By FRANK CASH
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
PALMYRA, Mo. -- When things weren't going the Highland boys basketball team's way Saturday night, Brandon Davie kept an open mind.
"We just kept calling timeouts, calmed each other down and reminded each other to run our offense," said Davie, the Cougars senior guard. "We knew if we did that, we'd have a chance."
Highland's plan paid off.
Trailing Clark County by 13 points midway through the third quarter of the Class 3 District 7 championship game, Highland put together a couple of furious rallies to win 70-67 at Palmyra High School.
It's the first district title for the second-seeded Cougars since 2008. Highland (16-9) will play the District 8 winner -- which will be decided Sunday night -- at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Mexico.
Saturday's comeback was the biggest of the season for Highland.
"It was a good time to put it all together," Cougars senior Derick Smith said. "When Clark County got out to a big lead early, we knew we could come back. We had to play as five players, we had to play together and we had to play the way we know how."
Clark County, the No. 5 seed which finishes 13-15, took its biggest lead of the second half when Luke Ross threw a pass to Kyle Kovar under the basket from half court. Kovar scored to put the Indians ahead 49-36 with 4 minutes, 39 seconds left in the third quarter.
After the teams traded baskets, Smith scored to kickstart a 10-2 run for Highland. The spurt was capped when Austin Richmiller made a jumper at the free-throw line, Wes Cramsey stole the inbounds pass and passed the ball to Davie who drained a 3-pointer from the left wing to cut Clark County's lead to 53-50 with 1:51 left in the quarter.
The Indians scored the next two baskets, but the Cougars put together a 7-0 spurt to tie the score at 57 with 7:09 left in the game.
"We did a better job in a lot of different areas in the second half," Highland coach Brian Leeser said. "We did a lot better job on their big guys (Kovar and Ross). We got our offense and outside shooting going, too."
That's where Jack Neisen made his presence.
The Cougars junior guard made a 3-pointer off the bench on the first possession of the fourth quarter. Neisen made two free throws to tie the score at 60 with 5:08 left in the game and made four steals during the fourth quarter.
"Jack did a great job for us," Davie said. "We had trouble making shots early in the game, and that really hurt us. Jack came in, made some big shots and really gave us an important lift late in the game."
Highland took the lead for good when Smith stole the ball and drove to the basket for a 64-62 edge with 4:18 left. After Neisen's free throw extended the Cougars' lead to 67-62, the Indians answered with a three-point play by Kovar with 1:18 left.
Clark County stayed within striking distance at 69-67 when Kovar scored again on a putback with 10.7 seconds left. Richmiller made a free throw seven seconds later to ice the win.
"The first half was one of the best halves we've played all season, but that didn't last in the second half," Clark County coach Adam Rung said. "I'm sure it was a fun game to watch, but it was very frustrating as a coach."
It's the second straight year the Indians entered the district as the No. 5 seed before advancing to the title game.
"It's like when the postseason comes, a light bulb is turned on in the kids' head to start playing," Rung said. "They play with a lot of heart. It just wasn't enough tonight."
It was a rewarding victory for Leeser. He's in his first season with the Cougars after taking off six years following a long run as Highland's junior high coach.
"It's really special for the seniors," Leeser said. "They've worked hard the last couple of weeks to make sure we were in this position. I can't ask for anything more from them."