The Highland High girls basketball team got out of the gate fast to start to the season after reeling off three victories in a row at the Salem Lady Wildcat Thanksgiving Tournament.
First in the season opener on Thursday night, the Lady Bulldogs shredded the Centralia Orphans, 75-31.
Highland went on to win a pair of games on Saturday. First early in the afternoon, the Lady Bulldogs overcame a sluggish start to stave off Carterville, 57-49. Then later on in the nightcap, Highland tore through Althoff, 52-35.
“We just came out flat today but it shows something when we come out in the second half fired up,” said Highland senior guard Rece Portell, who totaled a team-high 48 points in the three wins. “Next weekend we will have to be better but three games in and undefeated so obviously we have been getting the job done. I thought Emmy played well today and she hit some big threes, especially in that second game (against Carterville).
“Overall, we’re learning to really connect with each other and it’ll only improve.”
Highland will close out the tournament with two games on Saturday. First, the 3-0 Lady Bulldogs will take on Teutopolis, which also went an undefeated 3-0, at 2 p.m. That game should decide which team will be the tourney champion. Highland will then finish with an 8 p.m. game against host Salem.
“Next weekend will be tough but this week we’ll prepare accordingly,” Portell said. “T-Town is a good team and we cannot take them lightly at all. They’ll be physical and rebound so it should be a fun game. Overall, I am proud of my team and how everybody has contributed. Defensively and offensively, the stats have been scattered among all of us.”
Highland 52, Althoff 35
The first half was much tighter than expected as Highland only led 20-17 at halftime.
But the Lady Bulldogs came out roaring in the second half and outscored the Crusaders (0-3) 23-10 to widen the margin to a commanding 43-27 heading into the final eight minutes of play.
Highland placed three guards in double figures in scoring, led by junior guard Emmy Nyquist with a game-high 15 points. All of Nyquist’s points came from long range as she was target for five 3-pointers.
The Lady Bulldogs totaled nine bombs from behind the arc.
Senior guard Rece Portell and sophomore guard Ellie Brown matched one another with 11 points and four field goals apiece. Portell buried a pair of trifectas while Brown also sank one 3-pointer and both of her free-throw attempts.
Also cracking the scoring column for the Lady Bulldogs were junior guard Kayla Eads with seven points and one 3-pointer, senior forward Lauren Baer with six points and freshman forward Bella LaPorta with two points.
Juniors Gabby and Tiffani Siekdmann paced Althoff with 13 and 10 points, respectively.
Highland 57, Carterville 49
The Lady Bulldogs struggled early but battled to a 31-31 draw at the half before edging ahead to stay, 43-39, after three quarters of play.
Highland stretched it out a bit more over Carterville (1-2) in the final stanza, going up by nine (54-45) with about three minutes to play before closing it out with an eight-point margin of victory.
Highland’s offense was again spearheaded by its three-pronged guard attack as Portell, Nyquist and Brown teamed up to score 46 of their team’s 57 points.
This time, Portell showed the way with a game-best 20 points. She connected on six field goals, two of which were 3-point baskets, and six of eight foul shots.
Nyquist and Brown finished with a matching point total of 13 points apiece. Nyquist drilled three 3-pointers.
“We didn’t come ready to play and they got a couple easy baskets on us but we responded well, especially in the second half,” Nyquist said. “We shared the ball well and are definitely playing a lot better together though. Other teams are going to have a hard time preparing for us because on any night anyone could be the leading scorer.”
Also chalking up points for the Lady Bulldogs were Eads with five points and one 3-pointer, Baer with four points and sophomore guard Ashlyn Klucker with two points.
Highland 75, Centralia 31
The Lady Bulldogs used their speed to pressure Centralia (0-3), force turnovers and get out in transition for easy baskets en route to dumping in an eye-popping 45 points in the first half.
That halftime total was 14 points more than the Orphans scored in the entire game as Highland ran circles around the Orphans for a 75-31 season-opening victory.
All 12 players on Highland’s roster got into the game and 10 of them registered in the scoring column.
This time, four Lady Bulldog guards provided the bulk of the scoring for the Lady Bulldogs as the quartet combined for 60 points.
Brown led the charge with 20 points after hitting six field goals and eight of 12 free throws.
Portell was next on the scoring pylon with 17 points on eight field goals, including one 3-pointer, while Klucker netted 14 points, highlighted by a trio of trifectas.
In addition, Nyquist narrowly missed out on hitting double digits with nine points.
“We knew going into this season we are going to play fast,” Portell said. “I️t’s fun for us and it feels pretty good. Right out of the bat, I️ think Emmy got a few steals and connected with me to open it up. I️ think overall everybody gave a lot of effort and our team needs that this year. We played well together tonight and had bench players step up, such as Ashlyn Klucker, who scored 14 for us.
“It was definitely a team effort and everybody was getting their hand on loose balls.”
Also numbering in the scoring column for Highland were junior forward Mae Riffel with four points, Eads, junior forward Lexi Taylor, LaPorta and sophomore guard Megan Kronk all with two points apiece, and Baer with one point.
“Things were definitely working the way we wanted tonight,” Baer said. “This was the perfect game for us to start our season off with because everyone on the bench got in and we were able to get out those first game nerves. Of course there are multiple things we know we need to work on, but overall we shared the ball well and kept our intensity up all game. We just wanted to focus on playing hard and leaving all our effort out on the floor which we accomplished.”