WILLARD -- The fourth-seeded Hillcrest Hornets flew out to a first-half lead and then repelled a third-quarter rally to knock the fifth-seeded McDonald County Mustangs out of the Class 5 District 6 Tournament on Wednesday, March 1, at Willard.
Hillcrest improved to 16-11 with the win, while the loss brought McDonald County's season to an end at 15-12.
"We came out, and I thought we had a lot of energy and fight in us," said McDonald County head coach Brandon Joines. "We weren't ready for our season to end without a fight, and that's a testament to the guys and their desire to compete, no matter the circumstances. So our competitiveness was there, and that was outstanding to see."
Hillcrest, playing with 6-6 senior forward Cole Griesemer, who missed his team's earlier matchup with the Mustangs due to an injury, hit for 13 points. He was instrumental in sparking a 12-2 rally that saw the Hornets snag a 32-19 lead at the halftime break.
He hit a 3-pointer and a layup, while teammate Akarius Staten-Ballance contributed a layup off a steal and Tanner Hicks-Everhart a 3-pointer during the spree.
The Mustangs raced out of the second-half starting gate with junior Destyn Dowd scoring the first five points of the third before teammate Weston Gordon scored on a putback, bringing the Mustangs back into the fight at 32-26.
"We were down 13 at half and cut it down to six in the third quarter, and that was all based on hustle," said Joines. "I thought Destyn was outstanding to start that third quarter and really all throughout the second half. He did a phenomenal job."
Hillcrest managed to stay just out of the reach of the Mustangs throughout the third quarter. McDonald County trimmed the deficit to five points, 35-30, on a layup by Toby Moore off a nifty assist from Sterling Woods with 3:23 on the clock. Then, after a Hillcrest layup, Woods converted an old-fashioned 3-point play, bringing the Mustangs within 37-33 with 2:47 left in the third.
The Hornets closed out the quarter with a 7-2 run for a 44-35 lead as the quarter came to an end.
"After we cut it down, we missed some open shots," said Joines. "We had some great looks, but they didn't fall for us. They came out and showed that fight. (The loss) wasn't because of a lack of hustle, we just missed some shots, some wide-open looks from the perimeter and some free throws."
Hillcrest kept its foot on the gas pedal, doubling up McDonald County, 16-8, to seal the victory.
"I'm proud of this group," Joines said of his team, led by seniors Cross Dowd, Dalton McClain, Jaxson Harrell, Woods and Gordon. "These seniors showed the fight and competitiveness they've shown all season. They've been our leaders all year, and they led by example again tonight with their hustle, energy and effort and the way they conducted themselves overall."
Hillcrest's Braxton Baker, another 6-6 senior forward, and Amarre Clark, a 6-0 senior guard, led the Hornets with 15 points each, while Griesemer and Hicks Everhart hit for 13 apiece.
Woods led the Mustangs with 12 points. Destyn Dowd and Moore added nine and eight points, respectively.
MCDONALD COUNTY 43
MCDONALD COUNTY (15-12): Woods 12, D. Dowd 9, Moore 8, C. Dowd 6, Pacheco 4, Gordon 4.
HILLCREST (16-11): Baker 15, Clark 15, Griesemer 13, Hicks-Everhart 13, Staten-Ballance 2, Weaver 2.