With the game on the line Tuesday, no one was stopping Highland sophomore forward Sam LaPorta.
LaPorta grabbed the rebound of a missed shot, then stuck it back in for the game-winner with one second remaining in overtime as the Highland Bulldogs stunned Mississippi Valley Conference rival Triad 56-54 to remain in a tie for first place in the league.
LaPorta knifed his way through two Triad players to grab the rebound of a missed 18-foot shot by junior forward Stephen Schniers. The 6-foot-3 LaPorta grabbed the loose ball, then shot it over Triad’s Beau Barbour into the net as he finished with 12 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists.
“I was trying to grab rebounds the whole game because that’s what I love to do,” LaPorta said. “When I saw the shot go up, the first thing in my mind was to grab the rebound. (Schniers) hit a buzzer-beater earlier in the year, and I thought it was going to be the same thing.”
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This time it was LaPorta’s turn to be the hero. He missed the front end of a one-and-one free-throw opportunity with the game tied and 26.2 seconds remaining in regulation, but this time made good on his chance.
“He’s an athlete making a play; that’s all that is,” Highland coach Brian Perkes said. “He jumps better than anybody out here, and he went out and made the play. I think he felt bad about missing that free throw at the end (of regulation). He’s a gamer, and he’s got a very even keel about his demeanor. That really helps him in key situations.”
Highland (8-17), which has reeled off five conference wins in a row, improved to 6-2 in the MVC and holds a half game lead over Civic Memorial (18-8 overall, 5-2 in the MVC) for first place prior to the Eagles traveling to Triad on Friday night. The Knights (16-9) dropped to 5-3 and fell one game behind the Bulldogs.
“We’ve come a long way,” LaPorta said. “We started the season really immature, didn’t know exactly what we were doing without too many players with experience coming back. We had to lear the process and here we are now.”
Highland won despite a 28-point explosion from Triad senior guard Noah Moss.
Schniers led Highland with 13 points, while LaPorta added his dozen points and Stephen Torre also reached double figures with 10 points.
The Knights also got 10 points from 6-2 junior Beau Barbour.
Also producing points for the Bulldogs were sophomores Jon Dickman and Jake Kruse each with eight points and sophomore Brady Feldmann with five points.
Moss scored his team’s first 13 points in the fourth quarter, but Highland stayed close thanks to four 3-pointers down the stretch. Two came from Schniers, and Jake Kruse, who scored all eight of his points in the fourth quarter, sent the game to overtime on a 3-pointer with 2:35 remaining.
Moss got off a forced three at the buzzer that was off the mark, sending the game to overtime.
Triad coach Josh Hunt said Highland’s big plays in the second half were difficult to overcome. The Knights led 49-43 with 3:23 remaining.
“We had a six-point lead, and I really felt comfortable,” Hunt said. “They hit a big 3; we missed a wide-open 3 that I liked; then they came down and hit another big 3 to tie it. You’ve got to give their kids credit. They battled all night, and they were resilient.
“They made more plays than we did, unfortunately.”
Highland 55, Waterloo 47
On Friday, Feb. 10, HHS outscored Waterloo 16-11 to parlay a narrow 25-21 halftime lead into a nine-point advantage heading to the final eight minutes of play.
Highland’s defense was the key in the battle of the Bulldogs on this night as it held the host school to six points in the first quarter en route to grabbing an eight-point lead and never relinquishing its lead.
HHS’ defense also helped muzzle the Waterloo Bulldogs to just 30 percent (15-for-50) shooting from the field. Waterloo shot a dismal 15.8 percent (3-for-19) from behind the 3-point arc.
Conversely, Highland connected on 46.7 percent (21-for-45) of its field goals, including drilling half (5-for-10) of its triples.
In addition, HHS outrebounded Waterloo 35-30.
Highland again placed three players in double digits. Dickman led the way with 12 points and Schniers and Kruse followed close behind each with 10 points. Schniers and Kruse also both grabbed seven boards and handed out three and two assists, respectively.
LaPorta scored eight points while he also shared game-high honors in rebounds with 10 and dished out a game-best five assists.
Feldmann barely missed double figures with nine points and also contributed four assists, three rebounds and two steals.
For Waterloo, Ben Huels led the way with 15 points and 10 rebounds while Griffin Lenhardt added 11 points and Ross Schrader had nine points.
Also for HHS, Torre added four points, eight boards and two assists and junior Cameron Altadoona had two points.