Eureka Highlanders tournament champs ---- again! Team solves Bergman triangle mystery for title
The Eureka Springs Highlander basketball team has done it again, winning their second straight tournament title Saturday night, 61-54, over the Bergman Panthers in the North Arkansas College Senior Boys' Tournament.
The Highlanders played seven games in 10 days at two different tournaments and won both championships, ending the grueling run with a sparkling 20-3 record.
"I'm real proud of them," Coach Josh Hill said after the NAC tournament ended. "They do what it takes to win. When it's time to make a play, we get it done."
The Highlanders won four games in a row, defeating Yellville-Summit 70-58 in their opening game, then downing Marshall (59-52), Viola (61-57), and Bergman for the championship (61-54).
The Highlanders were the No. 1 seed in the tournament, but that isn't always a blessing.
"Being the number one seed is one of the hardest places to come from," Hill pointed out. "Everyone brings their best effort. They were all close games, but I never felt like we played a complete game, just in spurts."
Vs Bergman Panthers
12-21, 27-31, 46-40, 61-54
The Panthers (13-8) were ready, having faced the Highlanders twice in losses this season, and switched personnel around, changing their point guard.
They also played a triangle-and-2 defense, guarding Griggs Covington and Brian Abendroth man-to-man, then zoning the rest of the team.
It worked early, as Bergman jumped out 9-2, 15-8, and 19-10 before the Highlanders solved the mystery of the Bergman triangle and their sharp-shooting guard, Matt Curtis, who netted 19 points on the night.
"The boys were tired, but I knew they wouldn't play tired," Coach Hill said. "Bergman was the last team we wanted to play. They were playing extremely well and we had played twice and won. It's tough to win a third time."
Eureka uses multiple defenses, but finally went with a 2-3 zone that seemed to baffle Bergman, a big key in the win after their offense came to life.
It was Griggs Covington early, and brother Cash late, as the Highlanders came back to 23-24 with 3:39 to play until halftime after Griggs stroked a three.
Bergman missed and Griggs connected again, on a two, to give Eureka their first lead with 2:40 to go, 25-24.
It looked like Eureka could take the lead going in to halftime, but Bergman's Nathan Ponder gunned in a three to beat the halftime buzzer and the Panthers led 31-27 at the break.
In the third quarter, the teams battled hard, with Griggs hitting a three to tie the game at 35-all, then firing in another for a 38-35 lead. Bergman answered with a three of their own, then Cash nailed one from long range.
But it was Eureka point guard John Hall who got the lead back when he drove for a layup, missed, but tipped it in with great second effort for a 44-40 lead with just 2:10 to play.
Cash added a hoop with 15 seconds left in the third and it was on to the crucial fourth quarter.
Abendroth, guarded tightly all night man-to-man, finally shook a Panther off and drained a three to start the fourth, with Jake McMorrow streaking backdoor just seconds later for a deuce and 52-42 lead.
It was all the tall Highlanders needed, as they slowed the game down, milked the clock, and made just enough free throws to take the title.
In the last 49 seconds, Cash made four free throws to salt the game away, and although the team made just 8 of 13 in the final two minutes, he was 7 of 10 for the night.
Scoring- ES- C. Covington- 22, 7/10 Fts; G. Covington- 17, 3 3's; McMorrow- 10; Hall- 9; Abendroth- 3. Team- 11/18 Fts. BG- Curtis- 19, 2 3's; Heath Taylor- 16; Justin Thompson- 10; Ponder- 6; Tyler Mills- 3.