Cougars win Tuscola Tourney/Lady Cougars move to 3-0 in WHC
By David Grindstaff
After struggling with some injuries and a tough non-conference schedule, the Cougar varsity has righted its ship and took home top honors in a holiday tournament at Tuscola High last week.
After topping Asheville High in the opening round of the tournament in Waynesville, the Cougars faced the host Mountaineers in the tournament title contest.
The Mountaineers, who won their first game of the season in the tourneys first round against Swain County, took a four point advantage after the first quarter but by halftime the Cougars had tied things back up with a 15 point second stanza.
The two teams traded baskets for the remainder of the contest and entered overtime deadlocked at 59-59. The Cougars outscored the Mountaineers 9-6 in the extra frame to win the game and the title 68-65.
Cougar leading scorer Avery Austin led the way with 23 points, which included a couple of three pointers, while senior point guard Grant Buckner nailed 9 of 11 free throws and finished with 17 points. Heritage guard Luke Antinori connected on three of four three point attempts to add nine points to the Cougar point total in the exciting win on the road, while Colton Garland scored five points, going 5-5 at the line and Jared Sellers scored six points with four free throws and a basket while leading the team with 5 blocked shots.
Tuscola out rebounded Heritage 32-26 but the Cougars forced 15 Mountaineer turnovers compared to only six for the Cougars.
In a 66-59 win over Polk County before the Christmas break, Heritage got double figure scoring from three different players in a Western Highlands Conference victory.
Avery Austin hit seven of his ten shots from the field to score 22 points to pace the Cougars while Colton Garland continued to contribute after recently returning to the lineup from an injury. The sophomore connected on all six of his shots from the charity stripe and also nailed a three pointer to score 11 points for the Cougars while Shelby Silver tallied 10 points on 4 of 5 shooting from the floor.
Heritage shot 54% for the game while connecting on 4 of 13 three point shots. Job Kennedy was a monster on the boards with 14 of the Cougars 34 rebounds while Grant Buckner contributed 5 steals and 4 assist to the effort.
The team suffered its first league loss to Owen on Saturday night in Burnsville, falling behind in the first quareter 16-12. Trailing by nine at the intermission, the Cougars were never able to recover in the second half and fell 59-53 to the visiting Warhorses.
The Lady Cougars suffered only their second loss of the season in the tournament at Tuscola, falling 50-36 to Asheville High. Abby Bailey zeroed in on three treys and led the team with 15 points. Unfortunately the rest of the team could manage only to hit only 2 of 19 three pointers while shooting only 23% from the floor overall, connecting on only 13 of 56 shots from the field.
The team rebounded nicely in the tourney’s consolation game, jumping to a 14-4 lead over the host Lady Mountaineers on their way to a 52-30 non-conference win.
The Lady Cougars moved to 3-0 in league play with a 64-29 blowout over Polk County in Columbus. Destiny Elkins, one of the leading scorers in WNC, got her average of 21 points in the win over the Lady Wolverines while Abby Bailey continued to up her game with 18 points and Nyssa Freeman ran things superbly from the point with several assists and 17 points which included three made shots from beyond the arc.