prefer.
“Highland slowed us down,” he said. “I think we’re better when we’re fast. We didn’t stop their penetration and our rotations were slow and wrong. We were super-flat with no sense of urgency.”
The Scots would hit six-of-eight free throws down the stretch to hold on to their lead and finish with a four-point win to improve to 4-8, 3-5 in league play. Cardington falls to 5-7, 5-3.
“We battled through more adversity with Shane injured, but rallied around each other,” said Bradley. “That’s so much fun.”
Winkelfoos led Highland with 17 points, while Schreiber added 14. For Cardington, Wagner finished with 15 on five three-pointers, while Pearl tallied 12 and Williams had eight.
Brown could sum up his team’s issues quite simply — consistency.
‘We played with a lot of intensity Saturday versus Centerburg,” he said. “Then we’re like a totally different team tonight. We’re just having trouble finding consistency game-in and game-out.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS