Highlanders conclude 2-4A Conference event with team win over Johnson County Westside

Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Ryan Sanchez scores two of his 21 points against Johnson County Westside. (Chan Davis / Carroll County News)

EUREKA SPRINGS -- Eureka Springs basketball coach Brian Rambo was not pleased with the performance the Highlanders showed in a loss to Union Christian on Thursday.

After fighting to host the 2-4A West Conference Tournament at Highlander Arena and playing host to the eight teams involved, Rambo expected the Highlanders to finish at the top of the heap. That didn't happen and Rambo expressed his concern after the loss that if the Highlanders didn't respond in a positive manner, it would be a quick trip to regionals this week.

The Highlanders must have heard what Rambo had to say as they rebounded for a 74-53 throttling of Johnson County Westside on Saturday to snag the No. 3 seed entering this week's regional tournament at Highlander Arena.

Reggie Sanchez and Dalton Kesner scored 21 points each to lead Eureka Springs in scoring, Jake McClung added 16 and Ryan Sanchez finished with 14, the only four Highlanders to mark the score book.

"I think we clicked more and we didn't turn it over as much," McClung said of the turnaround from Thursday to Saturday. "We drove the ball more and we weren't selfish."

Rambo posted a sign in the locker room before the game that read "Teammates don't like superstars. Teammates like team stars." The idea stuck and carried into the game as the Highlanders played the best "team" game since early in the season.

"We needed to go out tonight and enjoy the game," Rambo said. "We played with so much energy. It was amazing to watch. We really had nothing to lose. If we are the No. 3 seed we play a good team in the first round of regionals. If we are the No. 4 seed we play a good team."

The Highlanders had struggled to find team chemistry since the dismissal of three players in January. After the shakeup, Eureka Springs lost four of five games before finishing the year on a three-game winning streak to claim the 2-4A West Conference title.

"It's going to happen to any team," McClung said. "The seniors put the team on our back and the sophomores have had to step up. Kesner stepped up really big tonight. He's been on fire."

Kesner was the catalyst in the first half against Westside.

"He made five threes in the first half," Rambo said. "Seven three's and 21 points for the game. Two sophomores went for 42. Four guys in double figures and they were the only ones who scored. We just went out today and played as a team. We had a great game plan. We face guarded their best guys all night long."

The Highlanders open Class 2A West Regional Tournament play against No. 2 seeded Hector at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday at Highlander Arena. Union Christian and Western Yell County are scheduled to follow. The tournament begins Wednesday with Decatur facing Bigelow and Conway St. Joseph taking on Westside in boy's action.

On the girl's side, Mountainburg, the No. 1 seed, plays Quitman at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, followed by Conway St. Joseph and Magazine at 7 p.m. Thursday's activity includes Hector and Hackett at 4 p.m. with Westside and Conway Christian to follow.

Rambo said he wants the same results against Hector that the Highlanders had against Johnson County Westside.

"That game was never in doubt," he said. "By far it was the most lopsided game of the tournament. That's probably the best we have played as a team in a while. If we play like that next week we will have a shot."

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