Hitting outside shots in the third quarter. Scoring from close range in the fourth. Winning the rebouding stat decisicely. Those were the factors Tuesday afternoon rallying Highland to a 54-44 victory over Saguaro in Highland's annual Thanksgiving Girls Basketball Tournament at Highland.
Senior posts Malinda Myers and junior post Hadley NIelson combined for nine points in the final period and 29 for the game in a matchup featuring last year's Division II state champs (Saguaro) and Highland a D-I semifinalist.
What pleased Highland coach Miner Webster the most was how his team reacted from letting a 13-8 first-quarter lead dissolve in to a 29-21 halftime deficit. While Highland advanced to the D-I semis last year, this year's squad returned one starter and a couple of role players from a year ago.
“At this point it's confidence builder for us,” Webster said. “These girls haven't played together as a Highland team until now. I saw them grow a little bit. That they played well against a team like Saguaro that has a lot of experienced players from last year was good.”
Highland, which had trouble with Saguaro's pressure and presses, especially in the first half, got hot in the second half from the perimeter to begin its comeback. MaryEckenrode hit a couple perimeter shots, including one three. Megan Robers added a pair of threes. And the 6-foot-1 Myers continued a strong first half inside with six of her 20 points in the third period. By quarter's end Highland had pulled within 41-40.
TheyLady Hawks waited less than 30 seconds of the fourth period to grab the lead for good. The 6-3 NIelson scored from underneath and tallied six of Highland's first eight points in the quarter for a 48-41 lead. A basket by Saguaro's Casey Rarrick, who led her team with 16 points, anda free throw by Naomi Reyes cut Highland's lead to 48-44. Six free throws in the final two minutes from Eckenrode, Roberts and Nielson closed out the victory. Highland outscored Saguaro 14-3 in the final period. Ekcenrode was the only other Highland players in double figures. She finished with 12 points.
Saguaro coach Chris Young saw his team fall to 0-2 with its loss Monday night in pool play to D-I Valley Vista. Rebounding and not forcing enough turnovers did his team in.
“One of the keys we talked about before the game was rebounding,” Young said. “They killed us on the boards. I think they had 20 offensive rebounds. We qiuit creating turnovers and weren't getting into our offense. Our offense was more like street ball.”
While Saguaro does have plenty of experience from last year, Young said his team is behind on developing the chemistry he wants. He hasn't had his entire team together since the summer until recently with some players just out for basketball from other cross country and swimming.