If one looked at only the score book of the BIC-Cotter first round 2A-North Regional game last Thursday night at Newark, it would look as if the first quarter had been played by a junior squad at best. What the scoring didn't show, however, was the defense played by both teams to account for only a 9-4 BIC lead.
"We didn't play real well offensively, but played exceptionally defensively." said coach Dion Hargrove immediately after the game. "We got in foul trouble, but we made them turn it over some and made free throws down the stretch when it counted."
The foul trouble came when Kam Ashabranner picked up his fifth foul with 4:24 left in the game and the Mustangs up by just five, 38-33.
Prior to that, in the first period, Ashabranner had done his part offensively scoring four of the first period's nine points and finishing with 11 overall.
Cotter was finally able to make some inroads in the second period, largely due to their rebounding according to Hargrove.
One thing which evened the scales was the for the Mustangs was their turn over ratio. The unofficial numbers showed that the Warriors gave the ball up nearly three times for every BIC loss.
"I thought they hurts us on the boards just about all night," said the coach. "But we forced a lot of turnovers and that made a big difference."
Even though Cotter came on in the second period, BIC still pushed their lead out to nine, 21-12 by the time the buzzer sounded for the break. Once again, the scoring came largely from Ashabranner who had five of his teams 12 points for the quarter.
All five Cotter starters put points on the board as they outscored BIC 17-9 to close out the third period down by just one, 30-29. The resurgence was short lived, however, as the Mustangs once again came alive to open the fourth period.
Ashabranner hit a pair of buckets in his last hurrah of the game and Wheeler hit his first two of 10 charity buckets he would have for the quarter to move BIC back out to a 36-29 lead with 6:00 to go.
But over the next three minutes the Warriors went on an 8-3 run to close back to 39-37. Then with 2:30 left, Heath Hawkins hit his second bucket of the night to give the Mustangs a four points lead. Cotter responded with a bucket to close it back to two, but from that point until the last :08 it was Wheeler at the free throw line hitting 7 of 8.
Dillon Hargrove went to the charity stripe last hitting both of his shots for the 50-43 win and the automatic trip to the state tournament.
Afterward, Hargrove was obviously quick to praise the play of his young charges.
"We're a real young team, don't have any seniors, but in the last three minutes we just out-gunned them for the win." said the coach. "Blake stepped up and got us 10 for 12 when it counted in the last quarter to seal the deal. Kam fouled out, but I thought he played real well while he was in there. Dillon stepped in and got two big free throws for us late."
Wheeler led the scoring with 18 while Ashabranner and Hargrove both finished with 11. Heath Hawkins and Dillon Hargrove had four each and Brandon Atkinson finished with two.
For Cotter, Taft Lewis finished with 12.
"We're just glad to be here." concluded Hargrove. "They've played hard all year and once you get a taste of the state tournament, you kind of want to go back. I'm just real proud of them."
The win put the Mustangs into second round of the tournament Friday against 2A-3 district nemesis EPC who defeated Salem 73-55 Wednesday.