Cougars Advance From District, Set for Regional Play
The Rector Cougars advanced to regional play last week in the district tournament at Bay, and will be in action Thursday night at Calico Rock. In the first round of play at Bay High School last Tuesday they drew the top-seeded and heavily favored host team and dropped a lopsided decision. Friday night the squad bounced back with a relatively easy win over Armorel to secure a third place finish, and spot in this week's regional tournament.
The Cougars took on the eventual district champion Yellowjackets in the first round, and fell by a final of 69-29. The host squad came out red-hot in the first half of play, hitting 11 of their 13 three pointers while utilizing a relentless trapping defense. The result was a 21-6 Bay lead after one, a 48-22 advantage at the half and a 60-26 lead after three.
The Rector squad actually came out and drew first blood in the contest, as Easton Tracy nailed two early three pointers for the Cougars to give them an early 6-3 lead. But, it was short-lived, as the Yellowjackets responded with an 18-0 run to close out the first quarter. In the period Bay got two treys each from Caleb Hargen and Dax Gipson, with Dustin Utley adding another.
The host squad continued the onslaught in the second period, as Layne Austin hit three more three-pointers in the frame, with Hartgen, Smith and Layne Taylor adding one more each. Riding the momentum they took a 48-22 advantage into the break. They padded the lead to 60-26 after three, and cruised to the win.
Tracy and Max Ford paced the Cougars with 8 each, Kirk Beshears finished with 5, Hunter McNeely and Hunter Householder had 3 each and Kale Hardin had 2 points off the bench. Layne and Hartgen both had 13 for Bay in the win.
As a team the Cougars were 5 of 9 from the charity stripe, while Bay converted on 6 of 8 trips to the line.
Friday evening the Cougars returned to Bay to play in the third-fourth place seeding game against the Armorel Tigers, to determine the bracket for this week's regional. The Rector squad looked sharp on the night, as they dominated both ends of the floor en route to a 66-55 win.
Both teams got off to strong starts Friday night, with Rector getting a pair of treys and a field goal from Tracy, two more three-balls from Ails, a pair of field goals from Beshears and a free-throw from Ford as they took a 19-16 lead after one.
In the second quarter Ails continued to rain on the Tigers, hitting three more treys in the frame. Beshears also had three more field goals, Ford hit a field goal and a free-throw while Tracy added another field goal as the Cougars took the frame 20-10.
To begin the second half the Tigers stepped-up the defensive pressure, but Ford responded with nine of his 14 points in the period to pick up the slack. As a result, the Cougars outscored Armorel 15-13 in the third to take a 54-39 lead into the fourth.
In the final frame the Tigers were forced to foul, and the Cougars answered the call. Beshears was 4 for 4 from the line in the frame, Ails was 2 for 4 with a late three-pointer and Ford was 1 for 2 from the charity stripe. Down the stretch Armorel continued to try to mount a rally, but the Rector squad held-on, something Coach Matt Mills expected.
"You know we talked about it at halftime, we knew that Armorel wasn't just gonna' go away, they're too good for that, too tough for that," Mills said of the win. "We knew they'd make a run and it's something we've struggled with all year. Just learning how to hold on to a lead. But, I think we're finally starting to turn that corner and have toughened up enough to play with a lead."
Mills also noted the height of the Tigers causes match-up problems, and he was pleased with the way his squad handled the challenge.
"I thought the key to the game was the fact we did a good job adjusting to their length," he added. "That was the game plan, if your guy doesn't have it then get in there and congest the lane and try to offset the size difference and I thought we did a good job. We also shot the ball well, especially early."
Only four of the Cougars scored on the night, but all were in double figures. Ails finished with 20, Beshears had 18 while Tracy and Ford both finished with 14 points. Leading the Tigers were Seth Wyatt with 19 and Monroe Carr with 17 in the loss.
The Cougars will be in action at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday in the first round of the 1A Region 2 tournament at Calico Rock. They'll take on Mammoth Spring in the first round, with the game set for 5:30 today, Thursday Feb. 23. A win will earn them a re-match with the Yellowjackets at 5:30 on Friday, as Bay advanced with a 65-56 win over Norfork Wednesday evening. In the other first round game in the boys bracket it was Izard County over Armorel 74-47. They'll take on the winner of today's contest between Ridgefield Christian and Calico Rock in the other semi final on Friday evening. The third-fourth place seeding game is set for 1:30 Saturday with the boys championship slated for 7:30 p.m. at Calico Rock High School.