Highlanders have momentum heading into regionals

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Eureka Springs Highlanders set a goal of winning the regular-season district championship. Home losses to Union Christian Academy and Magazine derailed that goal, so the Highlanders set their sights on winning the district tournament championship instead. Back-to-back wins over Mountainburg and Union Christian Academy over the weekend enabled the Highlanders to reach that goal.

In Saturday's 52-43 victory over Union Christian Academy, it was Reggie Sanchez who stole the show, scoring 33 points and going 12-of-13 from the free throw line.

"He just had a monster night," Eureka Springs basketball coach Brian Rambo said. "He carried our basketball team. That is what great players do. You expect those guys to step up and carry our basketball team and he did. I was sure proud of him."

The Highlanders led 10-7 at the end of the first quarter and had a 22-17 lead going into halftime.

"It was one of those games where we were never really hitting on all cylinders," Rambo said. "At times, we would get several stops and stretch the lead out and then we would go cold for a few minutes and let them get back in the game."

Defensively, the Highlanders stepped up in the third quarter to put the game away, as Eureka Springs outscored the Eagles 15-5. Rambo complimented Oscar Mendez, Mathew McClung and J.M. Gregg for playing quality defense and extending the lead.

"They really locked their guys down," Rambo said. "They did what they needed to do."

The Highlanders had a 15-point lead going into the fourth quarter and went on to win by nine. As a result of the victory, Eureka Springs will play Lisa Academy on Wednesday in the first round of the regional tournament at Quitman.

"You really don't know what you are getting into now," Rambo said. "You have to rely on your experience and we have six seniors and that is a big advantage for us. We won't be intimidated anytime. I will get a scouting report on them and we will get a chance to learn some stuff about them, but most importantly you have to rely on your training and play with confidence."

Action starts at 5:30 p.m. in Quitman.

Eureka Springs 36, Mountainburg 33

After a week's layoff, Eureka Springs came out flat offensively in Friday's semifinal overtime win against Mountainburg.

"We had fresh legs and that helped us defensively," coach Brian Rambo said. "It hurt us because we were shooting the ball out of rhythm and we just couldn't get anything go at all. They made it hard for us."

With a few minutes remaining in the game, the Highlanders trailed by six. Dalton Kesner made a three-pointer to trim the lead to three. After the Highlanders held the Dragons scoreless on the next possession, Kesner made another three-pointer to tie the game and send it to overtime.

"We held them scoreless in probably the last three or four minutes of the half and then the entire overtime period as well," Rambo said. "That was the ballgame. We locked them down and put the ball in the hole enough times to get the victory."

The Highlanders fell behind 10-7 at the end of the first quarter and trailed 18-13 at halftime. The Highlanders missed their first 12 three-point attempts.

"When J.M. and those guys can't get touches inside and we have to rely on our outside shooting, it could make for a long night," Rambo said.

Rambo credits Jacob Holloway's defensive play for helping the Highlanders make some big stops in the second half.

"He came in and got four or five huge stops," Rambo said. "He changed a few shots, he blocked their big 6-7 player's shot. He got some big stops there in the fourth quarter and helped really swing the momentum for us."

Rambo is glad to see his team come through with a win like this.

"We are winning in different ways and that is the good thing about our basketball team right now," Rambo said. "We can play so many different styles. I think in the past, in a game like that, we would have panicked trying to do to much offensively, trying to stay steady. I just told my guys we are going to make some shots, make some foul shots and they trusted me. I was proud of my kids, proud of their effort."

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