The Highland High girls basketball team had its 14-game winning streak snapped in a 47-41 loss to Belleville West on Tuesday of last week in the quarterfinals of the 30th annual Highland Girls Basketball Tournament.
But the Lady Bulldogs were only derailed until their very next outing as they quickly got back on the winning track with a 61-53 win over Class 2A’s second-ranked Hillsboro last Thursday.
Then on Saturday, Highland took it to Althoff in the second half en route to nailing down a 52-40 victory over Althoff to claim fifth place.
The Lady Bulldogs improved to 19-4 but dropped three spots in the rankings from seventh to 10th as of the current Class 3A state girls basketball poll on Tuesday. Highland traveled to Mount Vernon on Tuesday night before traveling to Collinsville for a non-conference tilt on Saturday afternoon.
Breese Central edged Salem 51-49 in the title game as sophomore Faye Meissner scored the go-ahead basket with 23 seconds remaining and senior all-stater Kendra Wilken blocked Salem’s potential game-tying shot with under two seconds left before a large crowd at Highland High School. The Cougars, ranked first in the 2A poll, are coached by Highland native Nathan Rueter, a former three-sport standout for the Bulldogs. It is Central’s third Highland tourney title in the past four years and fourth overall.
Triad senior Sophie Thompson hit a 10-foot jumper with under five seconds remaining to cap a late Knights comeback as Triad defeated Belleville West in a thrilling third-place contest.
The Knights (17-3), ranked 11th in 3A, trailed by four points with under a minute remaining, but got big plays from seniors Abby Burroughs (24 points) and Thompson (21) to pull out the win.
Freshman Chamya Darough led Belleville West (14-8) with 19 points, while senior Erika Harvey added 14.
The tournament’s Most Valuable Player was Wilken, who is a Saint Louis University recruit.
Also chosen to the first team were senior Amanda Ponce of Highland, Thompson of Triad, Erika Harvey of Belleville West and Dearria Watson of Salem.
Second team selections were Kyleigh Vaught of Althoff, Abby Burroughs of Triad, Grace Yaunches of Central, Maddi Hood of Salem and Shelby Thompson of Teutopolis.
Highland 52, Althoff 40
Slowed by a sluggish start for the third straight game, the Lady Bulldogs got an emotional lift off the bench from sophomore Rece Portell and took control in the third quarter en route to posting a 12-point win over the Crusaders (7-15) in the fifth-place game.
Highland took its first lead of the game at 15-14 on Ponce’s steal and layup with 2:01 left in the first half.
The Lady Bulldogs led 19-14 at the half before breaking it open with a 15-6 spurt in the third quarter to go on top 34-20 with 2:43 to go in the frame as Wellen sandwiched a 3-pointer and a conventional three-point play around a pair of free throws from Ponce.
Highland forced Althoff into eight turnovers in the third quarter.
The Crusaders would get no closer than seven — at 36-29 just 34 seconds into the fourth quarter — the rest of the way.
Portell was a spark plug off the bench for Highland, including giving her team its biggest lead of the contest at 41-27 when she drilled a 3-pointer with 5:49 remaining.
Ponce led Highland with 17 points, while junior Madison Wellen joined her in double figures with 13 points. Portell narrowly missed making it a trio in double figures for the Lady Bulldogs as she finished with nine points.
“It was a tough first quarter, we kind of came out a little flat,” Highland coach Mike Arbuthnot. “It’s been a long week and the kids have been here for some late nights and things like that. Getting four games in this tournament and winning three of them, I am pretty happy with where we’re at. Rece Portell came in and really picked up the energy level for us. We’re always looking for people to come in and be that spark plug for us, and tonight it was her. She hit a big shot but just her defensive presence was very good. And Amanda, Madison and Alex (LaPorta) had their typical good ballgames.”
Althoff, was coming off a six-point loss against Belleville East on Friday and was playing its fifth game in the last seven days.
The Crusaders were paced by junior Kyleigh Vaught with 21 points, highlighted by five 3-pointers.
