Cougars Roll Over Warriors in Overtime Classic
The Rector Cougars and the Ridgefield Christian Warriors met in the third-fourth place seeding game of the 1A-East basketball district tournament at Armorel Friday evening with a lot on the line. The loser would likely draw the Cougars of Izard County Consolidated, and their 30-plus-win record, in the first round of this weeks' regional tournament. Meanwhile, the winner would draw the not-quite-as-potent 18-14 Calico Rock Pirates.
Dating back to the regional tourney last year, as the RHS boys squeezed out an OT win to improve their seeding at state, the two squads have waged several epic battles.
In the early going of this season the Warriors seemed to have gained the edge, as they posted a 64-57 win at Rector on Dec. 5, then backed that up with a 67-54 decision on Jan. 9.
Just 11 days later the Cougars gained their first win over RCS since the previous February, posting a 56-52 win. Friday night's game offered them the chance to not only gain the better seeding at regional, but also pull to 2-2 with their rivals in the season series.
What played-out was an exciting and entertaining contest, which needed three overtime periods to decide. Rising to the occasion for the boys in blue were senior Kirk Beshears and sophomore Max Ford, as they helped carry the team to victory.
With a large crowd of faithful on hand in the cozy Armorel gym, Sam Simmons of the Cougars stood at center court for the tip-off with Ridgefield Christian's Alex Burnett. At 6-5, the Warrior center has posed serious match-up problems for the Cougars in previous games.
“When we play them there is such a mis-match for us, so we have to give something up,” Cougar Coach Matt Mills said later, “So we give up the three and just hope it doesn't go in the hole. And, tonight they hit several but they didn't hit enough to beat us.”
As the contest got underway the Warriors immediately worked the ball in to Burnett, as he canned the first two baskets of the contest in the paint. Ford answered with a runner moments later, but Simmons also picked up a quick foul and sat down in favor of Jordan Wilson.
Beshears got his first field goal to tie the game at 4-4, but the Warriors answered quickly to make it 6-4 and prompt a Rector timeout. The two squads swapped baskets, including a three-ball by RCS's John Scholtens, as neither team could pull away early.
Beshears added another field goal, then got a breather in favor of Simmons, but returned moments later as Sam picked up another personal. But, the Cougar defense continued to keep the RHS squad in the game, as they recorded several turnovers.
Baskets by Beshears and Burnett knotted the game at 6-6 but Scholtens added a three-pointer, and RCS led 9-6.
As Simmons returned for the Cougars, Beshears got a rest and Ford was fouled and made one of two. Quickly, Simmons picked up another personal, and Beshears returned.
The squads swapped fouls and baskets to pull to 11-9 with under two minutes to play in the first. Kale Hardin also had a strong quarter, getting a basket off a steal then forcing a turnover. Hardin also got a second-chance shot late in the first giving the Cougars a 13-11 lead. Getting a stop at the Warrior end, the Rector squad held the ball for one shot, but Ford's long three was no good.
Hunter Householder came off the bench for the Cougars in the second, providing several good minutes at both ends of the floor. He was also tasked with providing defensive pressure on Burnett, and answered the call.
Wilson got a steal and layup early in the second, pushing the score to 15-11. Hardin added a field goal off a Beshears missed three, and the Warriors were called for three seconds in the lane. The Cougars then went on a run, with baskets by Hardin, Ford and Householder to push it to a 10 point advantage.
Ean Dunton finally stopped the bleeding for Ridgefield Christian with a three-pointer with 3:30 to play in the first half.
The Warriors cut the lead to five on a pair of Burnett free throws, as the score moved to 21-16. Ford put up a contested shot at the other end, with the Warriors getting the board. On a fast break, Dunton was fouled by Wilson and his pair of free throws cut the lead to a three point game.
Ford added to the lead with a favorable roll on the iron, but Elijah Ellenburg answered with a three pointer to cut it to 23-21. Following a Beshears miss, Scholtens drove for a layup to tie the game at 23-23 with 1:30 left.
Both teams had shots in the last seconds, including a corner three by Beshears and an off-kilter attempt by Ford, but the score remained tied at the break.
The Warriors got first shot in the second half, and Simmons quickly picked up his third foul. Afer several turnovers, Ford was fouled and made the first of two to make it 24-23. He missed the second, but Hardin got the put-back to make it 26-23. Moments later the Warriors tied the game on a long three.
