By BRETT MARSHALL

bmarshall@gctelegram.com

If there's any measure to improvement in a team, all Syracuse girls coach Mark Akers has to do is look at the comparitive scores of his team's Dec. 18 game at Southwestern Heights, then to how they performed in their Hi-Plains League semifinal contest Thursday at the Perryman Athletic Complex.

Yes, the 56-30 loss was not close, but it was considerably better than the December HPL regular season game when the Lady Mustangs, defending tourney champs and Class 3A state champions, scored the first 17 points in a dominating 70-28 victory.

Heights will face Holcomb for the championship Saturday at 6 p.m. Syracuse takes on Cimarron at 2:30 p.m. in the third place game.

"I felt good about the effort, we competed better," Akers said. "Our defense was much improved, but they wear you down, they are so deep. They run and run and they capitalize on that."

Akers has been searching for the combination to bring his team out of the mid-season slump and despite the loss to Heights, believes his team is headed in the right direction.

"We didn't mail it in," Akers said after his team trailed 24-14 at halftime. "I would guess that might be the closest anyone has played them in the first half in a long time."

For Heights coach Barry Mellen, the Lady Mustangs had to make their own adjustments due to the fact that second-leading scorer junior Heidi Brown was sidelined with a groin injury.

"We had to do some different things, try people in different positions and that takes some time for them to get comfortable," Mellen said. "This will help us build more depth."

Mellen watched his defense limit the two to just 11 and five points.

"They're great players and we just hoped to match up with them and make them work extra hard for their shots," Mellen said. "We're fortunate to have the height we do and our girls are very athletic which is a big key for our defense."

Heights (10-0) built an early 12-6 advantage after the opening quarter and was leading only 15-10 midway through the second when they finished off the quarter with a 9-4 run.

The Mustangs came out rolling in the third quarter, going on a 12-2 spree to pull away into a 36-16 lead. It was 40-21 at the end of the third quarter.

Senior Lindsay Garinger picked up the scoring slack in the absence of Brown with 18 points and also had six rebounds. Junior Deni Jacobs reached double figures with 12 points. For the Lady Bulldogs (5-5), Hedberg was the lone double-figure scorer with 11 points and grabbed a game-high eight boards.

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SW Heights 56, Syracuse 30

SYRACUSE (5-5) Rash 2-10 0-0 5, Sharp 0-2 0-0 0, Gordanier 2-4 0-0 5, Cashler 0-0 0-0 0, Licon 0-0 0-0 0, Nairn 1-10 4-6 6, Dowell 0-0 1-2 1, Graber 0-0 0-0 0, Hedberg 4-11 1-2 11, Gerard 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 10-38 6-10.

SW HEIGHTS (10-0) Butler 2-4 1-2 6, Jacobs 5-8 2-4 12, Garinger 6-9 5-8 18, Angell 1-6 2-2 4, Eakes 3-8 0-2 6, Ryan 1-6 0-0 2, Stout 3-5 2-2 8, Sigala 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 21-47 12-20 56.

Syracuse 6 8 7 9 -- 30

SW Heights 12 12 16 16 -- 56

3-point goals Syracuse 4-10 (Rash 1-3, Gordanier 1-2, Nairn 0-1, Hedberg 2-4), SW Heights 2-5 (Butler 1-2, Garinger 1-1, Angell 0-2). Rebounds Syracuse 25 (Hedberg 8), SW Heights 36 (Jacobs 6, Garinger 6). Turnovers Syracuse 16, SW Heights 7. Fouls Syracuse 15, SW Heights 15.