After trailing for nearly the entire game, the Highland Scots finally took the lead for good against host Cardington on Saturday — on a last-second game-winning three-pointer by Nathan Hilborn that gave the Scots a hard-fought 53-52 win.
For Hilborn, it was his third three-pointer in the game, with all three coming in the fourth quarter to prevent the Pirates from holding onto a lead that once had reached a 16-point margin. The final one came at the very end of the game, with him throwing up his shot in the final second of action.
“He had three huge shots in the fourth,” said Highland head coach Matt Bradley. “(On the last one) He actually was where he was supposed to end up — it just took a little longer than I’d like to get there.”
Just being in position to win the game at the end took a lot of work by the Scots. Cardington jumped all over their guests in the early going and dominated action until about the midway point of the third quarter.
Mitchell Yake and Mac Thompson opened the game with baskets. After Jett Swetland hit a pair of free throws to cut Highland’s deficit in half, the Pirates responded with a 12-point run sparked by eight points by Tyler Dornon.
Swetland ended the quarter with a three-pointer, but the Scots still trailed 16-5.
“We didn’t shoot real well, but we got a lot of lay-ups and we got to the line,” said Pirate coach Rod Brown. “We played our game, but then just stopped.”
Cardington maintained a double-digit lead for most of the second quarter, getting six points from Yake and a three-ball from Cole Hess. Highland’s Curtis Belcher put in six points for his team, but they still trailed 28-16 at the intermission.
Threes by both Dornon and Mason Richardson helped stake Cardington to a 38-22 lead with 4:42 remaining in the third period, but the Scots started to fight back. Swetland scored eight points to lead Highland on a 15-2 run to end the quarter.
The Scots also got contributions from other players as they fought back to a 40-37 margin with eight to play.
“What was fun about tonight was that three guys off the bench sparked us in Dylan Casteel, Shane Carney and Kyle Minyo,” said Bradley. “Our defense got us back into the game and we had real clutch shooting in the fourth.”
And Cardington also was finding themselves in foul trouble, as both Dornon and Yake picked up their fourth infraction in the third and had to miss a decent amount of time. While Brown knows his team isn’t the deepest in the area, this was a problem he hadn’t had to deal with so far in the season. “That’s the first time we had foul trouble like that,” he said. “We fouled way too much and gave them momentum at the line and got their shooters going. I thought the refs did a good job — we just didn’t adjust to how it was called.”
The Scots then opened the fourth with two free throws by Carney and a three-pointer by Belcher to take their first lead of the day at 42-40. Cardington came back with four free throws by Thompson and Dornon to regain the lead. Then, with the score tied 47-47 with 3:39 to go, they got back-to-back scores by Thompson and Yake to go up by four.
Hilborn would hit a three-pointer to bring Highland back within one and the Pirates, who had been 10-of-11 from the foul line to this point, missed three-of-four in the final minute to set the stage for the game-winning three.
“We’ve had this happen before and to miss those free throws…you can’t have that,” said Brown.
Yake finished with 16 points for Cardington, while Dornon scored 15 and Thompson tallied 10. For the Scots, Swetland scored 17, Belcher finished with 14 and Hilborn contributed nine on his three three-pointers.
Bradley was pleased his team was able to get a big road win to keep them up there with Centerburg at the top of the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference Blue Division. “This was huge — it keeps pace with Centerburg and after a non-league game, we then play them,” he said. “Beating a team like Cardington is huge. This was a huge win on the road.”