Cougars finish strong for Homecoming victory

Climax Springs reached the finish line on Saturday in its Homecoming game with Calvary Lutheran.

The Cougars executed down the stretch, making plays when they needed to be made and the result was a 55-49 win over the Lions and it was an effort Coach James Butterfield was proud of.

“First time we’ve been able to finish,” Butterfield said after the win. “We are super young and sometimes start two or three freshmen at a time. Being able to finish at the end is something you’ve got to do. You’ve got to be involved in these games and we have not always got it done, but tonight we did and we did it right. We handled the ball, did not depend on the other team to make mistakes and took care of it... We did a good job and I’m very happy with that.”

In a game where Climax Springs held the lead the majority of the time, but never led by more than 10, there were key moments that put the Cougars over the top.

One of those moments came when Climax Springs had the final possession of the third quarter and worked to put up the final shot. Freshman Matthew Henderson found a wide open Jesse McCartney at the top of the key and the sophomore proceeded to knock down a 3-pointer at the buzzer that extended a 4-point Cougar lead back up to seven. It put Calvary Lutheran in a hole the Lions could not quite dig out of.

For Butterfield, it was a key teaching moment for his young team and showed that good things can happen with a little patience and smart clock management. For the players, it certainly may have fueled some momentum going into the final eight minutes of the contest.

“It put us up a little higher and got us going a little more. It got the crowd jumping a little bit, got us all hyped and I was ready to go after that,” McCartney said of his timely 3-pointer. “If we take our time, the better we’ll do. The better shots we have, the better percentage we’ll have.”

However, Calvary Lutheran was not ready to throw in the towel just yet as they quickly erased a 10-point Climax Springs advantage in the fourth quarter and shrunk the deficit back to four with under three minutes to go. That was the closest the Lions would get though as Henderson knocked down a key pair of free throws to extend the lead back to six with under a minute left. Butterfield was certainly impressed with the freshman’s poise and composure.

“Matt Henderson played an excellent basketball game tonight,” the coach said. “Matt has done a really nice job for us as of late and you can tell he is starting to grow up. It will be real beneficial for him going forward to have done it this year and I’m really proud of him.”

But as the old saying goes, defense wins championships and Butterfield said Saturday’s game was no different in pulling out another regular season win.

“What makes the difference for us every night is we are able to stay in games. We are able to stay in most games if we play defense and we played defense all game,” he noted. “We did not rebound as well as we should have, but we kept them in front of us aside from just a few lapses which good teams will have. They were more athletic than we were on just about every level, but we stayed in front of them and made them take contested shots.

“That is how you win basketball games because high school kids cannot shoot generally. They can make layups though and can make a wide open 3-pointer, so I was really proud of the defensive effort.”

Junior Jake Reed led the Cougars with 20 points, McCartney added 14 and Henderson finished his night with 12. Although Reed may have been the scoring leader, he credited his teammates for any of his triumphs.

“They (Calvary Lutheran) couldn’t get back in it because we kept our composure late whenever we got across into our halfcourt offense. We had them down and made sure they knew they didn’t have a chance so they wouldn’t strive to beat us,” the junior said. “I give it all to my teammates. They did a great job dishing out the ball, moving without the ball and giving me open shots.”

Butterfield will certainly take a 20-point effort any night and the coach said it all comes back to patience. He was impressed with McCartney’s efforts as well.

“What Jesse has done in the last six or seven games is become more patient. He has gone from a playground player to a basketball player and what I mean by that is he was always trying to create his own (shot), split two (defenders) and turn the ball over,” the coach remarked. “Now, in the context of our offense, he is starting to understand, ‘Hey, if I just take my time and we move the ball, I am going to get a good shot.’ That is the adjustment he has made.

“He has done a really good job and it is that sophomore thing. He is starting to understand and is turning into a nice player.”

And veteran experience is something Butterfield highly values as it can build continuity within the program. That is what makes him excited about this particular group.

“We only have four wins, but I am telling you right now that we are so much better than when we started,” he said. That is what you are after, especially with a good group coming up (eighth graders) that will mesh right in with them. These guys are composed, they can kind of teach them and it will trickle down. That is what you want and we have not had that for a couple of years so I’m real proud of those guys. They are playing pretty decent basketball right now.”

Of course, there is always room for improvement and one of those areas that will be addressed going forward is free throw shooting. The Cougars finished 5-5 in the first half, but ended the game 12 for 26 or 46 percent.

“Absolutely we will shoot some free throws. Again, with the youth, Jake is a junior but has not been a part of a lot of winning yet,” Butterfield said. “I think a lot of it was that they felt the pressure and we have to talk to them about that. Free throws are just you and the basket and that is it, no matter what the situation is.”

Climax Springs (4-12) is scheduled to play in the Halfway Tournament this week and the Cougars will be looking for a simular formula to maintain success- patience on offense and playing good defense. The Cougars will face New Covenant on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

“They are starting to get it so they’ll take that away from tonight and we’ll really stress that and stress the free throws,” Butterfield said with a smile.