Ridgefield Christian them mounted a run, extending the lead to 32-26 before Wilson jumper cut it to four points. Trailing 36-30 with 3:42 to go in the third quarter, Rector's Wilson picked up his fourth foul and was forced to sit.
Beshears got a put back basket and drew the foul, completing the old fashioned three point play to make it 36-33. Moments later he took the ball coast-to-coast to cut the lead to one, 36-35 with just over 1:30 to go in the third.
Still battling on defense, Simmons picked up his fourth foul with just over 35 seconds left in the period. Scholtens answered with a basket to make it 38-35 in favor of the Warriors, and neither team could manage another point in the frame.
The fourth quarter started slow for both teams, as defense continued to be key to the contest. At the 6:38 mark of the fourth Ford hit a massive three pointer to tie the game at 38-38. After several more dry runs down the floor, Beshears drew a foul from Burnett for his third personal.
Dunton broke the tie at the 4:40 mark, giving RSC a 40-38 advantage, but Beshears answered with a runner to tie the contest at 40-all. Following a Warrior turnover, Ford drives to make it 42-40, but Burnett answered with a soft jumper to make it 42-42 at the 3:09 mark.
Following a Cougar timeout, Ellenburg hit a jump shot to break the tie. But, Beshears made a strong move to the hoop at the other end, and tied the game at 44-44 with 1:20 to go.
The Warriors chose to run the clock down, then tried to work the ball inside. But, the Cougar defense was ready, and denied the entry pass. Off the rebound Ford's long shot was no good, and the game went into overtime knotted at 44-44.
The Cougars were whistled for a foul to begin overtime, with RCS breaking the deadlock by making them both. Beshears missed at the other end, but Scholtens turned it over as well. Following a Rector timeout, Beshears tied the game with a floating jumpshot at the 2:20 mark.
The Warriors answered with a shot inside, and a long three, as they took a 49-46 advantage. But, Ford answered with a drive to the hoop, cutting the lead to 49-48.
Forced to foul, the Cougars hacked Graham Averitt and he missed the front end of the one-and-one.
Following misses by both teams, Scholtens made the second of two shots to give the Warriiors a 50-48 advantage with 21.8 to play in OT.
After a Rector timeout, Beshears got the call and took the ball strong to the rim for the basket to the tie the game. Unable to find the handle on the inbound, the Warriors didn't get off a shot and the game went into the second OT tied at 50-50.
As in the earlier periods, neither team could pull away in the second overtime period. Wilson was called for a blocking foul on Scholtens, and ended his night early.
Going into the third overtime period, Scholtens got a steal and layup to make it 52-50. Dunton also added a free throw to make it 53-52, before Beshears drove to the basket to cut it to 53-52.
The Cougars were whistled for another foul at the 1:34 mark, but Scholtens only made one of two to make it 54-52 in favor of the Warriors.
Ford stepped up next, hitting a big basket and drawing the foul. His free throw gave the Cougars the lead 55-54 with 1:20 to go, and set the stage for the win.
Scholtens missed a runner at the other end, and Beshears was fouled at the 1:14 mark. Missing the front end of the one-and-one, the Warriors got another chance but lost the ball inside. Beshears was once again fouled, and made both of the shots to move the score to 57-54 in favor of the Cougars.
A long three was well off the mark at the other end, and Ford was fouled on the rebound. Making the first shot, and missing the second, he set the final at 58-54.
“I was extremely pleased with our toughness. You know, it seemed like for a while we couldn't catch a break. Then for awhile we caught all the breaks,” Mills said of the win. “But the main thing I was proud of was that we just continued to fight and believe that we had a chance to win.”
Coach Mills also had praise for the big plays turned in.
“We made a couple of really big plays down the stretch, and that helped. I know Max Ford hit a layup in that last overtime that really helped,” he observed. “He had missed two in the earlier overtimes, but he finally got one to go and I really thought that was huge.”
In a tight game there are many keys to success, and for the Warriors there were a number of free throws which would have made a difference.
“There's something about this gym,” Mills explained. “We had trouble last time, we missed 16 free throws in the last round, but tonight we seemed to get ours to go and they struggled. So, it worked in our favor.”
Both Beshears and Ford had 21 points in the win while Burnett finished with 19 to pace Ridgefield Christian.
With the win the Cougars advance to the 1A-Region 2 tournament, also being played at Armorel, and a first round contest with the Calico Rock Pirates. The game will be played at 8:30 p.m. this Thursday, Feb. 22, with the winner to face the winner of Wednesday's contest between Hillcrest and the host Tigers at 8:30 Friday.