The Highland basketball Lady Bulldogs posted back-to-back home wins in as many days to make the final home games of its seven seniors even more memorable as the team went undefeated all season on its home court at Highland High School.
First on Thursday, the Lady Bulldogs downed Jerseyville 73-56 to improve to 7-1 in the Mississippi Valley Conference.
Then on Friday, Highland edged McCluer North 46-41 on Senior Night to cap off the unbeaten home schedule while running its winning streak to 16 games to hike its overall record to 24-3.
The Bulldogs traveled to Waterloo on Monday before traveling to Mascoutah on Thursday to wrap wrap up the regular season. Highland is the second seed in the Illinois High School Association Class 3A Waterloo Sectional behind only top-seeded Civic Memorial (25-2). The Bulldogs will open the postseason in the semifinal of the Breese Central Regional against the winner of No. 9 Freeburg and No. 10 Mascoutah at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 14.
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“It is kind of sad knowing we’ve played our last home game forever but also motivating and exciting because that means postseason is right around the corner,” said Highland senior guard Madison Wellen, the team’s leading scorer at 18.55 points per game. “I know all of us are excited for the weeks to come and we’re going to be working hard this coming week to finish off a good season and then start postseason. I think it is a nice touch that we finished undefeated at home since there are seven seniors and everyone was able to play a good amount of minutes.”
The seven seniors have spent all four years with coach Mike Arbuthnot and the varsity squad has posted a 103-22 record with them in the program.
“For them to go their senior year without losing a game at home is really cool,” Arbuthnot said. “It’s been a wonderful year and it’s not over yet. “I could not pick a group of seven individuals that I would rather spend four years with. They have been outstanding, they really care about each other and they care about the program. It is an honor for me to even be able to coach them the last four years. They are just outstanding student-athletes and a special group of young ladies. For all seven of them to all stick together all the way through says so much about them. They have showed such great sportsmanship and leadership and togetherness, and I just hope we can continue this ride.”
Highland 46, McCluer North 41
Highland only trailed at 2-0 and 4-2, but the game was too close for comfort throughout and it was a defensive struggle.
Both teams struggled shooting the ball. McCluer (16-8) only shot 38.6 percent (17-for-44) from the field and made just 6-of-12 free throws.
The Bulldogs were not much better from the charity stripe after sinking just 15-of-28 foul shots, including going 3-for-10 in the final 2:44 of the game.
“I knew going in exactly what type of game it was going to be and it was,” Arbuthnot said. “They are a good ball club and athletic and I thought we needed that type of competition as we get ready to go into the postseason, so that’s why we scheduled it. We weren’t as sharp as I would have hoped but a lot of it had to do with their quickness and athleticism and our adjusting. And obviously, we didn’t shoot free throws very well and we had been shooting our free throws well all year.
Arbuthnot said his team’s half-court execution was a bit off, but he was pleased with his team’s zone defense and the way his team crashed the boards.
Highland senior forward Alex LaPorta stepped up and had another good ballgame to top her team with 14 points. She scored half of her points in the first quarter to help the Bulldogs build a 17-11 lead.
LaPorta scored three consecutive points and then fed freshman guard Ellie Brown for a layup to give HHS its biggest lead at 37-26 with 6:13 to play.
Brown also finished with double figures in scoring with 10 points while Wellen supplied nine points.
McCluer North was led by Anasha Hurst with 17 points. She also hit 7 of her 14 field goals.
Also chipping in points for the Bulldogs were senior Katie Kampwerith (four), senior Hayley Taylor (three), junior Rece Portell (three), senior Alisse Koishor (two) and senior Breanna Frahm (one).
Highland 73, Jerseyville 56
The Bulldogs held a 15-10 lead after one quarter of play but never pulled comfortably away from the Panthers (14-10 overall, 4-4 MVC) until the fourth quarter when they outscored the visitors 23-15.
Highland shot the ball very well at 52.7 percent (29-for-55).
Wellen and Laporta had huge games with 28 and 24 points, respectively. LaPorta, who buried 9-of-16 field goals, also produced game highs in rebounds (nine), steals (seven) and assists (six), while Wellen went 11-for-21 from the floor and added five steals and two rebounds.
Taylor also reached double figures with 10 points to go along with two boards, two assists and one steal.
Jerseyville got big games from Mackenzie Thurston and Bethany Muenstermann with 22 and 15 points, respectively.
Also contributing numbers for Highland were Portell with seven points, four rebounds, two assists and one steal; Brown with two points, three assists and one board; and junior Lauren Baer with two points and one board.