Cougars Fall to Defending State Champs
The Rector Cougars gave defending 2A state champion Cedar Ridge a good scare during much of the teams' first round meeting in the 2A North Regional Tournament at Pangburn Wednesday night before falling to the Timberwolves, 58-44. Cedar Ridge would ultimately claim the regional crown, defeating 2A-3 top seed Buffalo Island Central in the championship contest on Friday.
The Cougars went into the contest with a solid gameplan, maintaining tight defensive pressure on Cedar Ridge leading scorer Spencer Reaves, one of the top players in class 2A. The strategy worked well, with the standout being limited to 13 points throughout the first two frames.
On offense, the Cougars continued to benefit from the play of their "big three," seniors Reed Weber, Alec Scott and Adam Dinkins. The trio netted all of RHS' points in the first frame, which ended in a 13-13 tie, with Dinkins scoring six, Weber producing five and Scott adding two points.
The second frame was even more of a possession-by-possession challenge between the teams. As Cedar Ridge worked to get Spencer Reaves more touches, so too did Rector look toward All-State inside-outside threat Weber. Weber buried a triple when the Timberwolf defense took too long to rotate out to the perimeter and battled inside for bucket from the low post. Weber also sank both of his free throw attempts as the opening half wound toward its end. The teams took a 20-20 tie into halftime.
The first half was a display of precise planning and execution.
"We wanted to slow it down and play a possession-by-possession game," RHS coach Matt Mills said. "We knew going in that would be our best chance; slow the game down, get good quality shots and not let them (Cedar Ridge) get rolling. I thought we did a great job of that in the first half. I don't think we could've played any better than we did in the first half."
The third quarter saw the tempo shift to a quicker pace, which catered more to the Timberwolves' strengths. Transition baskets and drives to hoop allowed Cedar Ridge to gain momentum, outpacing the Cougars 20-10 in the pivotal frame. Rector trailed 40-30 heading into the fourth quarter.
"Against a team like that, you can't make very many mistakes," Mills said. "We coughed the ball up a few times and they were able to build a lead. They're tough to come back on when they have a lead like that. As the pace picked up, it worked in their favor."
Spencer Reaves tallied 24 points in the second half en route to finishing with 37 for Cedar Ridge.
As the final quarter wound down, Dinkins, Scott and Weber were joined by fellow senior Wes McCluskey on the floor. This allowed Mills to sub in for his four seniors on the roster, letting the Rector fans who made the journey to Pangburn to show their appreciation for the four young men playing in their final high school basketball game with standing ovations.
"These guys have meant so much to this team this year and to our program as a whole," Mills said. "They worked extremely hard all year. I thought our whole team did. We may not have won this game, but we showed that we could play with one of the best teams in the state, which I feel we are: one of the best teams in the state."
Dinkins led Rector with 15 points on the night. Weber finished with 13 points. Also scoring for the Cougars were Scott 6, Danny Hager 5, Lawson Ford 3 and Huston Highfill 2.
The Cougars closed the season with a record of 19-13. Dinkins, Scott and Weber were named to the 2A-3 All-Conference Team.
"I think we're a team a lot of people overlooked; at least until they had to go out on the court with us," Mills said. "We reached the regional tournament, which was a main goal for us at the start of the season. We were one away from reaching the state tournament. That says a lot about each one of the guys on this team and how much effort and hard work they put into this season. No one on this team should be hanging their heads. There's a lot to be proud of."