MASCOUTAH — The Highland Bulldogs made sure that the 36th annual Mascoutah Girls Basketball Invitational coaching debut of Mike Arbuthnot on Thursday was a winner.
But Arbuthnot could have lived without the excitement.
Amanda Ponce and Emily VonderHaar hit two free throws each in the closing two minutes as Highland held off Althoff 58-54 in a first round game at Mascoutah High School.
Getting balanced scoring, Highland (7-4) built leads of 32-22 at halftime and 45-37 after three quarters before Althoff caught fire.
A string of 3-point field goals by Kyliegh Vaught, Madison Weilbacher and Danielle Hawthorne got Althoff (4-3) to within two points and when Weilbacher hit an off-balance jumper with just over two minutes left, the Crusaders were within 51-50.
But Ponce and VonderHaar responded by making four straight free throws to increase the Bulldogs lead to 55-50.
Arbuthnot, a former head coach at Roxana, said his team made things interesting with missed opportunities.
"The effort was there. I thought we played hard for 32 minutes,'' Arbuthnot said. "We just didn't do a very good job of finishing. We missed a lot of layups in the first half. If we make those its a different game.
"We also had 23 turnovers. That's way too many.''
Thanks to VonderHaar, one of three players with 11 points and Ponce, who added 10 points, Highland will take on top-seed Central in the first of four quarterfinal round games at 11:30 a.m. on Friday.
Althoff, which was led by Vaught's 19 points, struggled against the Bulldogs pressure. The Crusaders committed 10 first half turnovers and were never able to catch Highland which built a 14-4 lead after one quarter.
"We had trouble against their pressure simply because we were getting caught in the corners. We made adjustments and did a better job in the second half,'' Althoff coach Todd Hill said. "We battled back and I was proud of that. I told the girls that this is a great tournament for us because you're playing good teams. That's how you get better is by playing good teams.''
Carbondale 60, O'Fallon 57
Senior McKena Miller made 7-of-8 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter while junior Kalli Bacon hit a layup with just over a minute remaining to give her team the lead for keeps as the Terriers nipped O'Fallon.
Playing from behind for most of the final three quarters, O'Fallon (4-4) rallied from a nine-point deficit to tie the game at 53 on a running jumper from the lane by senior Jasmine Bonds.
But Bacon scored inside seconds later and Miller, who led all scorers with 26 points, made free throws in the closing seconds to all but seal the win.
"She's a very good player who does a good job of using her body to draw contact and get to the foul line,'' O'Fallon coach Ryan Massey said of Miller.
"I thought the key to the game was our transition defense. We knew they (Carbondale) liked to get the ball and get down the floor. We didn't get back very well at times and it cost us.''
Bonds led O'Fallon with 18 points, while Ally Warren added 11. Blair Butler and Becca Althoff chipped in with 10 points each.
Central 72, Okawville 22
The top-seeded Cougars ended any thoughts of an Okawville upset bid with a 35-0 run in the second and third quarters and went on for the easy first round win.
Leading 19-12 after one quarter, Central (12-0) outscored the Lady Rockets 25-0 in the second period to seize complete control with a 44-12 lead at halftime.
The Cougars scored the first 10 points of the third quarter before Okawville (3-7) finally ended its drought.
Sophomore Kendra Wilken led Central with 22 points -- including 18 in the first half. Senior Maddie Timmermann added 14 and Torre Kohrmann chipped in with 11.
Jessie Klassing led Okawville with 10 points.
Nashville 55, Centralia 37
Seniors Shawn Rennegarbe and Hannah Jung combined for seven 3-point baskets and 38 points as the defending champion Hornettes rolled past the cold-shooting Orphans
Rennegarbe led the way for the 2013 Class 2A state champion Hornettes with three 3-point shots and 21 points, while Yung added four 3-point baskets and 17 points. Jung was a key in the Hornettes' title game win over Central at Mascoutah a year ago.
Mascoutah 73, Northwest Academy, (Mo.) 33
Senior Brittney Zipfel hit three 3-point shots and scored 13 points -- in the first quarter -- as the host Indians rolled past Northwest Academy.
Mascoutah (6-5) got off to a quick start. With Zipfel and sophomore Megan Lindsay combining for 19 points, the Indians led 25-7 after one quarter then steadily increased its lead the rest of the game.
Zipfel led the Indians' attack with 17 points while Lindsay added 15. Maddy Wetzler (12 points) and Kennedy Bryant (10 points) were also in double figures.
Bria Torrence led Northwest Academy with 14 points.
Belleville East 50, Mount Vernon 34 Senior Brynesha Mosby scored eight of her 14 points in the fourth quarter as the Lancers (8-4) pulled away late for the win over the stubborn Rams.
With senior Montira Mosby scoring 14 of her game-high 20 points, East built 26-21 lead at halftime. The Rams tied the game at 26 on a 3-point field goal by Paetyn Hayes early in the third quarter but managed just eight points the rest of the way.
"We picked it up on the defensive end of the floor in the second half and did a much better job on their best player (Hannah Owens),'' Lancers coach Andrea Seipp said. "We also had several players step and contribute to us winning the game.
"We're playing good basketball right now, and I think a lot that stems from our team chemistry. This is a very close-knit group.''
Mater Dei 48, Freeburg 30
The Knights (7-4) held the Midgets to nine first half points and breezed to the first round victory.
Senior guard Lindsay Perkes led Mater Dei with 14 points while Avoynna Kampwerth added 10. Senior Abby Lealiamatafao scored 13 points for Freeburg (1-8).
Belleville West 60, Wesclin 35
Juniors Shay Fluker and Imani Berry combined for 43 points as the Maroons (7-3) moved into the tournament quarterfinals.
With Fluker scoring 19 of her 23 points in the first half, West built a 34-23 lead against the Warriors.
"For the most part I was pleased of what I saw on the offensive end,'' Maroons coach Clayton Fisher said. "On defense, I know we only gave up 35 points, but Wesclin had a alot of open looks that it didn't hit.
"We have a tendency to lose focus at times on defense and that's something we need to improve upon.''
Zoe Christopher led Wesclin (5-6) with 11 points.