By BRETT MARSHALL
PLAINS — There's something hard to explain about the last week of the pre-holiday basketball schedule and the Syracuse Bulldogs.
Just ask boys coach Bill Peeper and he'll scratch his head a little, give a quick smile, then try to figure it out.
For the second straight season, the Bulldogs, last year's Class 2A third-place finisher, played Class 1A rival Greeley County on a Tuesday and thoroughly got embarrassed.
And for the second straight season, the Bulldogs followed it up with a strong effort against Hi-Plains League rival Southwestern Heights and came up with a key league triumph, this time 55-49 on Friday night.
"Darned if I know," Peeper said about the difference in the two games. "Maybe Tribune just reminds us that we're not as good as we either think we are or as good as we can be. It's kind of crazy but that is the way it has been."
Heights coach Chad Novack was contemplating calling Tribune and seeing if perhaps the Jackrabbits would take it a little easier on the Bulldogs prior to what has become one of the key early HPL contests.
"I'm thinking about seeing if we can change the schedule," Novack joked. "But give Syracuse credit, they came at us hard, played tough and made key plays."
The difference in the game likely is told in the turnovers — 17 for Heights to 9 for Syracuse — and free throws — Syracuse hit 18-of-20 to just 5-of-9 for the Mustangs.
"You can't turn the ball over 17 times against a good team and expect to win," Novack said of the miscues by his previously unbeaten Mustangs. "That's the big difference, those two statistics."
Heights (5-1) actually went into the fourth quarter ahead, but just barely, clinging to a 35-34 lead after trailing 28-24 at halftime and 15-10 at the end of the first period.
The Mustangs were still ahead 42-41 with just over five minutes left before the Bulldogs went on a 7-0 run to move up 48-42 and then it was a free throw parade for Syracuse down the stretch where they canned 9-of-10 from the charity stripe. Heights was still within three, 52-49, when Cory Ryan put back a missed shot with 11.8 seconds left, was fouled, but missed the free throw that would have cut the lead to two.
"We redeemed ourselves tonight," said Syracuse senior guard Drew Brown, who was cool under pressure by making all seven of his free throws, including six in the final quarter. "We got humbled at Tribune and just realized we can't go out there and just play, we've got to work for everything we get."
Brown also hit two critical three-point shots in the fourth quarter to keep the Bulldogs just in front of the Mustangs.
"The shot felt comfortable and it was time to step up and take the lead out there," said Brown, who finished with 19 points as did senior forward Tate Housholder. "It's a big win for us, it puts us at 2-0 (in conference). We've never won the regular season Hi-Plains and that's one of our goals this season."
Cody Eakes topped the Mustangs' effort with 17 points, Oscar Sigala added 13 and Ryan had 10.
Syracuse 55, SW Heights 49
SYRACUSE (5-1) - Howell 0-0 0-0 0, Parks 0-0 0-0 0, Brown 5-11 7-7 19, B. Simon 0-5 2-2 2, Housholder 6-11 6-7 19, Peterson 1-4 2-2 4, D. Simon 0-1 0-0 0, Burkett 4-5 0-0 9, McAllister 1-5 1-2 3. Totals 17-42 18-20 55.
SW HEIGHTS (5-1) - Johnsrud 0-1 0-0 0, Chavez 0-0 0-0 0, Winfrey 2-8 0-0 5, Sigala 5-11 1-1 13, Chase 1-2 0-0 2, Flores 0-2 2-4 2, Eakes 8-17 0-1 17, Ryan 4-7 2-3 10. Totals 20-48 5-9 49.
Syracuse 15 13 6 21 -- 55
SW Heights 10 14 11 14 -- 49
3-point goals — Syracuse 4-13 (Brown 2-4, B. Simon 0-3, Housholder 1-2, Petersen 0-1, Burkett 1-2, McAllister 0-1), SWH 4-13 (Winfrey 1-4, Sigala 2-4, Eakes 1-5). Rebounds — Syracuse 23 (Housholder 8), SWH 34 (Ryan 8). Turnovers — Syracuse 9, SWH 17. Total fouls — Syracuse 13, SWH 18.