By JOSH RIZZO
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
PALMYRA, Mo. -- Brandon Davie knew the Highland boys basketball team had to be tougher.
Macon spent most of the first quarter pushing the Cougars around. The Tigers dominated the offensive glass to erase a 9-0 deficit with 16 seconds left in the first quarter.
Davie hit a turnaround jumper from the top of the key at the first-quarter buzzer to snap the Cougars out of their funk.
Highland never trailed again, as the second-seeded Cougars beat third-seeded Macon 69-54 in a Class 3 District 7 semifinal game Wednesday night at Palmyra High School.
Overcoming the Tigers' rebounding advantage -- Macon outrebounded Highland 40-23 -- was difficult for the Cougars.
"It gets frustrating, especially when they are getting three or four rebounds a possession," said Davie, who scored nine of his game-high 24 points in the first quarter. "That's a big part of keeping your head in the game. You have to get down on the other end and score and execute."
The Cougars (15-9) will meet fifth-seeded Clark County, who they beat 64-58 earlier this season, for the district title at 6 p.m. Saturday. The Indians upset top-seeded Palmyra 64-57 in the other semifinal.
Highland overwhelmed Macon to start the game. Forcing turnovers on five of the Tigers' first seven possessions, Highland built a 9-0 lead with 5 minutes, 32 seconds left in the first quarter.
"We did a good job with transition and getting the ball up court," Cougars coach Brian Leeser said. "We were running our offense and doing a good job with that."
Kendall Kothe, who finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds, and Craig Smith helped Macon take control after its slow start. They combined for 10 first-quarter rebounds and Smith scored on a layup with 16 seconds left in the first quarter to give the Tigers their only lead, 14-13.
"They had a lot more size than we did in there and we didn't do a good job of screening that," Leeser said. "We were standing under the basket trying to screen them. With their long arms, they were able to reach over us. I think we did a lot better job during the second half."
Highland and Macon (10-15) traded baskets and the Cougars took a 29-26 lead into halftime. To open the second half, Highland started to attack the rim aggressively and gained separation.
Three free throws from Davie and two from Derick Smith to start the half pushed the Cougars lead to 34-26 with 7:17 left in the third quarter. Highland finished 19 of 20 from the free-throw line.
The Tigers' switch to a man-to-man defense opened things up for Highland.
"When they came out in man, our offense really opens up gaps, " Davie said. "We knew we weren't hitting outside shots, so we had to do something different and get to the rim."
Smith finished with 15 points and nine rebounds, and Wes Cramsey added 10 points..
Davie knows the Cougars will have to be tougher inside to beat Clark County.
"A lot of it is going to be mental preparedness," Davie said. "We're going to have to come in, box out and be ready to play. They're going to come with a lot of heart. They want to win it."