Cougars take home regional runner-up

Thursday, March 1, 2012
Members of the Rector Cougars 2A-3 Regional Tournament runner-up team which advances to the Class 2A State Tournament in Newark are, from left: Front--Steven Cowgill, Dustin Sparks and Josh Loveless. Middle--Daniel White, Alec Scott and Dillon Shelton. Back--Denver Knight, Brandon Stevens, Ben Petty, Mitchell Weber and Reed Weber.

The Cougars gave conference champ and Class 2A powerhouse East Poinsett County all the Warriors wanted and more in the finals of the 2A-North Regional Tournament Saturday at Monette. Rector battled EPC, falling 62-52 in a competitive contest.

"We made them sweat," Rector coach Matt Mills said after the game. "We played them (EPC) about as well as anybody has."

The Cougars hung with the Warriors throughout, staying close late into the contest. When EPC pulled ahead by 10 early in the fourth, Rector countered with three-pointers by Dillon Shelton and Denver Knight to pull within four points, 47-43, with 5:35 left in the game. The boys in blue got as close as three points, 52-49, following a trey from Mitchell Weber and a free throw from Alec Scott with 3:05 remaining in the final stanza.

A three-pointer and free throw in the final two minutes by EPC's Jori Ford, named tournament MVP, offset Rector's surge.

The Cougars managed just three points in the final three minutes, as EPC was able to extend their lead and hold on for the win.

Rector trailed throughout: 19-10; 32-22 and 41-34.

Each time the Cougars made a run and chipped away at the Warriors' lead, the number one team in Class 2A had a response. Still, the red-hot Rector squad continued its strong play on both ends of the court.

"With the way we've played, it's impossible to be disappointed," Mills said. "These guys have worked hard and right now we're playing the best basketball we have all year. Our guys feel like they can go out there and play with anybody, and I believe it, too."

Three Cougars scored in double figures on the evening. Knight led the way with 16 points. Mitchell Weber scored 14. Shelton finished with 12 points. The trio helped Rector spread the floor on offense, burying multiple treys. Shelton sank three triples, while Knight and Mitchell Weber added two each. Also scoring for Rector were Scott 5, Reed Weber 3 and Brandon Stevens 2.

Wendell Pritchett led EPC with 23 points on the night. A.J. Turner added 12 points for the Warriors.

Rector moved to 23-11 on the night, ending the tournament as regional runners-up.

Semifinal Win

The Cougars advanced to the finals with a 57-32 victory over the Riverside Rebels Friday night at Monette.

Rector started strong; with Stevens dropping a pair of three-point bombs in the first frame and Shelton adding a triple in the stanza as the Cougars took a 14-8 lead through the opening quarter.

Defense made the difference in the second frame. Rector allowed Riverside just five points in the second stanza, jumping out to a 29-13 lead at intermission. Rector's full-court press posed serious problems for the Rebels, resulting in numerous turnovers by Riverside. Shelton, Knight and Daniel White helped the Rector cause in the second quarter on offense, with each connecting from long-range.

The Cougars' lead grew to 20, 41-21, heading into the fourth quarter.

The Cougars utilized a balanced scoring attack against the Rebels with eight Rector players scoring in the victory. Knight led the way with 13 points. Mitchell Weber added 10 points in the win. Also scoring for the Cougars were Shelton 9, White 9, Stevens 6, Scott 4, Reed Weber 4 and Ben Petty 2.

Cole Winford's 10 points led Riverside.

Bound for State

The Cougars were the talk of the 2A-North Regional Tournament Wednesday night, upending 2A-2 number one seed and number two team in Class 2A Cedar Ridge in the opening round of the event, 52-48, to advance not only to the tourney semifinals, but also secure a berth in the state tournament at Newark, Cedar Ridge's home.

The game was a huge win for the Cougars, sparking the squad as they moved forward in postseason play.

Shelton buried a three-pointer from the right corner with nine seconds left in the third quarter to send Rector into the fourth quarter trailing by just two points, 34-32. The final stanza opened with a Knight steal leading to a breakaway layup from Shelton, which tied the game. Stevens posted up inside for a bucket with 5:24 left in the game to give Rector the lead, 36-34. Stevens followed with a big block underneath to deny what looked to be a sure Cedar Ridge bucket. The T-Wolves tied the game with less than five minutes to play, but Shelton continued to have an answer on behalf of Rector, burying a triple to give the Cougars a 39-36 advantage with 4:02 remaining. A free throw by Stevens was countered by a pair from the line by Cedar Ridge's Clayton Butler with 3:16 remaining, pulling the 'Wolves within a single possession, 40-38.

Mitchell Weber drew a charge on the defensive side with 3:06 left to play, stopping Cedar Ridge from taking advantage of a Rector turnover. The denial allowed the Cougars to slow down the pace of the game, forcing the 'Wolves to foul. Scott connected on one of two at the stripe with 1:51 left, keeping Rector in front, 41-38.

Cedar Ridge scored on two drives and added a three-pointer late, but Rector held them off by converting at the line. In the final 1:20 of the contest, the Cougars scored on four throws by Scott, five by Knight and two from White to hold on for the victory.

The win was a massive momentum-builder for Rector.

"That was unbelievable," an emotional Mills said following the game. "We talked all week about how they (Cedar Ridge) were a good team, but we felt like we could beat them. I think it really dawned on our guys when they came over during a timeout just before halftime and they saw that we were right there with them. They looked at me like, 'Coach, we can beat these guys.' In the third quarter we were down eight, but we just kept battling and battling because we knew we were good enough to beat them."

Rector was all over the glass on the night with strong rebounding efforts from Stevens, Weber, Knight and Petty.

"We controlled the boards," Mills said. "I thought we got to the glass early and often and did a great job rebounding the ball."

The Cougars came out and popped the T-Wolves in the mouth early on, showing no fear during a strong start to the game. Rector got out to an 8-0 lead in the first three minutes on a three-pointer and a bucket inside by Mitchell Weber and a triple by Shelton.

"We came out ready to go and I think that caught them off guard," Mills said. "I don't think they were expecting that."

Shelton paced Rector with 17 points in the victory. Stevens overcame foul trouble to notch 15 points while applying loads of pressure underneath the basket. Also scoring for Rector were Scott 8, Knight 5, Mitchell Weber 5 and Scott 2.

Stevens, Shelton, Knight and Mitchell Weber were named to the All-Region Team for their play during the event.

Rector, the number two seed from 2A-North, faced Two Rivers Wednesday in the state tournament at Newark. A win would advance the Cougars to the quarterfinals where they would face either Mountain Pine, the top seed from 2A-East, or Horatio, fourth from 2A-South, at 5:30 p.m. Friday. The semifinals are slated for 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Newark. The setting for the state finals has yet to be announced.

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