Highland boys basketball fight for playoff berth
Feb 27, 2019 16h49
By Josh McFadden
Highland’s Chris Rich (No. 33 in the dark jersey) drives to the basket along the baseline in action earlier this season. (Photo courtesy of James Boyce)
By Josh McFadden | [email protected]
Entering the final week of the boys basketball season, there were three teams contending for two playoff sports from Region 6. The Highland Rams were one of these squads.
At our press time, the Rams finished up region with a 4-6 record, tied with Murray for the third seed. Highland lost the tiebreaker dropping to the fourth seed and matching up with Bountiful, the Region 5 champ (after our deadline). Olympus (10-0) and East (8-2) had already sewn up the top seeds in the region, with Skyline staying home from the playoffs, Feb. 25 through March 2 at Weber State University.
It’s been an up-and-down season for the Rams, who went 7-5 in non-region play.
Highland had a pair of blowout league wins over West (61-41 and 64-38) and a narrow victory over Murray, 56-53 on Jan. 29, proving it could win both types of games.
Even in defeat, Highland has given opponents all they could handle. In both meetings with second-place East, the Rams took the Leopards down to the wire.
On Jan. 11, Highland held East to just 43 points but could only manage 38 of its own in a five-point loss.
On Feb. 1, in the rematch, the two teams had more offensive production and played an even closer game. The Rams trailed 51-43 after three quarters and nearly came back to upset the favorite Leopards. Highland outscored East 18-12 in the fourth quarter but fell just short in a 63-61 loss. Christian Rich and Liki Makaui each had 19 points, and Jackson Hawes added 14 points and four rebounds. The Rams were an impressive 15 of 17 from the foul line.
Highland also gave Olympus its closest test in region play in the past two seasons.
On Feb. 5, the Rams put a big scare into the defending Class 5A champs, going toe to toe with the Titans in an 85-79 overtime loss on the road. What was more impressive about the effort was the fact that Olympus had toyed with Highland in the teams’ earlier meeting, 79-42 on Jan. 15. This time around, Highland took a 37-35 halftime lead and held a narrow 55-54 advantage heading into the fourth quarter. The two teams combined for 39 points over the final six minutes, and it took an extra session to decide the result.
Olympus was too much in overtime, outlasting Highland thanks to an 11-5 run. One of the biggest reasons the Rams couldn’t quite pull off the stunning victory was because Olympus made 27 free throws to just five for Highland. Four Rams scored in double figures in the game. Rich led the way with 19 points, while Makaui contributed 17 points and six assists. Hawes had 10 points and eight rebounds, and Nate Warr had 10 points, four rebounds and four assists.
Highland’s final two games were critical. The Rams played at Skyline Feb. 15 where they emerged victorious 73-63. But ended the regular season Feb. 19 at home against Murray with a heartbreaking 66-63 loss. In previous meetings, Highland lost to Skyline 64-56 and defeated Murray 56-53. Highland sealed a playoff spot, something the program has accomplished every season this century.
The Rams’ fortunes will likely rest heavily on the play of Rich and Makaui, who have been the team’s scoring leaders all season at 16 points and 12 points per game, respectively. Hawes has a 9.5 scoring average, while Warr and Bronson Olevao each score around six points an outing. All four players are seniors, so Highland has some big shoes to fill next season.