Conference champs: Highlanders ride 14-game winning streak into postseason

Friday, February 8, 2019

By Scott Loftis

It’s safe to say that the Eureka Springs Highlanders are peaking at just the right time.

The Highlanders extended their winning streak to 14 games and wrapped up the 2A-1 conference championship with a pair of home victories this week.

Eureka Springs (28-5, 9-1 2A-1) defeated Cotter 61-37 on Monday, then beat Haas Hall Academy 60-37 Tuesday on Senior Night.

The Highlanders, who haven’t lost since Dec. 13, went 16-0 at home this season. They’ll receive a first-round bye in next week’s conference tournament at Yellville and are assured a berth in the Class 2A West Regional Tournament that begins Feb. 20 at Danville.

Coach Brian Rambo said there was some concern on his part about playing two conference games in as many nights.

“You hate to have to play back-to-back, especially with so much on the line,” Rambo said. “We needed to take care of business.”

Cotter and Haas Hall each finished 3-7 in conference play, but Rambo said both teams present challenges with their size and physicality.

“They’re not as talented as we are but, man, they play hard,” he said.

Against Cotter, Eureka Springs took command by outscoring the Warriors 22-7 in the second quarter for a 34-18 halftime lead. Senior forward Carter Drennon scored 18 points and senior guard Garrett Cross added 12.

In Tuesday’s game against Haas Hall, Eureka Springs led 10-9 at the end of the first quarter, but scored 24 second-quarter points for a 34-24 halftime lead. The Highlanders then took firm control of the game by outscoring Haas Hall 17-2 in the third quarter.

“I was hoping with it being Senior Night that would give us some energy,” Rambo said. “It seemed like it had the opposite effect. It kind of made us a little lethargic, it seemed. But we were able to gather ourselves and kind of regroup. We did what we needed to do.”

Cross scored 20 points to lead four Eureka Springs players in double figures. Senior guard Griffin Taylor added 13 points while freshman guard Matthew Lester scored 12 and Drennon had 10.

The Highlanders began the season 13-3 but stumbled a bit in December, losing a conference game at Flippin on Dec. 7 followed six days later by a loss to Deer in the Western Grove tournament.

Despite nagging injuries to some key players, Eureka Springs bounced back with four consecutive victories over a five-day stretch before the Christmas break. Rambo gave the team some time off to recuperate over the break and the Highlanders have been on a roll ever since. Eureka Springs’ closest margin of victory during its 14-game winning streak has been nine points and only three of its opponents have scored more than 37 points during that span.

“We were kind of searching for ourselves,” Rambo said of the first half of the season. “But we sure did get it going. We’ve really just played at a high level. I told my guys, for us to win 28 games, to go 16-0 at home, to win 14 straight games, that’s really magnificent stuff. It really says a lot about their character.”

The Highlanders will play Tuesday in the second round of the conference tournament at Yellville, facing the winner of Monday’s game between Cotter and Haas Hall.

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