The Highland basketball Lady Bulldogs finished the regular season on a high note after scoring more than 70 points in their final two games, both home Mississippi Valley Conference contests.
First on Monday, Feb. 5, Highland decimated Waterloo 79-14. Then in the regular-season finale on Thursday, the Lady Bulldogs mauled the Mascoutah Indians 74-33 to make senior night even more special for fourth-year teammates Rece Portell and Lauren Baer.
“We got a lot of kids playing and our seniors went out on a high note,” said Highland coach Mike Arbuthnot, whose team finished the regular season with a 19-10 overall record, which included tying Jerseyville for second place in the MVC at 7-3. “They both played well and it was a good evening. The kids had real good attitudes and played together and we did some really nice things. This time of the year, you want to keep everybody fresh and you also want to avoid injury, and we were able to do that.”
Portell, who is is second on the team in scoring (11.2), rebounding (3.8) and assists (3.41) while leading the squad in steals (2.45), said senior night was really a bittersweet experience.
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“I fell in love with this game the last four years more than I ever thought I would simply because of the players and coaches throughout the last four years,” she said. “There comes a time when all things must end though and I will miss basketball more than almost anything else in high school.”
Coach Arbuthnot had only glowing endorsements about his two senior leaders, Portell, a guard, and Baer, a forward.
“If you look back at the four years that they’ve been here, we’ve been pretty successful and it starts with those two,” Arbuthnot said. “They are great kids with great families — great mothers and fathers. They are great kids to coach and they show up everyday, they work hard everyday and they have good attitudes. I know Lauren (Baer) and Rece (Portell) are best of friends and I just couldn’t be any happier for the way things ended for their last home game tonight.”
Highland 74, Mascoutah 33
Against Mascoutah (3-22 overall, 2-8 MVC), Highland dominated the first three quarters, getting stronger and more cohesive to win each of the first three quarters by a wider margin.
After winning the first quarter of play by eight points (17-9), the Bulldogs opened it up and expanded the lead by a baker’s dozen (20-7) in the second stanza and by 18 (25-7) in the third quarter.
Even though Highland got all 12 players on the roster playing time, the Bulldogs still had four players score in double figures and two others miss double digits by a single point.
The lone bright spot for the Indians was the play of senior Amaya Keeling, who topped all scorers with 19 points.
Sophomore guard Ellie Brown showed the way for Highland with 14 points. Joining Brown in double figures were sophomore guard Ashlyn Klucker with 12 points, junior guard Mae Riffel with 11 points and freshman forward Bella LaPorta with 10 points.
Seniors Portell and Baer narrowly missed hitting double digits with nine points apiece.
The Bulldogs also received four points from Kesner, three points from sophomore guard Kirsten Taylor and two points from junior guard Emmy Nyquist.
Highland 79, Waterloo 14
Highland pitched a shutout in the first quarter while ringing up 20 points of its own in the first eight minutes. It would not get better for Waterloo.
After building the lead up to 26 at halftime, Highland exploded for more than 20 points in each of the final two quarters to outscore Waterloo by a jaw-dropping 66-7 and win by its largest margin of victory of the season at an eye-popping 65 points.
Defense was a huge key in the game as HHS logged 26 steals and stifled Waterloo to a dismal 16 percent (5 of 25) shooting from the field.
In contrast, Highland worked well as a team and distributed the ball effectively and efficiently, shooting a solid 53 percent (30 for 57) from the floor and racking up 29 assists on 30 total field goals. All 12 players on the roster numbers in the scoring column with at least two points.
In addition, HHS out-rebounded Waterloo 35-14.
Brown again paced Highland in scoring, this time with 15 points on 5 of 9 field goals. She also had four steals, two assists and one rebound.
Portell and Taylor also hit double figures with 11 points apiece. Portell went a perfect 4 for 4 from the field to go along with four boards, four steals and three assists. Taylor hit 4 of 5 shots, including going 3 for 4 from behind the arc, and added one board and one steal.
Waterloo was led by Sydney Luedeman’s nine points.
Also contributing to the victory for HHS were Klucker with nine points, three steals, two assists and two rebounds; LaPorta with six points, a game-high six steals, four assists and four boards; Kesner with six points, five rebounds, three steals and one assist; Kronk with four points, a game-best five assists, two steals and two boards; sophomore Madison Clarke with four points, three boards, two assists and one steal; Nyquist with four points, two rebounds and two assists; Baer with four points, three assists, one steal and one board; Riffel with three points, a game-high seven rebounds and two assists; and junior Lexi Taylor with two points, three boards, three assists and one steal.
Next up for Highland in the playoffs. The Bulldogs will compete in the IHSA Class 3A Civic Memorial Regional, where they drew the No. 3 seed behind No. 2 and host CM.
Highland will open in the regional semifinal against No. 6 East St. Louis at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 14. If the Bulldogs win that game, they will face the host Eagles at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 15 for the regional championship.
“I’m so excited to go into postseason with this team because I think we can really go far if we play like we are capable of playing,” Portell said. “This team learned that we have to play our tails off every minute of every game because when we do good things happen. I think with a few days of practice we will be very ready for East St. Louis and the rest of postseason. All I know is that I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that game isn’t my last and I know my teammates will do the same because we always have each others’ backs.”
Arbuthnot said that teams that want to play together are more likely to extend their season longer.
“This group has clicked pretty well all year and they get along pretty well and do a lot of good things,” Arbuthnot said. “We just want to be sure that we are ready to go on Wednesday against East St. Louis.”