Cardington boys hold off Highland in defensive battle
By ROB HAMILTON
While Cardington’s 39–38 Saturday night win over Highland may not have been a thing of beauty, it was the team’s third straight victory after getting out to an 0–2 start — which made the end result very nice for head coach Rod Brown.
The Pirates withstood multiple second-half comeback bids from the Scots in holding on to the win, which pushes them to 3–2, 2–0 in league play.
“We didn’t play much better tonight (than in the two losses,” said Brown. “We just made our free throws tonight.”
The Pirates had made 5-of-7 foul shots down the stretch in the fourth quarter before missing two with seven seconds to play and a four-point lead. While the Scots were able to get a late three-pointer from Curtis Belcher, they would only be able to get within one point.
Brown felt that the way his players battled in the fourth quarter was key to the win.
“The kids played hard,” he said. “I was worried because it seemed Highland had the momentum in the fourth quarter.”
Early in the game, it was tough for either team to string together enough baskets to gain that momentum. Belcher scored three baskets, one from long range, in the first quarter for the Scots. However, none of his teammates were able to light up the scoreboard, allowing the Pirates to take a 10–7 lead after eight minutes.
Highland coach Mike Hoyng noted that scoring with consistency is the biggest reason his team is now 0–4 on the season.
“That’s our biggest problem,” he said. “We struggle getting the ball in the basket at times — that’s been our M.O. this season. At critical times, we’re not stepping up and we’re taking bad shots.”
In the first quarter, eight of Cardington’s 10 points came from baskets by Tyler Howell and Zach Wells. The team had more balanced scoring in the second quarter as they jumped out to a 19–9 lead.
Barry Johnston drained a three, while Wells, Peyton Barnett and Mason Richardson also scored.
However, in the final 1:37 of the quarter, the Scots made a run to trim that lead in half. After Jett Swetland hit a free throw, both Shawn Beltz and Belcher scored from the field to make the score 19–14.
Highland continued to battle back in the third quarter. Trailing 23–17, the Scots made a run to tie the game thanks to a three-pointer by Belcher and a basket and free throw by Swetland.
Cardington quickly got a bucket from Johnston and a Cole Hess three-pointer to regain the lead, but that would be short-lived.
Highland closed the period with a Ryan Burt three-pointer and two buckets by Byron Belcher. The second of his shots was a buzzer-beater that gave Highland a 30–28 lead — their first since the early stages of the first quarter.
After Howell and Beltz traded baskets for their teams to open the fourth quarter, Cardington got back-to-back scores from Wells and Howell to take a 34–32 lead.
While Cardington would not lose that lead over the final 4:47 of action, there was plenty of suspense over that time.
Swetland hit a free throw to bring the Scots within one, but Howell responded with two makes at the foul line to put his team up by three.
Swetland scored on a putback to get his team within one point again, but the Scots would wind up empty-handed on their next two trips down the floor. Cardington made enough free throws during that time to earn the win.
Brown felt his team improved a lot defensively since the opening weekend of the season.
“I think with our ‘D’, we were gambling a lot and over-pressing, which got ourselves in bad position,” he said about those early struggles.
Despite his team losing the game, Hoyng found some positives — including the way his offense did come alive in the third quarter.
“We executed on offense and did what we were supposed to do,” he said. “When we don’t do that, we force things and take bad shots and we can’t do that. We’re just a little impatient right now.”
Curtis Belcher hit three three-pointers on his way to a game-high 19 points. For Cardington, Wells scored 13 and Howell added 10.
After playing five games in a short period of time, the Pirates get a week off and won’t see action again until this coming Saturday; something that pleases Brown.
“We get off our NBA schedule with five games in eight days and now get a break to get everyone’s health back to 100 percent,” he said.