By KEVIN THOMPSON
CIMARRON — It had all the makings of a marquee matchup.
Two state-ranked teams in Cimarron and Southwestern Heights with a combined record of 31-5 vying for a league title in the final regular season game heading into substate next week.
In the end, it was the No. 2-ranked Class 2A Cimarron girls who prevailed, overcoming a sluggish first half with a solid second half to dominate the Lady Mustangs, 59-48, and claim the Hi-Plains League over No. 5-ranked Class 3A Southwestern Heights.
It was a win that coach David Ediger knew his team could get, as long as it made some adjustments at halftime.
"Our girls really wanted this," he said. "We've lost two really tough games the last two games," making this game sort of a "must win" going into the post season.
Heights used its length advantage freely in the first half, taking the ball inside often and outrebounding the home team 19-9.
"The first half we didn't block out," Ediger said of his team's lightness on the boards. "We corrected that at halftime."
Switching to a zone defense was another key adjustment.
"Heights got a little frustrated at times. They had some uncharacteristic turnovers tonight, and I'm proud of our girls for causing those," Ediger said.
Heights got back on track in the first quarter, going on a 10-0 run to end the quarter with a 15-7 lead.
But poor shooting on their part — 30 percent — let the Bluejays chip away at that lead, getting them within five at the break.
It was a different Cimarron team that came out after halftime.
After hitting only six shots the entire first half, the Lady Jays hit their first five in a row to open the second as part of a 13-5 run that gave them a 32-29 lead.
Heights only hit one field goal the rest of the quarter while Cimarron kept up the pace. Avery Burns' rebound off a missed free throw resulted in a turnaround jump shot at the buzzer to boost the Bluejay lead to 39-34.
That spark inspired play on both sides of the ball for Cimarron, which held Heights to just four field goals and three rebounds in the final quarter, and the defense caused four turnovers that led to Cimarron scores.
A solid zone defense in the second half by Cimarron shut down Heights' inside game, led by Avery Burns under the basket, who changed shots and grabbed rebounds against the much taller Heights girls.
Heights' Heidi Brown finished with 24 points, seven more than her season average, but the rest of the team hit just nine field goals out of 27 attempts for the game.
The Bluejays also held Heights to just five rebounds in the second half; effectively taking away one of the Mustang's weapons.
Conversely, Cimarron shot 15-of-25 from the field in the second half and grabbed 11 boards.
Burns led Cimarron with 19 points — just above her season average — followed by senior Kate Lock and Lindsey Wehkamp with 12 each.
"Kate did a great job on senior night. She didn't get some foul calls around the basket, but she kept attacking it. She didn't quit," Ediger said of his lone senior.
For Heights coach Barry Mellen, the loss was disappointing, especially because his team could not handle Cimarron's halftime adjustments.
"We played cautious. We got out-hustled the whole second half," he said.
Senior Dani Jacobs played limited minutes for Heights, her first time on the court all season after coming back from a broken leg. She ended with five points.
Losing like this was a wake-up call for his team, Mellen said.
"I told the kids, we play like that next week and our season's completely over. At least we can regroup at substate and refocus on what we need to do," he said.
"We've got to be ready to play."
Heights (15-3, 10-1) will face Lakin on Monday to open substate play while Cimarron (17-3, 8-1) will open against Syracuse.
Cimarron 59, Southwestern Heights 48
Heights 15 9 10 14 -- 48
Cimarron 7 12 20 20 -- 59
Heights - D. Jacobs 2 1-1 5, Garringer 3 0-0 8, Brown 6 8-9 24, Coats 1 1-4 3, Loya 0 0-1 0, Ryan 2 2-4 6, Stout 1 0-2 2. Totals 15 12-21 48.
Cimarron - 7 5-9 19, Burns 1 1-2 3, Payne 2 0-0 5, Siek 1 0-0 2, Lock 4 4-6 12, DuPree 2 1-3 5, Bryant 0 1-2 1, Wehkamp 5 1-2 12. Totals 22 13-24 59.
3-point goals - Heights 6 (Garringer 2, Brown 4), Cimarron 2 (Payne 1, Wehkamp 1). Rebounds - Heights 23, Cimarron 19. Turnovers - Heights 14,Cimarron 8. Fouled out - Ryan.