CENTERBURG — Highland and Centerburg locked down into a battle Saturday that needed every bit of the 32 minutes to decide the winner.
The teams went back and forth the whole night before freshman Heather Thacker’s putback with less than one second remaining on the clock gave Highland the 58-56 victory in the wild season-opener for both teams.
“I can’t hardly talk right now,” an emotionally spent Highland coach Galen Chapman said following the game. “We set up a play, but I’m not sure it worked. We just kept battling for the rebound and for the loose ball. Heather was able to pick it up and lay it in. It was just a great team effort.
“I was trying to keep myself calm and try to enjoy a great ballgame. Centerburg played their hearts out.”
“That was an interesting first game,” said Centerburg coach Todd Nauman. “It looked like we had the ball under the basket. I’m not sure what happened other than they had the ball and put it in the basket.”
The teams traded their best punches throughout the whole game with neither team leading by more than six points. There were nine lead changes and eight ties during the night.
Highland started the game strong, scoring five of the first seven points. But, Centerburg fought back to take an 11-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.
A six-point run by the Scots kept the game close in the second quarter.
Centerburg went to a full-court press in the second half and was able to push the lead back up to five points (41-36). But, the Scots were able to follow the lead of their guards Kristen Anderson and Kelsey Burt and get back in the game. The duo scored 18 of the Scots’ points in the second half and Anderson assisted on four other baskets as they were able to break the pressure and get some good looks.
“Kelsey and Kristen really got up and down the floor. Either one, they got it and went. I’m not saying I like it when we’re pressed, but those two did a good job tonight against it,” Chapman said. “Our posts were able to come up and give some help. It was a team effort tonight. Everybody finished what they had to do.”
“The bottom line is we did not control Anderson or Burt. We got pressure on, but they went right around us,” Nauman said. “Then we had to chase them and they would drop it off to the big girls for easy baskets. We told the girls what would happen and it happened. I don’t think we played very smart and we did not make adjustments.”
Still, Centerburg had some chances to put the game away. But, an ice cold night from the free-throw line helped Highland remain in the game. The Trojans made just 9 of 24 free-throw attempts for the game, including just 6 of 16 in the second half.
“If we make our foul shots, we keep a 3 to 5 point lead like we did in the first half,” Nauman said.
The Scots actually pushed the lead to their biggest of the game (five points) midway through the fourth quarter (50-45). But, a 11-6 Centerburg run knotted the game back up at 56 and set up Thacker’s heroics.
Anderson led a balanced Highland offense, scoring 15 points, pulling down seven rebounds and handing out five assists to lead the Scots. Thacker added 13 points, while Tarren Thacker had 10 points and eight rebounds. Burt added nine points.
Centerburg was led by McKenzie Stoyle, who had 19 points, 13 rebounds and three assists. Clara Harvey added 11 points, Michelle Crego had eight, Stacy Fielding seven and Tristen Simpson six.
Highland returns to action Tuesday, traveling to North Union for a Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference tilt at 6 p.m. Centerburg opens Mid-Buckeye Conference play Thursday at home against Loudonville at 6 p.m.
The Centerburg junior varsity team cruised to a 47-21 victory over the Scots.
Carly Compton led the Trojans with 12 points. Mikaela Weldy and Haley Bramer added eight points each, while Jessica Pitzer had seven.
Highland was led by Maddison Belcher, who had six points. Sam Zuber added five and Heather Thacker four.