Highlanders shake off slow start, beat Cotter
By Scott Loftis
YELLVILLE — The Eureka Springs Highlanders defeated Cotter 50-39 Tuesday to advance to the championship game of the 2A-1 conference tournament.
Still, Eureka Springs coach Brian Rambo found some cause for concern in his team’s performance — in particular, a sluggish first half that ended with the Highlanders trailing fourth-seeded Cotter 23-19.
Eureka Springs kicked things up a notch in the second half to secure its 15th consecutive victory, but Rambo pointed out that as the Highlanders move deeper into postseason play, one bad half can be fatal.
“I thought we just weren’t locked in for a half,” Rambo said. “I thought we went over there and took them for granted. … That was my message at halftime: If you get into a game in the regional tournament or the state tournament and you play a half like that, it could cost you. As a group, we’ve got to play every quarter.”
On the flip side, if the Highlanders can replicate their third-quarter performance, they’ll be hard to handle. Eureka Springs (29-5) outscored Cotter 18-10 in the quarter as guards Matthew Lester and Griffin Taylor began to heat up.
Lester, a freshman, had eight points in the third quarter. Taylor, a senior, hit two three-pointers in the final 2:25. The second, from the left baseline, put the Highlanders up 37-33 at the end of the quarter.
Senior guard Garrett Cross helped his teammates by driving inside and passing the ball out for wide-open shots.
“He got some big shots for Griffin Taylor,” Rambo said. “That kind of put us over the top. I think Garrett did a good job in that third quarter of involving other guys.”
Eureka Springs scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter, capped by a Cross three-pointer and a driving layup from Taylor, to push its lead to 11 at 44-33.
Cross finished with 21 points to lead Eureka Springs. Taylor finished with 13, including 10 in the second half, and Lester scored 10.
The Highlanders will face Yellville-Summit in the championship game at 8:30 p.m. Friday. Depending on the outcome of that game, Eureka Springs will play a first-round game on Wednesday, Feb. 20, or Thursday, Feb. 21, in the 2A West Regional Tournament at Danville.
Rambo said he expects his team to be sharper on Friday.
“I think we’ll be very focused,” he said.