With the game on the line Tuesday, no one was stopping Highland sophomore Sam LaPorta.
LaPorta grabbed the rebound of a missed shot, then hit the game-winner with one second remaining as the Highland Bulldogs stunned Mississippi Valley Conference rival Triad 56-54 to remain in a tie for first place in the league.
LaPorta knifed his way through two Triad players to grab the rebound of a missed 18-foot shot by Stephen Schniers. The 6-foot-3 LaPorta grabbed the loose ball, then shot it over Triad’s Beau Barbour into the net as he finished with 12 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists.
“I was trying to grab rebounds the whole game because that’s what I love to do,” LaPorta said. “When I saw the shot go up, the first thing in my mind was to grab the rebound. (Schniers) hit a buzzer-beater earlier in the year, and I thought it was going to be the same thing.”
This time it was LaPorta’s turn to be the hero. He missed the front end of a one-and-one free-throw opportunity with the game tied and 26.2 seconds remaining in regulation, but this time made good on his chance.
“He’s an athlete making a play; that’s all that is,” Highland coach Brian Perkes said. “He jumps better than anybody out here, and he went out and made the play. I think he felt bad about missing that free throw at the end (of regulation). He’s a gamer, and he’s got a very even keel about his demeanor. That really helps him in key situations.”
We’ve come a long way. We started the season really immature, didn’t know exactly what we were doing without too many players with (experience) coming back. We had to learn the process, and here we are now. Highland’s Sam LaPorta
Highland (8-17) improved to 6-2 in the conference and is tied with Civic Memorial for first place,while Triad (16-9) dropped to 5-3.
Highland won despite a 28-point explosion from Triad senior Noah Moss. Schniers led Highland with 13 points, LaPorta had 12 and Stephen Torre had 10.
Moss scored his team’s first 13 points in the fourth quarter, but Highland stayed close thanks to four 3-pointers down the stretch. Two came from Schniers, and Jake Kruse, who scored all eight of his points in the fourth quarter, sent the game to overtime on a 3-pointer with 2:35 remaining.
Moss got off a forced three at the buzzer that was off the mark, sending the game to overtime.
Triad coach Josh Hunt said Highland’s big plays in the second half were difficult to overcome. The Knights led 49-43 with 3:23 remaining.
“We had a six-point lead, and I really felt comfortable,” Hunt said. “They hit a big 3; we missed a wide-open 3 that I liked; then they came down and hit another big 3 to tie it. You’ve got to give their kids credit. They battled all night, and they were resilient.
“They made more plays than we did, unfortunately.”