The Highland High School boys basketball team struggled through arguably its worst offensive quarter of the season Tuesday, Jan. 24 against visiting Waterloo.
What had been a seven-point lead going into third-quarter lead evaporated. Then, Waterloo pulled ahead. But HHS would later rally for its biggest quarter of the campaign, outscoring the visitors 25-13 in the final eight minutes to post a 55-45, come-from-behind home victory in the battle of the Bulldogs.
Highland led by as much as 14 points early in the second quarter and still held a 27-20 advantage at halftime. The defensive effort went a long way to helping HHS reclaim a seven-point advantage at 29-22 when sophomore guard Brady Feldman scored on jump shot in the lane with three minutes, 32 seconds left in the third period.
But HHS only mustered one more point the rest of the period while Waterloo produced 10, with Ross Schrader scoring on a spinning bank shot in the lane with the clock running down to gave his team a 32-30 lead heading into the final stanza.
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Dylan Hunt’s two free throws early in the fourth gave Waterloo its largest lead at 34-30.
Highland’s offense finally broke out of its nearly two-quarter slump as Feldman drilled a long two-point jumper from the corner and junior forward Stephen Schniers nailed a 3-pointer from the wing to put HHS back on top, 35-34, with 5:42 remaining.
After Waterloo briefly retook the lead on a stickback from Hunt, Highland sophomore forward Sam LaPorta’s hard work paid dividends as he was fouled and sank all four foul shots to put his team back on top for good at 39-36 with 3:33 to go.
Sophomore 6-foot-6 center Stephen Torre then converted a layup off a nice assist from Feldman to put HHS up 41-36. Ninety-five seconds later, Highland had put the game away after Feldman slashed down the lane for a layup and Schniers hit a pair of shots from the charity stripe with and minute and half to play.
“I’m not sure there was any shot bigger than when Stephen Schniers hit the three,” Highland first-year coach Brian Perkes said. “That was a big shot. He had an open look and stepped up and knocked it down. That third quarter was very difficult for us. I thought we had some open looks but we just missed them. In the fourth quarter, we knocked some shots down, and we had some big plays across the line so that was the difference in the game. But credit to our guys, they hung in there and showed some poise and that is a nice win for us.”
HHS dominated the entire first half, building an 18-9 lead after one quarter of play before widening the gap to 23-9 just 36 seconds into the second quarter. Despite only scoring four points the rest of the half, Highland still found itself up by seven at the half.
Highland placed three players in double figures. Feldman led the way with a game-high 15 points, six of which came in the final frame along with the key helper to Torre.
“Brady’s a gamer. He’s a tough kid, and I am glad he’s on our team,” Perkes said.
LaPorta and Schniers matched one another with a dozen points apiece. LaPorta (six) and Schniers (five) combined to score 11 of their points in the fourth quarter. LaPorta also hauled down a game-best 13 rebounds to go with a team-best five assists and two steals while Schniers also added four boards, two assists and two blocks.
In addition, Torre swatted a game-high six blocked shots to go with seven points and six rebounds for Highland, which improved to 3-2 in the Mississippi Valley Conference.
The HHS Bulldogs went on to battle hard but fall short in a 59-51 loss to state-ranked Breese Central on Jan. 28 and slip to 5-16 overall.
Waterloo, which slipped to 2-2 in the league and 7-13 overall, was led by Schrader and Ben Huels each with 12 points.
“It’s not going to be pretty, this conference is tough and we’re still growing up and still learning,” Perkes said. “This win keeps us right there in terms of the conference championship. It’s a long haul but we’re 3-2 at the halfway point and we’ll see what happens the second half of the (conference) season for us.”
Perkes said despite the struggles in the second and third quarters, he thinks his team is showing life offensively.
“We’re starting to make more and more shots, and we weren’t doing that the first half of the season,” he said. “We spent a lot of time in practice shooting and I think it’s starting to pay off. We’re knocking more shots down now than we were a month ago. And our defense has been pretty solid all year and it has kept us in a lot of games when our offense has struggled.”
Breese Central 59, Highland 51
On Saturday, the Bulldogs played tough but could not get by the state-ranked Cougars (18-3), who have have been on a tear after rolling to their 16th win in a row.
The Cougars led 19-11 after one quarter of play and never surrendered their advantage, although Highland had closed to within 33-29 by halftime. Central stretched its lead up to 46-37 heading into the third period. Although the Bulldogs would never go quietly away, Highland also could never quite catch up to the talented Cougars.
Both teams placed three players in double figures in scoring.
Central was led by Kolby Schulte’s 15 points, while Joe Ratermann and Carter Truong followed closely behind with 14 and 11 points, respectively.
Highland was paced by LaPorta and Torre, who matched one another with 15 points. Schniers added a baker’s dozen for the Bulldogs.
Central also received eight points from Tyler Joest and Jack Striker had six points for the Cougars.
Also scoring for Highland were Feldman with six points and Kruse with two points.