The Highland High girls basketball team did not let the bad taste linger long from an 83-67 setback to Belleville East Friday night in its season opener. In a quick turnaround on Saturday, the Lady Bulldogs bounced back strong to dominate both Centralia, 51-26, and host Salem, 62-23, and win Pool B of the Salem Lady Wildcats Thanksgiving Tournament.
“The first game against Centralia (on Saturday) was a good representation of how our team can bounce back. We knew we would have to bounce back and we did just that,” said Highland senior guard Madison Wellen, who led the Bulldogs in scoring in all three games to finish with a grand total of 62 points. “Our intensity was way better today and I think we grew as a team after just one game. The second game was an even bigger task. We knew it would come down to some technicalities on who would take first in the pool. We came out strong and playing fast. Everyone on our team seemed to have more energy than we’ve ever had, and we were feeding off of each other’s intensity and the atmosphere.”
Even after taking a step backward with the loss to the Lancers, Highland’s commanding triumphs over the Orphans and Wildcats were two huge steps forward and the 39-point margin over host Salem allowed the Bulldogs to still win their pool.
“In just two short days, we made some huge steps forward and we have improved greatly already,” Wellen said. “Those last two games were most definitely confidence builders for the whole team. Everyone stepped up yesterday in a number of ways and that’s what made us so successful. Everyone seems to be more comfortable and confident with the ball.”
The top two teams from each of the two pools will meet one another in the tournament semifinals on Saturday. As the No. 1 team from Pool B, Highland (2-1) will take on Teutopolis (2-1), Pool A’s No. 2 team, at 1:30 p.m. In the noon semifinal, Civic Memorial (3-0), which won Pool A, will face Salem (2-1), the No. 2 team from Pool B.
The third-place game is set for 7 p.m. on Saturday, with the championship tilt slate for 8:30.
CM swept Pool A after posting wins over Carlyle (69-18), Althoff (59-26) and Teutopolis (63-58).
“Next weekend is going to be a hard task as we have T-Town first, but a full week of practice sure isn’t going to hurt us,” Wellen said. “We’re definitely looking forward to next weekend and to getting better this week in practice to prove that next Saturday.”
Highland 62, Salem 23
The Bulldogs pounced right out of the gate and shredded the Wildcats to the tune of 23-7 in the first quarter and never looked back. Highland held Salem to single digits in all four frames — punctuated by just two points in the final stanza and only seven points in the second half — and extended its margin over each of the final three frames.
The Bulldogs, who muzzled the Wildcats’ offense to a meager eight total field goals in the game, led 36-16 at halftime, 50-21 after three quarters before going on to win by 39.
The 1-2 punch of Wellen and senior forward Alex LaPorta showed the way to the lopsided victory as the duo teamed up for 43 of HHS’ total of 62 points.
Wellen outscored Salem’s entire by herself after pumping in a game-high 24 points on 10-of-23 field goals. She also was the game’s top thief after racking up a game-best seven steals to go along with five rebounds, one assist and one blocked shot.
LaPorta recorded an impressive double-double after scoring 19 points on 6-for-10 shooting while also vacuuming up a game-topping and eye-popping 17 rebounds (eight offensive) to help her team amass 44 boards. LaPorta also shared assist honors with four and added three steals.
Haley Grigg led Salem with nine points and Sydney Geurin had seven points for the Wildcats.
Also contributing to the win for Highland were junior guard Rece Portell with eight points, three steals, two assists and two rebounds; freshman guard Ellie Brown with four points, four assists, four boards and one steal; senior guard Breanna Frahm with three points and one rebound; sophomores Mae Riffel and Lexi Taylor each with two points; and senior Abby Melosi with three rebounds and two assists.
Highland 51, Centralia 26
The Bulldogs again won all four quarters to keep stretching their lead throughout after limiting the Orphans to single digits in three of the four frames. Highland surrendered just three points in the final quarter and eight points in the second half to blow open what was a competitive 25-18 game at the half.
The Bulldogs struggled shooting the ball but they again owned the redounding battle after heaping up 43 boards.
LaPorta had another double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds to go along with three steals and two assists, while Wellen paced the offense with 16 points to go with seven boards, three steals and two assists.
Niayr Maines led Centralia with eight points and Latavia Maines added six points for the Orphans.
Also chipping in to Highland’s win were Portell with eight points, a game-best five steals, three rebounds and two assists; Brown with four points, a game-leading four assists, two steals and two boards; senior guard Alisse Koishor with three points, three rebounds and one steal; senior center Hayley Taylor with two points, four boards, one assist and one steal; junior forward Lauren Baer with two points, three boards and one steal; and freshman Emmy Nyquist with two points, two steals and two rebounds.
Belleville East 83, Highland 67
An early 3-point shooting display helped get Belleville East off to a strong start against Highland on Friday in both teams’ opening game of the Salem Lady Wildcats Thanksgiving Tournament.
Kaylah Rainey, Brittney Nitz and Jailyn McClenny were big early and late to lift the Lancers to a big upset in their season opener.
Rainey and Nitz combined to make four 3-point baskets in the opening quarter to help Belleville East gain early momentum against a Highland team which finished third in last season’s Class 3A state tournament.
Then later on with the game tied at 53 heading into the final period, Rainey began the final quarter with a 3-point play, and when Nitz and McClenny added baskets 19 seconds apart, the Lancers had a 60-55 lead with just over six minutes remaining in the game.
Highland could never catch up as East pulled away and then hit free throws down the stretch while ultimately outscoring the Bulldogs 30-14 in the final frame.
“We lost but it was a good learning experience,” Wellen said. “We’re definitely going to have to be better. Tonight Belleville East put all the pieces together and we seemed to be a step slow. All in all, a good learning experience and a good first game.”
Rainey finished with a game-high 21 points, while McClenny and Nitz added 19 each to key an explosive Belleville East offense.
While the Bulldogs got 22 points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals from Wellen and 21 points, 18 rebounds, two assists and two steals from LaPorta, they were never able to take the momentum against the much quicker Lancers.
Senior Hayley Taylor added 12 points and eight boards for Highland, which started to assert itself early in the third quarter. With the 6-foot-1 Taylor and 6-0 LaPorta starting to take command on the boards over the shorter Lancers, Highland took a 53-49 lead with under a minute remaining.
But baskets by junior Grace Tantillo and Bryce Dowell in the final 30 seconds tied the game at 53 heading into the final period and seemed to give all the momentum to the Lancers.
Also turning in numbers for the Bulldogs were Portell with six points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals; Brown with three points, a game-best five assists and three boards; Nyquist with three points and two rebounds; Melosi with two rebounds and two assists; and senior Katie Kampwerth with two boards.
Belleville News-Democrat reporter Dean Criddle contributed to this story.