Also adding points for the Lady Bulldogs were junior Alex LaPorta (seven), senior Caitlin Lammers (four) and junior Hayley Taylor (two).
Highland 61, Hillsboro 53
The Lady Bulldogs came out of the gate slowly again and found themselves trailing for the majority of the first 2 1/2 quarters of play, including being down by as much as 27-16 on Hillsboro senior Carly Cameron’s layup with 2:57 left in the first half.
Highland started to show signs of life and chopped the 11-point deficit down to 29-23 by halftime.
The Lady Bulldogs really woke up in the second half as senior southpaw Caitlin Lammers dropped in seven points in the third quarter while Ponce and Wellen threw in six points apiece to key a 21-5 to take command of the game at 44-34 with under a minute to play in the stanza.
Highland would never relinquish the lead.
“I really liked the way we came out in the third quarter,” Arbuthnot said. “The kids turned it up and we stepped defensively and got some big stops. We showed a lot more help and just did a lot better job on the defensive aspect of the game, and we were able to convert turnovers into east baskets. And we did a much better job of running our offense in the second half. In the first half, we played hard but we just didn’t shoot it well. But once we got into our transition game, we did much better as far as executing; then we started relaxing a little bit.”
Afer Cameron scored four straight points to open the fourth frame to pull Hillsboro within 44-41, the Lady Bulldogs raced on a 12-3 scoring spree over the next four minutes to put the game away at 56-44 with 2:41 to go. Lammers hit an 8-foot jumper to start the rally and then Wellen scored six points and assisted on another bucket in the spurt.
Wellen and Cameron matched one another for game-high scoring honors after each lit up the scoreboard for 24 points apiece.
Ponce and Lammers also hit double digits with 13 and 10 points, respectively.
“We had to come out strong because we knew they were going to go to the boards hard,” said LaPorta, who contributed six points and several assists. “I think we just picked it up in the second half once we realized what we were up against. We just went after it and played our game, which is faster. We were just getting into the flow more and gaining confidence.”
Also for Highland, Taylor had six points and Portell added two points.
Belleville West 47, Highland 41
Volleyball may still be the No. 1 sport for Belleville West sophomore Kaylee Hanger. But on Tuesday against the Class 3A state ranked Highland Bulldogs, Hanger seemed right at home on the basketball court. Or more specifically, the free throw line.
Playing in the biggest game of her career, Hanger scored a career-high 15 points — highlighted by going 7-for-8 from the free-throw line in the final 67 seconds — as Belleville West stunned Highland in the quarterfinals.
Still playing on a gimpy ankle injured in the Mascoutah Invitational last month, senior Erika Harvey added 14 points for West which answered every threat by Highland down the stretch.
The Maroons went 14-for-16 at the free-throw line in the fourth quarter after attempting just two free throws in the first three quarters.
Junior Hayley Taylor scored seven of her nine points to help lead Highland to a 16-14 advantage at halftime and stretched the lead to seven points with early in the third quarter after senior Amanda Ponce canned her third 3-pointer and Taylor and fellow junior Madison Wellen each chipped in a basket.
But West, getting a 3-point basket from Chanya Darough and a basket each from three other players, managed to tie the game at 25 after three periods.
Ponce, who ended up with four 3-point field goals and led Highland with 16 points, nailed her final shot from beyond the 3-point line late in the fourth quarter to chop a seven-point deficit down to 38-34 with 1:10 to play.
But West drained 9-of-10 foul shots in the final 1:07 to help hold the Lady Bulldogs at bay.
“Give West credit. They did a great of extending their 2-3 zone and defending our shooters. We only had three points in the second quarter and that really was the key in the game,” Arbuthnot said. “We had good looks at the basket and we just didn’t knock them down. It goes that way some nights.”
But not for Hanger who calmly stepped up in the final quarter. Hanger produced 10 of her 15 points in the fourth quarter, including all but one of her eight attempts in the final 67 ticks of the clock.