Highlands girls varsity basketball team hosted Blue Ridge Early College for the Little Smoky Mountain Conference championship last Wednesday and won 67-44.
“I thought our girls were ready to play and played with great intensity,” said Highlands Coach Jake Page. “I thought we really got out in transition and were able to handle the ball really well. I also thought we moved the ball great on the offensive end. Defensively, we really got after it as well and played great team defense.”
The championship was originally scheduled for Thursday, but was moved to Wednesday because of snow in the forecast. BREC Coach Tim Mayse said playing games on Tuesday and Wednesday may have had an impact.
“I think playing back to back hurt us last night,” said Mayse. “Highlands looked fresh and we looked a little sluggish in the beginning. Highlands grabbed the momentum early by beating us in transition. I thought we had a chance to cut into their lead in the third quarter, but we just couldn’t get any consistency out of our offense and defense. Highlands played well on both sides of the ball.”
Highlands’ overall record is 15-11, conference Record 6-0.
“I’m so happy for our whole program,” said Page. “To be the regular season champions and the tournament champions, is really something special. It is really great to see all of these girls’ hard work be paid off. I couldn’t be more proud of them. To see the joy on all of their faces is something that I will never forget, and I am just glad I was blessed with the opportunity to be a part of it.”
BREC finished with an overall season record of 17-7.
“Our girls have continued to improve every week,” said Mayse. “They have grown as players and have done a much better job of recognizing situations on the court throughout the season. We have established our identity on offense and defense. We want to play fast and aggressive. I think all of our girls have bought into that mindset now, and that’s impressive because it’s not easy to play the way we want them to.”
BREC is one of the smallest schools in the state, but are top 5 in points per game, free throw makes and attempts, and steals per game in 1-A according to MaxPreps. The Lady Bobcats have now played in the tournament championship three out of the last four years.
“We don’t have the benefit of getting transfers from other counties to play for us,” said Mayse. “Every athlete on our team is from our community. We take pride in being from Cashiers and representing Blue Ridge. We want people to be proud of Blue Ridge and see that you can win in girls basketball at Blue Ridge. We don’t run or back down from anyone. For that, I think we have earned respect this year from all teams across the Smoky Mountain Conference.”
Page said this season has been a pleasure to be a part of.
“The girls have bought into what we are doing and really have come together as a team the last part of the season and it shows on and off the court,” he said. “Every team is going to go through some adversity at some point in the season, but what makes a great team is how they handle that and I think when our team had some adversity this year, we really came together and relied on each other to get through it. We are a family and the girls play for one another. That is what makes this team so special.”
Highlands Senior Bailey Schmitt plays basketball and cheers, and said she’s going to miss being on the court with her sister, Julia May Schmitt.
“Winning the championship feels really food,” said Schmitt. “We worked really hard for it and I think that was one of the best games we ever played. I’m going to miss it. Playing against my sister one on one during breaks at practice. It’s a lot of fun.”
Julia May said being on the court with Bailey makes playing the game even more fun.
“Not a lot of people get to say they played with their sister, it’s pretty fun,” said Julia May. “It’s great winning the championship on her senior year and we got to beat Blue Ridge doing it. Everyone contributed to the win and stayed positive the whole game.”
LSMC first-round wrap up
BREC took on Hiwassee Dam in the first round of the tournament on Tuesday and walked away with a close victory coming down to the last minute with a final of 71-67.
“We knew the HD game would be a four-quarter game,” said Mayse. “We were able to apply pressure all night on defense. Offensively, we handled their pressure well with great ball movement. We made some huge shots from the field to keep us in the game in the first half and then close the game out in the fourth quarter with free throws. Charlotte got hot from the floor and had 39 points which was her best game of the season. Great win for our program.”
Highlands took on Nantahala and won 79-24.
“I thought the girls came out and played great,” said Page. “We had great energy and was able to force some turnovers early on and get some points off of it. I thought everybody did their part on both the offensive and defensive end. It was a great win.”
Highlands hosted Bessemer City on Tuesday for the first round of state playoffs and won 67-38. Highlands plays Langtree Charter at 6 p.m. at home on Thursday for the 2nd round. BREC hopped a bus for the 4-hour trip to Mount Airy but lost 72-47.
Highlands versus BREC
BREC versus Hiwassee Dam
Highlands versus Nantahala