Cougars advance to regional tourney
The Cougars will take part in the 2A-North Regional Tournament this week at Monette following a strong run in the 2A-3 District Tournament at Cross County in Cherry Valley.
Rector advanced to the semifinals for a meeting with top-seeded East Poinsett County Friday night. Though the Cougars would fall to the Warriors on the night, 69-44, coach Matt Mills and his Rector team could hold their heads high having clenched a regional berth for the third consecutive year.
"We make a list of goals at the start of each season, and qualifying for the regional tournament is one of the main goals (we have)," Mills said. "We've worked hard to get this opportunity. Now, the next step is to go out there and play."
Friday night, the Cougars faced what will arguably be their most difficult opponent of the season. EPC came into the night with an overall record of 21-2. The Warriors led throughout: 16-7; 28-14 and 47-26.
Mitchell Weber paced Rector with 12 points on the night. Denver Knight added 10 points for the Cougars. Also scoring for Rector were Brandon Stevens 7, Alec Scott 7, Dillon Shelton 5 and Daniel White 3.
The Cougars made nine of 14 attempts at the free throw line.
Jammar Sturdivant led EPC with 15 points. Martin Powell and Jori Ford contributed 12 and 10 points, respectively.
The Cougars punched their ticket to the regional tourney Thursday, Feb. 16 with a 41-36 win over Walnut Ridge Thursday, Feb. 16.
Rector trailed 10-7 after the first and 24-18 at intermission, but responded in the third quarter to claim the lead. Knight and Shelton connected with a three-pointer each in the frame to help spread the Walnut Ridge defense. Knight, Scott and Mitchell Weber managed to work inside for a basket each, while Ben Petty made one of two from the stripe to help Rector pull ahead.
In the fourth quarter, Stevens and Shelton hit their second treys of the evening while Knight and Scott added a pair of free throws each.
The Cougars effectively shut down the Walnut Ridge offense in the third, allowing just one field goal and two free throws by the Bobcats.
"We came out in the second half with more intensity," Mills said. "We knew that it was time to win or go home. We just decided we wanted to keep playing a while longer. You could really see the difference in our defense. We were more aggressive and did a better job of denying them the ball inside."
Shelton and Stevens finished with 11 and 10 points, respectively, for the Cougars. Also scoring were Mitchell Weber 8, Knight 7, Scott 4 and Petty 1.
Walnut Ridge was led by Zack Crisler's 17 points.
The Cougars roared through their first matchup of the tourney, dismantling host Cross County, 71-38.
Petty, a senior, helped Rector get out to the hot start, banging inside for four buckets in the first frame. Petty also made one of two at the stripe in the period, as Rector took an 18-12 lead into the second stanza.
In the second frame, Rector was led by seven points from White and five each from Stevens and Shelton, which helped the Cougars notch a double digit advantage, 41-24, going into intermission.
Shelton scored nine, including five of six at the stripe, as Rector moved ahead 58-35 heading into the fourth.
A balanced scoring attack for the Cougars proved too much for Cross County on the night. Five Cougars finished with double digits in points, led by 18 from Shelton. Scott finished with 13 for Rector. Petty and Stevens scored 11 each for Rector. White added 10 in the victory. Mitchell Weber had seven points to round out the Rector scoring.
The Cougars are set to face Cedar Ridge, the number one seed from 2A-2, at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday (today) on the BIC campus at Monette. A win would secure a bid to the state tournament and advance Rector to the semifinals with either Riverside or Salem at 5:30 p.m. Friday. The tournament finals are set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Monette.