By Michael Finnegan / Special Contributor
RICHARDSON – In a seesaw battle with a ticket to the playoffs on the line, Highland Park couldn’t hold on until the end.
Richardson Pearce erased a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat the Scots 45-42 in the regular-season finale on Tuesday and clinch the fourth and final playoff spot in District 10-6A.
The Mustangs (19-12) will face Skyline in the first round of the playoffs, while the Scots (15-16) were eliminated in their first season at the Class 6A level.
HP played shorthanded, with healthy seniors Austin Harrison, Mitchell Kaufman, and Campbell Brooks all watching in street clothes.
A Michael Champine free throw and a layup by Bill Rogers gave HP a 36-26 lead with 7:20 to go in the game. But Pearce, fueled by Grant Lair, came storming back.
Lair, who led all scorers with 27 points, hit two 3-pointers and converted 4-of-4 free throws in a span of four minutes midway through the last quarter. With just over a minute remaining, Pearce took its first lead since early in the second quarter when Lair made a short jump shot in the lane to put the Mustangs up 44-42.
Lair made the front end of a one-and-one to increase the lead to 45-42 with three seconds left, and the Scots’ last desperation shot at the buzzer fell short.
Behind precision shooting from Lair and Sam Davis, Pearce built a 9-3 lead early in the first quarter. However, Pete Davis sank three 3-pointers for HP to trim the lead to 15-11 heading into the second stanza.
That’s when Highland Park adjusted its game.
The Scots’ zone defense blanked Pearce in the second quarter. Behind a layup and another deep 3-pointer by Davis, and two layups by Rogers, HP used a 9-0 run and took a 20-15 advantage into the locker room at the half.
HP did not trail again until the 1:10 mark of the fourth quarter. In fact, the Scots built a double-digit lead.
Davis, who led the Scots with 19 points, hit his fifth 3-pointer with just under three minutes to go in the third quarter to put his team ahead 29-23. After Lair cut the lead to 31-26 on a short jumper and a subsequent free throw, Champine grabbed an offensive rebound and put back a layup to extend the Scots’ lead to 33-26 at the end of the third quarter.