Columbia was seemingly in firm control with a 37-22 lead when the Bulldogs called a timeout with 7:03 remaining in the third quarter. But Highland went on a 28-3 run in the fourth quarter that paved the way for a hard-fought 57-52 victory Saturday afternoon at the Highland Optimist Basketball Shootout.
Junior forward Sam LaPorta scored a game-high 19 points, highlighted by three thunderous, two-handed dunks. Two of LaPorta’s slams came on back-to-back plays where he created turnovers by anticipated Columbia’s passes and jumping in front of them to set up breakaways.
Also for the Bulldogs (11-5), junior guard Brady Feldmann caught fire and scored 13 of his 18 points in the game-changing explosion, including three 3-pointers.
“It was a nice run we had,” the 6-foot-4 LaPorta said. “Some guys stepped up and made some really good shots for us. That was big in the comeback. We had a great desire to win. We didn’t want to get put out on our own home court, like we did last year in the Shootout. We got blown out (by Rockhurst).
“We weren’t going to allow that to happen again. We had really good fight in us.”
During the run, LaPorta said confidence was overflowing.
“I see a shot go up and I’m thinking, ‘That’s going in.’ When we’re rolling like that, I feel like every shot we take is going to find the bottom of the net,” LaPorta said.
Feldmann said it felt good to get in the zone and help his team parlay the 15-point deficit into a 50-40 lead 36 seconds into the final frame.
“I have been working on my shot, because it hadn’t been working too well lately,” Feldmann said. “But I’ve been working on it, and it worked good tonight. We were thinking that, ‘They can’t shoot the ball this well the whole game.’ So we just knew we had to keep defending and keep defending and we were going to get a run at some point. It was a good team win.”
Highland coach Brian Perkes credited his players. In this case, Highland’s pressure defense and its 3-point shooting, which fueled the comeback.
“Sometimes, it’s the kids. It was the kids this time,” Perkes said. “We just said, ‘You guys have got to play.’ They certainly turned it up a notch. I don’t remember everything that happened, but I know we had a bunch of kids step up and hit some 3s for us and get us going. We’re a pretty talented ball club, and we knew that we weren’t playing very well.
“But Columbia is pretty talented, too, and you have to give them some credit. They had won eight of their last nine ballgames, and we knew this was going to be a tough, tough test for us. So this is a quality win for us.”
The Eagles got within 53-52 when sophomore Jacob O’Connor hit a 3-pointer out of the corner with 11 seconds left. Senior Stephan Schniers made two free throws to put Highland ahead 55-52 with 9.9 seconds left. Columbia senior Jared Germain had a good look at the rim, but missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer.
Senior Jordan Holmes led the Eagles (9-6) with 14 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
“We played seven really good quarters (Friday) and today,” said Columbia coach Mark Sandstrom, whose team defeated Central 46-42 on Friday. “Unfortunately, one quarter cost us from having two wins. (The Bulldogs’) defense fed their offense. Feldmann hit three big 3s, and the momentum shifted big-time.”
Perkes said LaPorta is a phenomenal athlete and brings a spark to the Bulldogs.
“When he gets those three dunks going, he gets the crowd going, and the kids feed off of that,” Perkes said. “It was a fun atmosphere, and it was a nice win.”
LaPorta said that when he dunks, “It’s exciting, and it’s a game-changer, I guess. That’s what the crowd pays to see, so I try to give it to them.”
“He is the man, and I love watching him play,” Feldmann said of LaPorta. “I wish I could do that, but I am not tall enough. It was fun playing this game, and it was a good win.”
Also scoring points for the Bulldogs were senior forward Stephen Schniers with eight points, junior guard Jack Etter with six points, and senior guard Jonathan Dickman and junior guard Jake Kruse each with three points.
Highland 53, Waterloo 33
On Friday night, Highland took a bus ride to Waterloo and got off to a slow start, falling behind 12-3 with 3:42 left in the first quarter. But Highland found its groove and responded with a 50-21 run the rest of the game, including a 32-9 scoring margin in 17 minutes of play to stay undefeated at 4-0 in the Mississippi Valley Conference.
LaPorta and Feldmann were the only two players in the game to hit double figures in scoring. LaPorta led HHS with 12 points and seven rebounds while he also contributed two assists and two steals.
Feldmann finished right behind LaPorta with 11 points to go with six boards, three assists and three steals.
Schniers just missed scoring in double figures with nine points. He also had one rebound and one assist.
Waterloo was paced by Ross Schrader with nine points.
“It was a good win. Anytime you win in the conference, especially on the road, it’s a good win,” Perkes said. “We actually started a little slow… We called a couple of timeouts, and we were wondering what was going on on the floor. Then we went to the press, and it got us some energy. We turned them over a couple of times, and we were able to extend the lead into halftime. Then we were able to slowly pull away from them.”
Also producing numbers for Highland were Kruse with eight points, four rebounds and two assists; Dickman with six points, one assist and one steal; junior Stephen Torre with two points, seven boards, one assist and one steal; senior guards Cameron Altadonna with two points and one rebound; and juniors Trent Lammers and Blake Barth each with one point.
Jerseyville Tournament Schedule
This is the schedule for the 2018 Jerseyville Mid-Winter Classic:
Saturday, Jan. 13
- 3:30 p.m. Jerseyville JV vs. Highland JV
- 5 p.m. Jerseyville vs. Highland
- 6:30 p.m. Collinsville vs. Quincy Notre Dame
Monday, Jan. 15
- 5 p.m. Quincy Notre Dame vs. Cahokia
- 6:30 p.m. Highland vs. Collinsville
Wednesday, Jan. 17
- 6 p.m. Cahokia vs. Highland
- 7:30 p.m. Jerseyville vs. Collinsville
Friday, Jan. 19
- 6 p.m. Collinsville vs. Cahokia
- 7:30 p.m. Jerseyville vs. Quincy Notre Dame
Saturday, Jan. 20
- 5 p.m. Quincy Notre Dame vs. Highland
- 6:30 p.m. Cahokia vs. Jerseyville