It looked for much of Tuesday’s home game against Civic Memorial that first-year Highland High boys basketball coach Brian Perkes was going to have to wait longer to get his first win as a Bulldog.
The only time Highland led through 32 minutes of regulation play was 2-0 and the Bulldogs found themselves trailing the Eagles in the fourth quarter by their largest deficit (50-41) of the game.
But the Bulldogs showed plenty of fight, rallying at first to tie the game with a buzzer beater to end regulation before taking command in overtime to post a 70-62 win to give Perkes his initial victory in Highland’s Mississippi Valley Conference opener.
“I am going to lie, it feels great and I told the boys, ‘Now I am officially a Bulldog,’ ” Perkes said. “It’s not easy to win basketball games and it’s even more difficult when you’ve got a young team. Any win that we get early on is huge for us. We keep telling the kids that we are not going to get into our record and we’re not going to worry about our wins or losses, but we’re just trying to get better and I think we took a step in the right direction tonight.”
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Highland (1-5 overall, 1-1 MVC) went on to battle hard wire to wire but fall short in a 37-35 loss at Mascoutah (5-2, 1-0) on Friday night. The Bulldogs will travel to Triad on Friday night.
Against CM, Highland trailed by nine approaching the midway point of the final stanza, but the Eagles (4-3, 1-2 MVC) left the door open by only going 2-for-8 from the charity stripe down the stretch.
In contrast, Highland got the spark it needed from sophomores Sam LaPorta and Brady Feldmann to rally from behind. The duo dumped in six points apiece to key a 13-6 run in a span of 3:19 to pull the Bulldogs within 56-54 with 53 ticks left in regulation.
Then junior Stephen Schniers stepped up and provided the biggest moment of drama of the entire game when he buried a step-back jump shot from the top of the key about two seconds before the final buzzer sounded to send the game into an extra four-minute session.
“It was a good player making a good play,” Perkes said. “It was not an easy shot but Stephen is a good player. “There were a couple of times where we would get to within two or three and then we would make a couple of mistakes and then we would get down four, five, six or seven, but to our kids’ credit, they kept battling and battling. It’s really a nice win for us.”
There was less drama in overtime as the Bulldogs never trailed and took charge late to end up outscoring the Eagles 14-4 to take the biggest lead of the night by either team at 70-60, before HHS allowed CM to score a meaningless bucket as time was expiring.
LaPorta accounted for half of the points while Schniers (four) and Feldmann (three) teamed up for the other half. The trio combined to go 8-for-10 from the foul line to close out the Eagles.
LaPorta, Schniers and Feldmann and sophomore Stephen Torre all scored in double figures, with LaPorta topping scorers with 19 points on 6-for-8 shooting from the field to go along with game-high 15 rebounds. Schniers and Feldmann followed closely behind with 18 and 16 points, respectively. Torre rounded out the foursome with 10 points. Schniers hit 6-of-11 field goals and pulled down six rebounds.
As a team, the Bulldogs shot a scorching 58 percent (23-for-38) from the field.
CM was paced by junior forward Jaquan Adams with 18 points and Jaxsen Helmkamp added 11 points for the Eagles.
Perkes was proud of his young team for fighting so hard despite having four sophomores on the floor at a time — LaPorta, Feldmann, Torre and Jake Kruse — along with Schniers as the lone upperclassman.
“When you’re trying to win basketball games with four sophomores, that’s difficult but they’re good,” Perkes said. “We have good players, they’re just young. And they’re going to get better and better. We got contributions from everybody that played tonight. I thought (Jacob) Kruse played well off the bench, Stephen Torre played well when he was in there, Elliott Prott gave us quality minutes when he was on the floor.”
Highland also received three points from Kruse and two points apiece from juniors Prott and Cameron Altadonna.