By BRETT MARSHALL
SYRACUSE — Kylee Hedberg vividly recalls how she and her senior teammates played basketball together back in the eighth grade.
That was four years ago when the Bulldogs lost to Lakin in the finals of the Hi-Plains League middle school tournament in Elkhart.
"We played together, we had a lot of fun and we won most of our games," the 5-9 Syracuse senior said after scoring 31 points and grabbing 12 rebounds to lead her team to a 51-41 comeback victory over Elkhart Wildcats on Friday. "All of a sudden, everything just started falling together in practice last week and it carried over to Monday (a 70-38 victory over Rolla) and then into tonight."
It wasn't easy as the Lady Wildcats always make it tough on the Bulldogs. With junior forward Payton Fleming scoring all 14 of her points in the first half, Elkhart stormed out to a 27-19 halftime lead after holding an 18-14 advantage after one period.
"We had a little foul trouble of our own in the first half," Syracuse coach Mark Akers said. "When you have one of your best players on the bench for most of the second quarter (Kamie Rash, three fouls), it makes it tough to get into the flow of your offense and we struggled with that."
The second half, though, was a different story.
Syracuse did fall behind by 10, 29-19, to start the third quarter, but then went on runs of 11-0 and 8-2 to finish out the third ahead by four, 38-34. The bonus was the fact that Fleming, one of the leading scorers in the league, fouled out with 12.5 seconds to play before the end of the third.
"That was big for us," Akers said. "She's far and away their best inside player and after that I thought we did a much better job on the boards."
Syracuse, with Hedberg getting nine of her points, opened the final eight minutes on a 6-0 spree, increased it to 50-39 late in the game before settling for the 10-point victory, improving their season mark to 7-6.
It was also Homecoming for the Bulldogs and at halftime of the boys game, senior Kamie Rash was crowned queen to cap off a celebratory night for the Lady Bulldogs. Senior Tomas Martinez was crowned king.
"Definitely a good night," said Rash, who has been the other top scorer for Syracuse this season. "When you've got somebody who is getting open, you just want to get them the ball and that's what we tried to do with Kylee tonight. She was on fire."
While Hedberg was scoring 31 points and the only double figure scorer for the Lady Bulldogs, she did get help from several in the rebounding department as Rash (five rebounds), Sharp (six), Gordanier (five), Kelly Darnell (five) and Rachel Gerard (four) all helped on the boards.
"The others have become more aggressive and that's what we need," Hedberg said. "We're playing smarter and not getting into as much foul trouble as we had."
Neither team shot particularly well as Syracuse was 19-of-57 (33 percent) from the field and Elkhart was 15-of-48 (30 percent). Elkhart did hit 11-of-14 free throws to Syracuse's 10-of-21. The Lady Wildcats turned the ball over 21 times to 17 for the Lady Bulldogs.
Syracuse 51, Elkhart 41
ELKHART (6-7) — Hoskinson 3-8 2-2 9, Boaldin 1-12 0-1 2, Espinoza 0-1 0-0 0, Ambrosier 0-2 0-0 0, Gonzalez 3-6 2-2 8, Fleming 5-9 4-7 14, Lutters 3-10 1-2 9. Totals 15-48 11-14 41.
SYRACUSE (7-6) — Rash 1-4 2-5 4, Sharp 3-10 0-0 7, Gordanier 0-3 0-0 0, Nairn 1-3 1-2 4, Graber 0-1 0-0 0, Hedberg 12-24 6-11 31, Darnell 0-4 0-0 0, Gerard 2-5 1-3 5. Totals 19-57 10-21 51.
Elkhart 18 9 7 7 -- 41
Syracuse 14 5 19 13 -- 51
3-point goals — Elkhart 3-5 (Hoskinson 1-2, Ambrosier 0-1, Lutters 2-2), Syracuse 3-8 (Sharp 1-5, Nairn 1-1, Graber 0-1, Hedberg 1-1).Rebounds — Elkhart 37 (Hoskinson 8), Syracuse 41 (Hedberg 12).Turnovers — Elkhart 21, Syracuse 17. Fouls — Elkhart 19, Syracuse 14. Fouled out — Elkhart (Espinoza, Fleming).