Highlands boys varsity basketball season comes to a close in second round of state playoffs

Highlands boys varsity basketball team came out on Thursday at home and gave Pine Lake Preparatory a run for their money in the second round of the N.C. High School state playoffs, but it wasn’t meant to be for the Highlanders ending with a final score of 63-73.

“We got out to a good start and controlled the tempo with our defense and rebounding,” said Highlands Head Coach Brett Lamb. “We needed to get the ball inside and was able to do that. They got us playing faster in the third quarter and they capitalized on our mistakes.”

Highlands Mattson Gates takes a hard charge against Pine Lake Preparatory in the second round of the state playoffs on Thursday in Highlands. Highlands lost 63-73. The foul was called on Gates.

Editor’s Note: Highlands was down by 2 when I ran to STEM Family Night and the Book Fair right before halftime. When I came back after talking science with 4th graders for 24 minutes Highlands was down 18 in the beginning of the fourth quarter.

Highlands Logan Houston said things started out well but got away from them later in the game.

“I think we played with the Highlands mentality in our last game,” said Houston. “We started out strong and never quit no matter what the score board said.

Highlands Drew Chalker lays it in and scores 2 against Pine Lake on Thursday at home.

Highlands Drew Chalker said Pine Lake brought a tough game and it just didn’t role Highlands’ way.

“We played a good first half,” said Chalker. “But then later we started letting them hit 3s and we weren’t stopping their drives at all.”

Lamb said Pine Lake switched up their defense in the second half and Highlands was having trouble adjusting. Highlands Mattson Gates called the game the “Tale of Two Halves.”

“First half we controlled the tempo with good defense,” said Gates. “While in the second half Pine Lake’s change in defense caused us to struggle on offense, turning the ball over quite often.”

Highlands Hunter Collins under pressure trying to maintain possession of the ball.

Gates is one of seven seniors on Highlands boys varsity team who ended their basketball career’s as students at Highlands School on Thursday and emotions were heavy following the season-ending game.

“It’s something that you can’t imagine until it happens to you,” said Gates. “You feel so many emotions including sadness, but with sadness comes a pride with what you achieved over the years. It’s hard to say goodbye, but I am excited to see what the new generation of ball players has to bring to Highlands and its culture.”

Gates is joined by seniors Jake Billingsley, Chalker, Hunter Collins, Destin Gearhart, Houston and Chase Sullivan who are all moving on to other opportunities.

“It’s been a fun four years,” said Billingsley. “We’ve built a great relationship with Coach (Lamb) and it’s hard to leave, but that’s life.”

Highlands Jake Billingsley dishes the ball inside against Pine Lake on Thursday.

Chalker said he his teammates will be back to support the next generation of Highlanders.

“It’s hard, this place is like home,” he said. “It’s more than just a team, it’s a family, a brotherhood. Guys (Highlands alumni) came back to support us and we’ll be back to support the next guys.”

Chalker added that the community has been incredibly supportive throughout his athletic career as a Highlander.

“It’s every time we have a game, it’s great,” he said. “It’s great to walk around and see all the people you know who come to the games to support you.”

Highlands Dillon Schmitt goes for the block against Pine Lake Preparatory in the second round of the state playoffs.

Houston said being part of Highlands basketball program is one of the best decisions of his life.

“I am very grateful for the experience that all of my teammates and coaches have given me from middle school throughout high school,” he said. “I’m also grateful just to be a part of such a wonderful program and town as a whole.”

Highlands Destin Gearhart drives through the press against Pine Lake in the final game of the boys basketball season on Thursday in Highlands.

It was emotional for both players and coaches once the season came to a close.

“It’s always hard to end a season, especially with a group of seniors like these young men,” said Lamb. “7 seniors who have dedicated themselves to a bigger cause than themselves. They are all great young men and have a lot to offer this big world. They are like family to me. We have been fortunate this year to have 25 boys in our program, so we have big shoes to fill but we have a lot of potential for the future.”

Highlands players in their senior year took a moment to reflect on four years of athletics at Highlands School after their season ended on Thursday.

The Highlanders end the season with a 17-10 record and Lamb deemed the year a success.

“Our season was great,” he said. “Most wins in many years, won regular season and tournament championships, went to second round of state. These seniors won games over Hayesville and Cherokee this year that they had never done before. To all the players, parents, and fans, we coaches appreciate the support you gave us this year, it was special season!!”

Highlands Head Coach Brett Lamb devises a strategy for the team in the final minutes of the second round of the state playoffs at home on Thursday.

Moving forward, Lamb said the boys have a busy off season, and with the returning talent the team should be in good shape.

“We will start this spring with some boys playing travel basketball, some will start getting in the weight room and the gym to work on skills,” he said. “After school is out, we will practice and play scrimmages in the month of June. We try to get in close to 20 games.”

Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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