Good thing Macks Creek was firing on all cylinders at Climax Springs Tuesday night in a 55-53 thrilling win over the Cougars.

The best antidote for a zone defense usually comes from crisp passes to move the defense and create open shots.

Good thing Macks Creek was firing on all cylinders at Climax Springs Tuesday night in a 55-53 thrilling win over the Cougars. The Pirates had a trio of players make at least two 3-pointers as the team finished with 10 overall and senior Jesse Willis led the charge with six of them on a night where she led all scorers with 26 points.

"It is always a good game against them. They are a pretty good competitor,” Willis said of the neighbors just down the road. “That was our best shooting game so far.

“Zone really builds up our shooting and we did struggle at the beginning of the season getting shots off. After playing man and zone defense, our shots outside and inside have improved a lot.”

It was a welcome sight for Macks Creek coach Lynn Long who noted that nothing usually comes easy against the Cougars.

“They are pretty good. It is a close rivalry and we play them all the time,” Long said of the Cougars, noting the teams met four times last season. “It is just kind of a thing where everybody knows everybody. They all know each other’s names and are friends off the court. This is a tough place to play so I feel really good about it.”

What probably made the coach feel even better was the fact that it was just the team’s second game since the holiday break and the win came on a night where the team did not have an opportunity to practice the past four days due to inclement weather. Some players like junior Kenzie Hicks were also feeling “under the weather” and managed to play and fight through illness.

“We might have had fresher legs, but everything else was not fresh,” Long remarked. “I’m just glad to get the win because they are a good team. We probably caught them at the right time.”

The game was an exciting thriller from start to finish with seven ties and five lead changes.

“It was back and forth and it seemed like every time we had an opportunity to open it up a little bit we would have a turnover or missed shot,” Climax Springs coach Ron Rhodes said. “We have a lot of fixing to do, but the girls played hard and it was one of those deals where we could not get the ball in the hole at the end.”

Macks Creek built an early lead in the first quarter with a 9-0 run, only to see it evaporate with an 8-0 Climax Springs run just a few moments later and the Cougars held a slim 28-27 lead at halftime. Neither side would lead by more than five points the rest of the way and with just over three minutes remaining, the Pirates regained the advantage on a Hicks’ 3-pointer for the first time since early in the second quarter.

Climax Springs went up 52-50 with two minutes left, but a disputed non-foul call led to a turnover and technical foul on Rhodes. The coach sought to make his case that a foul should have been called when the Pirates applied pressure and forced one of his players out of bounds.

“I did not get out of my (coach’s) box or say anything derogatory. I just said I did not agree with his call and still don’t,” the coach said of a play that happened right in front of him.

A free throw from Willis and a 3-pointer from junior Alyssa Seaholm gave Macks Creek a 54-52 lead with 35.7 seconds left and there was still plenty of time for the Cougars to tie or take the lead. Junior Abi Wolfe made one of her two free throws in the final seconds to pull the Cougars within a point, but Macks Creek scrambled to the floor a few seconds later and won possession of a loose ball on a jump ball call with 3.9 seconds to go. After Willis missed her final of two free throws to create the final margin, the Cougars could not manage to launch a game-winning shot with 2.5 seconds remaining on the clock.

“No fouls and play the hardest we can play, giving our best for the last 35 seconds of the game,” Willis said of the mindset it took in the final minute.

It proved to be just enough.

Both Seaholm and senior Caytlin Eidson added 10 points each for Macks Creek and Hicks finished the game with nine points of her own. Willis may have led the way with 26 of those points, but quickly noted she did not do it alone.

“Caytlin did a good job looking outside whenever she got the ball inside and could not make anything. She kicked it out really well and when I did not have anything Kenzie hit the ‘three’ so they had to guard us in all aspects and that is what helped us,” the senior stated.

Long had been preaching moving the ball to keep the offense from getting stagnant and was glad to see things pay off Tuesday night. The Pirates had plenty of balance, but Rhodes said Willis certainly did not help matters.

“She is a nice player. We know she can do it, but just getting our kids to understand where they belong and how to close out on those shooters- we let her shoot, shoot, shoot so that was the difference,” the coach stated.

“We have work to do on defense and turnovers and that is what is killing us right now is we are giving up too many second shots. Our defense has got soft in the last month or so and we have to fix some things there,” he added. “We are young and we are going to stay after it.”

Climax Springs was led by junior Autumn Wallace who knocked down 16 points for the Cougars while sophomore Jayden Butterfield finished with 15, Wolfe contributed eight and senior C.J. Dake chipped in seven.

“It did not seem like we slowed them down,” Long said of the Cougars’ offense and the efforts to stop Butterfield after she nailed a trio of 3-pointers or Wallace from doing damage inside the paint.

“Wallace is a really good player, but we did a fair job on her and made her work hard. We always try to have someone in front of and behind her... I thought we did a good job rebounding against them because we are not very big.”

Macks Creek (5-6) will host Tuscumbia on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. After finally getting to play a game after some time off, Willis likes the direction her team is heading in.

“I think this win helped our confidence a lot and knowing they (Climax Springs) have beat other teams we are going to play helped a lot, too. This win helps a lot in districts as well.”

Climax Springs (8-6) will look to rebound at Fair Play on Friday at 5:30 p.m. Rhodes said he usually likes his team’s chances when the Cougars can score in the 50s, but the Pirates were up for the challenge and he remains optimistic moving forward.

“We’ll be ready,” he said. “These kids are up and down and sometimes they play like they could compete with the top teams in the area. Other times we have trouble competing with average teams. We just have to get focused, but we’ll get there.”