CROWNED: College Heights Cougars earn district title over Ash Grove Pirates

Feb. 26—College Heights Christian School's boys basketball has played for a Class 2 District 12 championship four straight seasons now, and they earned their third crown on Saturday night with a win over No. 1 seed Ash Grove.

The third-seeded Cougars (18-10) were powered by a 51-point second half to overcome a 9-point deficit at halftime and claim the 78-69 victory.

"We just started moving the ball," CHCS head coach Stephan Harrel said. "And then we shot it with confidence."

But it was more than moving the ball and shooting with confidence. Just ask junior guard Jayce Walker: "Hey, he (Harrel) never gave up on us! That's the thing right there," Walker said as he interrupted Harrel's response.

Ash Grove (19-8) fought all game long with College Heights and just came up short late as the Cougars continued to find ways to score in the second half.

"I thought our guys played with a lot of grit and toughness from start to finish," Ash Grove head coach Grant Williamson said. "We got down. We had leads. Despite some really poor officiating, I thought we really battled through and gave ourselves some opportunities. And then they made a few more plays down the stretch than we did, which was ultimately one of the deciding factors in the game."

The Cougars will play Tuesday night in the Class 2 state sectionals. Harrel said that they expect to get to host that game. What is known for certain is that the opponent will be Blue Eye, which defeated Wheaton on Saturday night for the District 11 championship.

"I just don't want them to freak out," Harrel said. "A lot of them haven't been to that stage so it's going to be a little different. ... We're just going to put our shoes on, get prayed up and see what happens."

College Heights trailed by nine at halftime and hadn't gotten a lot of shots to fall yet with the score at 36-27.

"Normally I would go in at half and I might scream a little bit. I didn't scream at all," Harrel said. "I said keep doing what you're doing and keep trusting your teammates. I know you're not making them right now but keep trusting your teammates."

The Pirates were able to limit the Cougars in the first half and Williamson talked about what his guys did to lead for most of the first 16 minutes.

"I thought we just did a good job staying between them and the basket," he said.

The second half didn't immediately swing momentum toward College Heights. The Cougars grabbed 4 quick points from senior Caleb Quade, but then Ash Grove responded with 5 points in a row to make it 41-31 — the largest lead of the game.

"We just trusted our coach and trusted God," Quade said. "We spent all season talking about how we needed to grow and develop for this moment, and it happened."

Forcing turnovers

But then the Cougars started to force some turnovers. And taking care of the ball was a key to victory for coach Harrel coming into the contest. While they did that well in the third quarter, they were also able to force the Pirates into plenty of miscues.

Adam Stanton drilled a 3-pointer — his only points of the second half — to make it 41-34. The Ash Grove's Brady Nicholson converted a scoop layup after using his long stride to get into the lane and past his defender making it 43-34.

Quade drew a foul on the next possession and made good on both free throws. Then the Cougars got a steal and Colsen Dickens made a layup and drew a blocking foul on Ash Grove. Dickens missed the free throw but the deficit was quickly reduced to 43-38.

Those blocking fouls became a problem for Ash Grove in the second half. In multiple instances — maybe five times or more — the Pirates thought they were in legal guarding position and set up to take a charge but not once were they rewarded with an offensive foul call.

"I didn't think we were that bad defensively in the second half. They made a few more shots and they were allowed to kind of go through us defensively, and as a smaller team that put us at a disadvantage and opened a lot of opportunities for them to score," Williamson said.

The Cougars scored the next 7 points to extend it to an 11-0 run and grab a 45-43 lead. The lead was taken on a layup by Jadon Smith following a Pirate turnover with 3:10 to go in the third stanza.

"Then we started to trust a guy who really doesn't play that much, which was Jadon Smith," Harrel said. "And the Lord was just all over him. He started making shot after shot and getting steals. But that's what happens when you infuse confidence in your teammate."

Another forced turnover led to another foul and Smith found himself at the free throw line making 1 of 2 charities. Then, College Heights earned another extra possession and took advantage by finding Smith open beyond the arc, and he stepped into a 3-pointer to put the Cougars up 49-43.

Nicholson got a basket to go at the rim to make it 49-45 and end CHCS' 15-0 run.

But then Dickens buried a trey after multiple offensive rebounds gave the Cougars extra opportunities and a 52-45 advantage. The quarter ended with two free shots from Ash Grove's Dylan Gray to make it 52-47.

Fourth quarter

The Pirates came right back with 8 straight points to start the fourth to grab a 55-52 lead.

Quade ended that charge with a layup to make it 55-54. Another stop and another layup from the 6-foot-4 big man gave CHCS the lead back.

Then it was a seesaw affair for a bit. Ash Grove's Kyler Reece made a triple to go up 58-56. Ben Shumacher hit a 3-pointer to give the Cougars the advantage again.

Then it was Cooper Burks with a layup for the Pirates to make it 60-59 in their favor. But Quade worked down low and got an opening for a bucket on the next possession to make it 61-60. He drew another blocking foul on the Pirates and added a free shot to make it 62-60.

But the Pirates were not done yet. Bryce Davis lined up a triple in the corner and gave his team a 63-62 lead.

And then it was Quade again. Back on top go the Cougars. Then they got another stop after a blocked shot and raced down floor and Quade converted a layup in transition. Then back-to-back turnovers by the Pirates led to layups by Dickens to make it 70-63 with just 1:58 to play.

College Heights maintained at least a 6-point lead from there.

For the seniors on this team, this makes three district championships during their time with the program.

"It means a lot because we have a legacy. My freshman and sophomore year we won district championships," Quade said. "Last year we were so close. We're setting the standard now. It means a lot for our team because after losing Curtis (Davenport) everyone said they (College Heights) can't do it. And we did it."

Quade led CHCS with 27 points and scored 17 of them in the fourth. Stanton scored the Cougars' first 9 points of the game and finished with 12. Dickens finished with 12 and Smith scored 10 off the bench.

Nicholson led Ash Grove with 21, Asher Rust added 18 and Davis finished with 13.

Every man mattered

This was a game where both teams needed a little bit of something from everyone who touched the floor, and the Cougars just got a little more production from their group.

"Well-coached team (Ash Grove). Man, they have good players," Harrel said. "I play all my guys. I play like nine guys. So you never know what could happen."

Harrel added that he told his guys he knew he didn't have to ask them to be focused or to play hard because it was a championship game. But he did tell them that someone was going to step up and score some points who doesn't usually score. That just might have been Smith with his double-digit performance.

Williamson talked about his team's depth and how it helped all season to compliment an elite scorer like Nicholson who averaged over 25 ppg. He admitted the team wouldn't have had the success it did without the role players and contributing pieces.

He added some comments about this season and his senior group of Nicholson, Rust, Davis and Burks.

"They're a special group. They won a lot of games. They always came every day with a great attitude to compete to get better, and I feel like they did it," he said. "We're really upset that the season's over but really proud of the way they competed this year.

"Four seniors and they meant everything to us. Not just what they did on the court but their leadership in practice. ... They really set the bar high for players to come. We're going to really miss them."