Whiteoak's Josh Hughes (right) battles Peebles' Hunter Ruckel in their Southern Hills Athletic Conference game, Friday at WHS. (HCP Photos/Stephen Forsha)
Whiteoak's Josh Hughes (right) battles Peebles' Hunter Ruckel in their Southern Hills Athletic Conference game, Friday at WHS. (HCP Photos/Stephen Forsha)
MOWRYSTOWN — The Whiteoak Wildcats took the Division II Southern Hills Athletic Conference-leading Peebles Indians to the ropes on Friday night, holding a halftime lead, then battling back after a Peebles rally in the middle stages of the third frame.

Once the dust was settled and time ran out in regulation, Peebles held a six-point lead, as they defeated the host Wildcats by a 65-59 score at Whiteoak High School.

From the very start of the game — in front of a standing-room-only crowd of Whiteoak and Peebles fans — it was Whiteoak who surprised many by taking an 11-point lead against the Indians in the first frame for a 15-4 advantage.

Though Peebles (6-2, 9-2) scored first with former Wildcat Hunter Ruckel sinking a layup to start the scoring for the SHAC rivalry contest, the Wildcats answered with a basket from Landon Barnett, as Barnett led WHS with 15 points against Peebles.

The two teams exchanged baskets once again in the early stages of the first with Peebles gaining two points from Easton Wesley, only to be answered with a basket by Whiteoak’s Landon Emery for a 4-4 tied score.

That basket by Emery — who totaled six points in the game — began a 12-0 run by the young Wildcat team to end the first quarter with Josh Hughes (who scored six total points) coming in with two points at the 3:46 mark, followed by a 3-pointer from Bradley Ashbaugh and a strong put-back basket in the paint by Brayden Yeager with 2:28 remaining in the first frame for an 11-4 lead.

Ashbaugh finished the game with 13 points, and Yeager totaled seven points, as he was also a defensive presence with his rebounding on Friday.

“Brayden Yeager worked his tail off,” WHS head coach Ryan Barnett said. “All the kids really went after the ball, but Brayden was really physical and got after it.”

The Wildcats (2-3, 3-6) weren’t finished as they scored two more points in the paint from Hughes and a put-back basket by Nick Bailey, who maneuvered himself to get wide-open under the hoop for the final points of the quarter and the 11-point lead for Whiteoak. Bailey ended the game with 12 points.

“It’s a big rivalry. We played them tough last time,” Barnett said. “We put four quarters together tonight and played them super tough. Peebles is always good year-in and year-out, so hats off to them. They clawed their way back into it. A few things for us, we’ve got to make foul shots. I know we’re well under 50-percent, and you can’t win ball games and do that.

“The kids never gave up. That’s what we’ve talked about all year. I don’t care how bad you’re down, don’t give in. They don’t do that. They’re coming along. That’s what I told them after the game.”

Peebles regrouped and outscored the Wildcats, 18-10 in the second, though once halftime arrived it was Whiteoak leading by a 25-22 score.

Peebles cut the WHS lead down to nine points early in the second, but the Wildcats were right there, answering with a 3-pointer by Barnett, who moved the Wildcat advantage to 12 points at 18-6 with around 6:00 left in the quarter.

Peebles answered with four consecutive points from Dawson Mills and a 3-pointer from Ruckel for an 18-11 score. Eventually the Indians cut the Wildcats’ lead to a single point following a layup by Oakley Burba (with the assist from Kyle Lightner) for a 20-19 score in favor of the home team. WHS and Peebles exchanged points, including a 3-pointer by Whiteoak’s Barnett with 1:08 left in the second, as the halftime lead stood at three points, 25-22.

Mills finished with 10 points for PHS, while teammates Burba totaled 11 points, Ruckel finished with 18 points and Browning scored 17 points (11-of-16 from the free-throw line), giving Peebles four players in double figures.

“Weston Browning, the senior point guard and leader at Peebles, he’s just lights out at the foul line,” Barnett said. “They got the ball to him, and as much as we tried not to let him get it, he got it and we had to foul. The clock was running against us.”

The third frame saw the score tied on four occasions, but Peebles took the lead for the first time in the SHAC contest in the early stages of the third with a jumper from Ruckel, followed by Ruckel later sinking two free throws for a Peebles lead of 26-25 with 7:11 left in the third.

Ashbaugh tied the score at 26 following a free-throw conversion with 6:43 left in the quarter, and later the score was tied again, this time by Barnett with a jumper around the 6:00 mark for a 28-28 score.

Both teams continued to answer baskets with Peebles tying the score at 33-33 with a put-back basket by Mills with 4:40 on the clock, and later WHS tied the score at 39 when Yeager scored a point off a shot from the free-throw line with 2:01 left in the third.

That tied score didn’t last long as the visiting Indians had consecutive 3-pointers by Burba, followed by a Ruckel layup with 22 seconds left in the quarter for the final points of the frame and a Peebles lead of 47-39.

WHS trailed by as many as 11 points in the fourth frame with Mills sinking a 3-pointer for Peebles 15 seconds into the frame for a 50-39 advantage. WHS clawed back with two free throws made by Yeager, and then a jumper later in the quarter by Bailey brought WHS back to within seven points of the SHAC Division II leaders.

WHS scored their sixth straight points with a basket off the glass by Hughes, bringing the deficit down to five points at 50-45 with 4:16 left in the fourth.

From there, Peebles converted a three-point play by Weston Browning, but WHS answered with a basket by Bailey. Eventually, another basket by Bailey with 2:40 on the clock made it a four-point differential on the scoreboard in favor of PHS at 57-53.

The Indians were too much, and the Wildcats never got back to closer than within four points of the lead, as the game ended with two final free throws made by Ruckel to push the final PHS lead to six points.

Other final scoring totals for Peebles in the game included Hunter White with three points, and with two points each were Alex Camp and Kyle Lightner.

For the game, Peebles totaled 15 two-point baskets, six 3-pointers and they were 17-of-24 from the free-throw line (68 percent). Whiteoak finished with 18 two-point field goals, five 3-pointers and they were 8-of-16 (50 percent) in their free-throw attempts.

Next for WHS is a non-conference game Saturday, Jan. 11 at home against Bethel-Tate.