Highlanders get tough win over Mountainburg

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

EUREKA SPRINGS -- The Mountainburg Dragons ended the third quarter on an 11-2 run to put the Eureka Springs Highlanders in a 39-37 hole going into the fourth quarter of Friday's home game.

It was about to be the Highlanders' 16th quarter of basketball in five days. Mathew McClung had been shoved to the ground in the third quarter and was limping around on the sidelines. Reggie Sanchez got cut above the eye and had to change jerseys because he was bleeding. It would have been easy for Eureka Springs to fold, much like the Highlanders did the previous week in a home loss to Magazine.

Instead, the Highlanders closed the game on a 25-12 run to win the game, 62-51. Sanchez scored 17 of those 25 points.

"You got guys getting injuries, you got guys bleeding, I mean you can't ask for any more drama than what you got there," Eureka Springs coach Brian Rambo said. "It was one for the ages. I'm just glad that in the end we had more points than they did because it was a battle."

Mountainburg extended its lead to five a couple of minutes into the fourth, but a basket by Sanchez followed by a three-pointer tied the game at 46 with 4:18 remaining. After stopping Mountainburg on its next possession, a Sanchez three gave Eureka Springs a three-point lead. The Dragons made a three-pointer seconds later to tie the game at 49.

Sanchez was given the ball at the top of the key and drove to the basket. He missed the shot, but was fouled and made both foul shots. After another defensive stop, Sanchez made another three-pointer to give Eureka Springs a five-point lead. Eureka Springs' defense came up big once again and this time, J.M. Gregg was fouled going to the basket. Again, he made both foul shots to go ahead by seven. A Mountainburg turnover turned into what likely sealed the game for the Highlanders. Sanchez was fouled and made the first of his two foul shots. It was what happened after he missed his second that was so important.

"He missed the back end and Oscar (Mendez) was there to clean it up with a tip-in," Rambo said. "That puts up us 10. We go from up eight and if they hit a three its a two-possession game to up 10 and virtually the game is locked up."

Those were the only points of the night for Mendez. Rambo said the Highlanders wouldn't have beaten Mountainburg without the contributions from players like Mendez.

"We are talking about Mathew McClung who only had one point tonight, but you can't measure his contribution to our team tonight with just that one point," Rambo said. "He contributes by getting stops. Those seniors stepped up and played huge and played a huge quarter and got a great win."

The Highlanders never trailed in the first half. Gregg scored seven first-quarter points for Eureka Springs and the Highlanders led 16-12. Gregg added five more in the second and the Highlanders led 27-24 at halftime. Gregg added six more points in the third, but trailed by two going into the fourth. Rambo said he is proud of the way his team responded going into the fourth quarter.

"You play four games in five days and in the fourth quarter you still have enough dog in you to score 25 points," Rambo said. "You got guys taking punches at you, knocking you down. You can say 'Four games in five days, I've had enough. I'm done.' They got back up. They made their foul shots. I just can't say enough about our physical and mental toughness."

Rambo hopes this win will be one that finally gets the Highlanders some momentum moving forward.

"You look back on seasons and think, that was the signature win that got us over the hump," Rambo said. "We have an opportunity to use this game to catapult for the rest of the season and I hope that is what it does. You need that signature win, and I hope this is the one."

On Tuesday, the Highlanders travel to Union Christian Academy, a team the Highlanders lost to earlier this season. To get the win this time, Rambo said his team must rebound better.

"Against a team that has a hard time scoring, you can't give up easy buckets," Rambo said. "We must do a better job on the defensive boards, boxing out and obviously have to shoot the ball better. We shot 27 percent the first time and if we can improve on that, get in the 40 percent range, we will have an opportunity to win."

Sanchez finished the game with 26 points and Gregg had 23.

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