Rebuilding Highlanders drop opener
By Scott Loftis
The Eureka Springs Highlanders opened their 2019-20 season on Oct. 22 with a starting lineup that included three sophomores and a senior who was making his first career start.
Their opponent was a talented Valley Springs team coming off a 35-win season that included an appearance in the Class 3A State Tournament quarterfinals.
The result was a 58-26 Valley Springs victory at Highlander Arena.
Valley Springs led just 24-19 after Eureka Springs sophomore Matthew Lester drove for a basket with 3:45 left in the second quarter, but the Tigers scored the final five points of the first half and then outscored the Highlanders 17-7 in the third quarter to widen the lead to 20.
“We’re just so inexperienced,” Eureka Springs coach Brian Rambo said. “And Valley Springs is tough. They may be the best team on our schedule.”
Lester, who started throughout his freshman season, and senior guard Jackson Cross are the only Highlanders who enter the season with any real varsity experience. They were joined in the starting lineup by senior Jake Armer and sophomores Kegley Ertel and Teagen Farriester.
“We’re trying to get guys to understand the speed of the game and what it takes to win at this level,” Rambo said. “We started off against a great team and we played well for a half.”
Lester was a defensive stalwart last season but wasn’t relied on as a scoring threat on a team with four senior starters that went 33-7 and reached the Class 2A State Tournament. This season, he’ll be counted on to put the ball in the basket. He led the Highlanders with 12 points on Tuesday.
“His role has absolutely changed,” Rambo said. “He had to come in and guard last year. This year, he’s got to be the man. He’s got to get used to that and to having the ball in his hands. He’s got to be our leader in that regard.”
Although there may be some growing pains for the Highlanders, Rambo pointed out that their situation is not unique in the 2A-1 conference. Eureka Springs won the regular-season conference championship last season, then added district and regional tournament titles while winning 19 consecutive games.
“Obviously, we have a lot to learn,” Rambo said. “I already think we’re going to be much better by Friday (when the Highlanders traveled to Lead Hill). Everybody in our conference lost key guys so if we can keep working at it, we should be right in the middle of the conference race.”
The Highlanders lost 35-34 at Lead Hill on Friday. Lester led Eureka Springs with 19 points while Ertel added eight.