The Highland High School boys basketball team had a solid start to the season after going 3-1 at the Effingham St. Anthony Thanksgiving Tournament last week.
Due to tiebreakers after Highland, Effingham and St. Anthony all went 2-1 in their pool, St. Anthony played for the championship, while Effingham played for third. Highland played in the fifth-place game.
Highland suffered a 61-38 loss to Effingham on Tuesday, Nov. 21. But the Bulldogs rebounded to win their final two pool games after scoring a 63-57 win over St. Anthony on Wednesday, Nov. 22, followed by a 56-30 victory over Okaw Valley (Bethany) on Friday.
On Saturday, Highland defeated St. Thomas More from Champaign 61-46 to earn fifth place.
Also on Saturday, St. Anthony won the team title with a 49-30 win over Robinson, while Mattoon beat Effingham 62-51 in the third-place game. Breese Central routed Okaw Valley 68-41 in the seventh-place game.
Highland junior Jake Kruse was named to the St. Anthony Thanksgiving All-Tournament Team after leading the Bulldogs in scoring with 44 points in the four games. Kruse was Highland’s best shooter from behind the arc, making 12 of his 21 3-point attempts.
Highland, which is coached by Brian Perkes, next travels to Carbondale on Saturday, Dec. 2 with the junior varsity game tipping off at 3 p.m. Then the Bulldogs open Mississippi Valley Conference play with back-to-back road games. On Tuesday, Dec. 5, the Bulldogs head to Bethalto to face Civic Memorial. On Friday, Dec. 8, Highland travels to Mascoutah before playing host to Triad for its home opener on Friday, Dec. 15.
Highland 61, St. Thomas More 46
The Bulldogs won the first two quarters by margins of five and three points, respectively, to take a 29-21 halftime lead over the Sabers.
After still holding a lead of seven points after three quarters of play, the Bulldogs poured it on over the final eight minutes, pulling away for the final 15-point cushion.
Highland hit 24 of 39 field goals (61.5 percent), including going 20 for 26 on two-point shots, or 77 percent.
Juniors Kruse and Sam LaPorta topped all scorers with 14 and 13 points, respectively.
LaPorta hit four of his five shots from the field and recorded a double-double after ripping down 13 rebounds while also showing off his versatility with seven assists and one steal.
Kruse buried three 3-pointers and also grabbed five rebounds to go with two assists.
Also making significant contributions in the victory were senior Jonathan Dickman, with nine points on 4 of 5 shooting; junior Stephen Torre with eight points on 4 of 5 shooting to go with four boards and two assists; senior Stephen Schniers with eight points, four assists and two rebounds; junior Blake Barth with five points; and junior Brady Feldmann with four points.
Highland 56, Okaw Valley 30
The Bulldogs again shot 63.3 percent (19 for 30) and from shots inside the arc at 71.4 percent (15 for 21), and won all four quarters by margins of 16-10, 14-9, 15-7 and 11-4 to steadily widen their gap.
Torre was the only player in the game to reach double digits in scoring with 13 points, and he did so by connecting on all six of his field-goal attempts. Torre also added five boards, one blocked shot and one steal.
Tying for runner-up scoring honors for Highland were Feldmann, Kruse and senior Cameron Altadonna with eight points apiece. Altadonna made all three of his shots from the field including both 3-point attempts, while Feldmann also handed out three assists to go with three rebounds and two steals, and Kruse also had three assists.
Also logging stats for Highland were Schniers with seven points, three assists, three boards and one steal; LaPorta with six points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals; junior Michael Barth with four points; and freshman Christian Kassey with two points.
Highland 63, St. Anthony 57
St. Anthony exploded out of the gate against Highland, leading 8-0 just a couple of minutes into the game. Highland trailed 19-10 after the first quarter, but Highland climbed back into the game, outscoring St. Anthony 19-13 in the second quarter to pull within 32-29.
Highland did not stop there, outpointing St. Anthony 17-9 in the third period to carry a 46-41 lead into the final stanza.
Highland posted a 17-16 edge in the fourth quarter to win by six.
Shooting touch again played a big factor in Highland’s win. The Bulldogs finished hitting 62 percent from the field on 21 of 34 shooting, including drilling 8 of 13 shots from behind the arc.
St. Anthony shot 42 percent after going 18 for 43 from the field.
Highland’s attack was spearheaded by Kruse with 16 points and Blake Barth with 15 points. Kruse nailed all but one of his six 3-point attempts while Barth converted 5 of 8 field goals, including 2 of 4 3-point attempts.
St. Anthony had three players score in double figures. Alex Deters led the way with 14 points, while Jack Nuxoll and Adam Levitt had 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Schniers with nine points, three rebounds and one assist for the Bulldogs; Feldmann with nine points, four assists and one board; LaPorta with six points, 10 rebounds, two assists and one steal; Torre with six points, three boards and one assist; and Altadonna with two points and one rebound.
Effingham 61, Highland 38
The Bulldogs were not at full strength after they were recently eliminated in the semifinal round of the IHSA Class 4A football playoffs, just three days before the basketball game. Highland struggled mightily on offense, shooting just 34 percent (15 of 44) from the field and committing 18 turnovers.
Effingham closed out the first quarter on an 8-0 run to take a 12-4 lead. The Bulldogs came right back with a 7-0 run of its own midway through the second quarter but the Flaming Hearts still led 21-14 at the half.
Landon Wolfe lit up Highland’s defense for 12 of his game-high 28 points in the third quarter to help Effingham extend its lead to 40-26 after three quarters. The Flaming Hearts burned even stronger in the fourth quarter, as Ryan Sandifer scored 11 of his 17 points in the frame to allow Effingham to pull away for the 23-point win.
Mason Hull added 10 points for the Flaming Hearts.
While Effingham placed three scorers in double figures, Highland had no one hit double digits.
The Bulldogs were paced by Torre’s seven points. He also added four rebounds.
Also chipping in for Highland: Dickman with six points, two rebounds and two assists; Kruse with six points, two blocked shots and two boards; Michael Barth with six points, two rebounds and two steals; LaPorta with five points, eight boards and one steal; Blake Barth with three points and three steals; Altadonna with three points, and sophomore Brylee Portell with five assists.