The Highland basketball Bulldogs battled long and hard to score two big well-deserved come-from-behind victories in overtime to open with a 2-0 mark in defense of its shared Mississippi Valley Conference crown from a year ago.
First on Tuesday, Dec. 5, Highland, which is directed by second-year coach Brian Perkes, traveled to Bethalto and overcame an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter to pull even and force overtime, where the Bulldogs pulled out a hard-fought 58-57 win over the host Civic Memorial Eagles.
Then on Friday, Highland traveled to Mascoutah and overcame a fourth quarter deficit to forge a deadlock at the end of regulation before prevailing in overtime, 60-54.
The Bulldogs, who improved to 5-2 overall and 2-0 in the MVC, will finally play host to their home opener this Friday against Route 40 rival Triad.
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“Not many teams out there can make two big comebacks, force an overtime, and finish with a win on the road in two of the toughest atmospheres in the area,” Highland senior forward Stephen Schniers said. “It feels great to start off 2-0 in this strong conference, and we still have work to do to get where we want to be later in the year.”
Highland 60, Mascoutah 54 (OT)
The Bulldogs battled but trailed for much of the game, but were finally able to grab the lead late in regulation before the Indians (3-4 overall, 1-1 MVC) hit a free throw in the waning seconds to force overtime.
Highland hit some big clutch throws in the extra session and junior center Stephen Torre threw down a couple of dunks to help close the door on Mascoutah.
For the Bulldogs, 6-foot-4 senior forward Stephen Schniers and 6-4 junior forward Sam LaPorta matched one another for team-high honors with 16 points apiece, while 6-8 junior center Stephen Torre threw in 15 points.
Torre, who hit 6 of 9 field goals, also ripped down a team-best 10 rebounds to go with two assists and one blocked shot. LaPorta, who went 6 for 8 from the floor, showed off his all-around game with seven boards, a team-leading four assists and one steal. Schniers, who hit 5 of 7 shots from the field, also had three rebounds, one assist and one steal.
“It was a battle the whole game, we kept it within a few baskets and finally were able to pull ahead near the end of the fourth quarter,” Schniers said. “This time they hit a late 3(-pointer) to send the game to overtime, but we were pretty confident having just been in this position Tuesday night at CM. As a team, we hit some big free throws late in the fourth and overtime after missing a few earlier in the game. Stephen Torre also had two big dunks in overtime to seal the deal.”
Also contributing to Highland’s win were junior guard Brady Feldmann with eight points, three steals, two assists and two rebounds, and junior guard Jake Kruse with five points, two boards, one assist and one steal.
Highland 58, Civic Memorial 57 (OT)
The Eagles (5-2, 2-1) opened up a 50-42 fourth-quarter advantage before the Bulldogs clawed their way back to make it a one-possession game before Kruse drilled a 3-pointer to deadlock the score at 55 with 11.7 seconds left in the game.
With time running out in regulation, CM’s JaQuan Adams drove the ball from half court and put up a jumper but the shot was off the mark.
The game then headed to overtime, where the Bulldogs scored first on a put-back and then held onto the ball to run time down.
An Adams jumper tied the game again at 57-57. Highland ran the clock down to 14 seconds before calling a timeout. LaPorta put up a jumper just before the buzzer, which rimmed out. However, the Eagles were called for a foul on the rebound.
Schniers stepped up to the foul line with no time remaining on the clock. He missed his first free throw, but sunk the second to end the game with Highland edging the host Eagles by a single point.
Adams led all scorers with 24 points and he went 8 for 13 from the field. He also grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds.
Kruse topped Highland with 21 points on a sizzling 7 of 9 field goals, including going 5 for 7 from behind the 3-point arc.
LaPorta tossed in 14 points and also contributed team highs in assists (seven), rebouinds (six) and steals (three).
Also for the Eagles, Caden Clark added 13 points on 5 of 8 field goals and handed out a game-high five assists.
“My teammates really picked me up tonight, especially Sam (LaPorta) and Jake (Kruse),” said Schniers, who finished with five points, three rebounds and one assist. “Jake hit a huge 3 to send the game to overtime, and Sam had one of the best put-back dunks I’ve seen to get us on top in overtime. We started off slow, but kept fighting our way back into the game. Everyone contributed, and it shows how much we have matured over the past year. It feels great to beat CM, as they are one of our biggest rivals and we are one step closer to defending our conference title.”
Also producing numbers for the Bulldogs were senior Cameron Altadonna with six points, two boards, two steals and one assist, Torre with four points, two rebounds, one assist and one steal, junior Jack Etter with three points and two boards, senior Jonathan Dickman with three points and one assist, and Feldmann with two points, three assists, two steals and one rebound.