With its high-powered offense held in check for the first three quarters on Monday, the Highland Bulldogs turned up the defensive pressure and turned loose Amanda Ponce.
The offensive catalyst of the streaking Bulldogs, Ponce scored the first seven points of the final period to key a 24-4 scoring spurt as Highland pulled away for a 53-37 win over Mascoutah in a Mississippi Valley Conference game.
Led by a patient offense and outstanding defense, Mascoutah (10-7, 2-3) broke a 29-all on a basket and free throw by Kennedy Bryant and a free throw by Amaya Keeling to take a 33-29 lead entering the fourth quarter.
But Ponce, held to just seven points through three quarters, scored on a driving layup, a stop-and-pop jumper and a three-point play all in the first 80 seconds of the final quarter as Highland (15-3, 5-1) took the lead for good.
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“I thought the key in the fourth quarter was that we were able to get some points off our defense,’’ Bulldogs coach Mike Arbuthnot said. “Amanda (Ponce) got us off to a good start in the fourth quarter, Madison (Wellen) got us a few key points, Hayley (Taylor) hit a coupld of big 3 point shots and as usual Alex LaPorta did a great job on the boards.’’
The victory is the 12th straight for Highland as they battle Triad for the MVC lead.
Mascoutah, which was led by 5-10 post player Tennaye Green’s 12 points — including eight in the second half — finally got on the scoreboard in the final quarter when Green tallied on a 10-foot baseline jumper to pull back to within 36-35. But Highland then put the game away.
Taylor scored on a short jumper and Wellen connected on her second 3-point basket of the night to give the Bulldogs a 41-35 lead.
Wellen (16 points), who combined with Ponce to score 16 of Highland’s 24 fourth quarter points, followed with a free throw and when LaPorta scored on an offensive rebound, the Bulldogs led 44-37 with 4:04 left in the game.
Mascoutah didn’t score a point the rest of the way.
“I thought we were very patient on the offensive end for the first three quarters. That’s something we’ve really been working and concentrating on. The defense was also good. But we usually play good defense,’’ Indians coach Terry Moeller said. “Highland is a very good basketball team with good athletes. We had some turnovers that they turned into points in the fourth quarter.’’
Green also drew praise from Moeller for her play as she led Mascoutah with 12 points, while Ponce, coming off three outstanding games a week ago in wins over Mater Dei, Central and Triad, tallied 10 of her 17 points in the final period.
“I think we might have been a litte tired,’’ Arbuthnot said. “But lets give Mascoutah credit. They are a very well coached team that has already won 10 games this year. We knew we would have our hands full coming in here tonight and we did.’’