Lady Highlanders win 4th straight, improve to 3-0 in conference
By Scott Loftis
Ryan Sanchez’s mission as the first-year head coach for the Eureka Springs Lady Highlanders is nothing less than completely rebuilding a program.
So far, so good.
A 52-36 victory over visiting Decatur on Tuesday night improved the Lady Highlanders’ record to 11-9 this season. It was Eureka Springs’ fourth consecutive victory and improved the Lady Highlanders’ record to 3-0 in the 2A-1 conference. That’s quite a turnaround for a team that went a combined 9-77 over the past three seasons.
Junior guard Katelyn Ross was the offensive catalyst in the victory over Decatur, scoring 13 of her game-high 15 points in the first quarter. Ross made four three-pointers in the quarter, capped by a four-point play when she hit a three-pointer from the top of the key despite being knocked to the floor, then added a free throw to put the Lady Highlanders ahead 20-7 with 3:42 left in the quarter. Eureka Springs led 26-11 at the end of the first quarter.
“That (26 points) tied our total from the game we lost to St. Paul in the Decatur tournament,” Sanchez said.
“I told Ryan, that may have been the best quarter I’ve seen from a Eureka Springs girls basketball team,” boys coach Brian Rambo said. “I’ve been here eight years, which isn’t too long, but I’ve seen a lot of quarters.”
The Lady Highlanders outscored Decatur 11-4 in the second quarter to widen their lead to 37-15 at halftime.
Decatur scored the first seven points of the third quarter, but Eureka Springs answered with a 7-0 run of its own. Freshman Olivia Cross hit a three-pointer from the left wing before junior Megan Holloway added a pair of baskets inside. The second put Eureka Springs up 44-22 with 1:58 remaining in the third quarter.
The Lady Highlanders scored all eight of their fourth-quarter points on free throws.
Holloway finished with 12 points for Eureka Springs. Junior Grayson Ertel scored nine and junior Shelby Little added eight.
Sanchez was pleased with his team’s energy and movement.
“It’s hard to guard multiple options and multiple movements on offense,” he said. “When the girls are moving, they’re hard to guard.”
As much improvement as the Lady Highlanders have shown, Sanchez isn’t satisfied.
“We are growing,” he said. “But I’m a perfectionist. We talk about where we want to be as a program. Are we content with where we are or do we want to be on the level of an Alpena or a Berryville or a Pea Ridge?”
Rambo, who also serves as the Eureka Springs athletic director, said he isn’t surprised by the Lady Highlanders’ success but he thought it might take a little longer to achieve. Sanchez played for Rambo and graduated from Eureka Springs in 2014.
“I knew there was some talent there with those girls,” Rambo said. “I kind of thought it might come a little later. Ryan has a lot of energy and I wondered if the girls could match that energy. They’ve been nothing but respectful and done everything he has asked. They are doing things the right way, and I couldn’t be more proud of him and those girls.”
On Monday, Eureka Springs defeated Deer 45-26 in the Western Grove tournament as Little scored 21 points and Holloway added 15.
The Lady Highlanders faced Rural Special on Thursday in the second round of the Western Grove tournament.