HIGHLAND — Mitch Carriger and his Highland teammates are now in the driver's seat in the race for the Mississippi Valley Conference championship.
Carriger scored 29 points and Highland pulled ahead late in the game to edge Waterloo 57-54 Friday in a pivotal MVC game.
Highland improved to 16-12 overall and 7-1 in the MVC with three league contests remaining against Jerseyville, Civic Memorial and Triad.
"We'd like to win all three and win it outright," said Carriger, whose squad can clinch at least a share of the MVC title with one more win. "It's all up to us. If we want to win it, it's there for us to take."
Waterloo dropped to 14-10 overall, 5-3 in MVC play with league games against Mascoutah, Jerseyville and Civic Memorial left to play.
"We battled, we absolutely battled," Waterloo coach C.J. Cruser said. "It was a heck of a game to watch. We did everything we could preparation-wise to get it done. Unfortunately, these guys have beaten us seven in a row and 13 out of 14.
"They've just had our number. I tell you want, they have been beating us soundly lately, and they didn't do that tonight."
Highland never had the lead until Joe Duncan sank two free throws with 1:20 left to play to put his squad up 53-52.
Waterloo's Justin Kretchmer answered with a dunk with 1:10 left, but Carriger hit a pull-up jumper with 46 seconds to go.
Both teams came up empty on their next possession as Waterloo missed 3-pointer and Highland missed the front end of a one-and-one.
Waterloo committed a turnover with 11 seconds left trying to get the ball inside to the 6-foot-7 Kretchmer.
Carriger sank two free throws with 7.1 seconds on the clock to put Highland ahead by three.
Waterloo's Daniel Gardner had a good look at a 3-pointer in the final second, but the shot was off the mark.
"I'm not real happy how we finished the game because we wanted to foul and not let them get a 3 off," Highland coach Matt Elledge said. "We just had called a timeout to tell them that. I didn't want them to get a 3 off because we had an extra foul to give."
Elledge was still happy that Highland got its fourth win in its last five games, including three in a row.
"I thought they settled down and did what they had to in the second half," Elledge said. "We could erase some things in the first half, but that's a big win for us."
Highland also got 10 points from freshman Austin Elledge, nine points from Aaron Elledge and eight points from Duncan.
Kretchmer led Waterloo with 22 points. Rick Wiegand added 13 points and Gardner and Zach Schaab both had seven.
Highland took advantage of its chances at the free-throw line, making 18 of its 22 foul shots.
"We got beat from the foul-line tonight," Cruser said. "We have been fouling too much. We just gave them too many points from the foul line. We would have had a nice lead in the first half if we didn't foul them. Thirteen of their 23 points were from the foul line."
Kretchmer had two early buckets as Waterloo took a 6-0 lead, but then he picked up his second foul and retired to the bench with 3:15 left in the first quarter.
Despite Kretchmer's absence, Waterloo extended its lead to 13-6 on two free throws by Rick Wiegand with 1.3 seconds left in the first quarter.
Waterloo went up by eight points three times in the second quarter, the first on a basket by Kretchmer, who played the second quarter without picking up another foul.
Highland got within 24-20 on an acrobatic basket by Carriger, who tossed in a shot as he was falling in the lane with 1:12 left.
A basket by Daniel Gardner and two free throws by Wiegand resulting from a technical foul on Highland enabled Waterloo to go back up by eight.
Highland trimmed its deficit to 29-23 on two free throws by Aaron Elledge with two seconds remaining in the second quarter.
Highland scored the first five points of the second half to move within a point for the first time on what would be several occasions, but it had to wait until late in the game to finally wrestle the lead away from Waterloo.
Carriger scored 16 of his points in the second half in helping bring Highland back from the halftime deficit.
"Mitch had a great game offensively, not only scoring but distributing the ball as well," Coach Elledge said. "I'm very proud of him. He had some big rebounds for us and did a fantastic job all night."
Contact reporter Steve Korte at email@example.com or 239-2522.