The Highland basketball Lady Bulldogs easily passed the first two tests in defense of their three-peat of the Mississippi Valley Conference crown.
First on Thursday, Highland and Triad clashed for a half before the Lady Bulldogs asserted themselves on the defensive end in the third quarter en route to powering away for a 60-46 victory over the visiting Knights in both teams’ conference opener opener.
Then on Monday, the Bulldogs traveled to Jerseyville and mauled the Panthers right from the outset en route doubling them on the scoreboard, 68-34.
Highland (5-2, 2-0 MVC) hosts MVC foe Waterloo on Thursday and then hosts Centralia on Monday.
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Highland 68, Jerseyville 34
An hour long ride did nothing to slow down the Bulldogs as they exited the bus ready to play.
Highland took it to the host Panthers early and often, leaping out to a 28-8 after one quarter of play and never looking back en route to increasing its lead after each period.
“Coach Arb (Mike Arbuthnot) is always worried about how ready we will be after an hour long bus ride, but we proved him wrong,” said Highland senior Madison Wellen, who topped all scorers with 20 points on 8-of-12 field goals to go along with six rebounds, three assists, three steals and one blocked shot. “We played at a fast pace tonight which is what we have been trying to work on. Everyone got some quality minutes and I think that really helped the program as a whole to get so many people in the game. There were multiple people who stepped up and knocked down shots early in the game to help get the momentum rolling.
“Overall it was a whole team effort and once again, another learning experience. Every day we will have to keep getting better, no settling.”
Getting out in transition helped Highland’s shooting percentage as the Bulldogs shot a crisp 47.4 percent (27-for-57) from the floor.
With the game being so lopsided early on, coach Arbuthnot was able to get all 14 players on the varsity roster into the game and 10 different players registered in the scoring column with at least one point.
Senior Alex LaPorta missed her seventh consecutive double-double to open the season by a single point as she hauled down 13 rebounds to go with nine points. She also handed out four assists to go with two steals and one block.
Freshman Ellie Brown matched LaPorta with nine points while dishing out a game-best seven assists, and junior Rece Portell supplied eight points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Also contributing numbers for Highland were: senior Hayley Taylor with six points, eight board and one block; junior Alisse Koishor with five points, two rebounds and two steals; senior Katie Kampwerth with four points and three boards; sophomore Emmy Nyquist with four points, two assists and two steals; junior Lauren Baer with two points and two rebounds; and senior Abby Melosi with one point and two boards.
Highland 60, Triad 46
After nearly 13 minutes of back-and-forth first-half action that featured several lead changes, Highland grabbed the lead for good just under three minutes into the second quarter and took a 29-22 lead into halftime.
The Bulldogs asserted itself on the defensive end in the third quarter, holding Triad to just eight points while Highland more than doubled the Knights’ output in the period to go up by its largest margin up to that point at 46-28 with 37 seconds left in the stanza.
For the game, HHS stifled Triad to just 34.9 percent (15-for-43) shooting.
Triad would never get closer than a dozen points in the fourth quarter, and the Bulldogs’ biggest margin of the game was 51-32 with 5:38 to play.
“I have to compliment Triad, they came here and played well,”Arbuthnot said. “(Triad) shot the ball well, and they were physical. We knew going in that they were a physical ball club. We tried to do some different things defensively. They had a good plan of attacking, but we were able to get out and get after it a little bit more on the defensive end, and that helped us stretch it out there.
“I am happy with our effort and the way we played in the second half, and we’re happy any time we get that first conference win under our belt.”
LaPorta and Wellen were the engines who powered the victory. The duo combined for 45 of the 60 total points, which is a jaw-dropping 75 percent of their team’s output.
LaPorta finished with a game-topping 23 points on 8-for-14 shooting and Wellen was right on her heels with 22 points after connecting on 10-of-18 field goals.
LaPorta also ripped down a game-leading 17 rebounds, with eight of them coming on the offensive end. She also dished out a game-high five assists to go with three steals and two blocks, while Wellen also had four rebounds, two assists, two steals and one block.
“Alex and Madison did a nice job, had real nice ballgames for us and again led us, like we needed them to do and will need them to do going forward,” Arbuthnot said. “But we got some kids off the bench who gave us some valuable minutes and things like that. We’re a little banged up right now… and we’re just trying to build our depth right now. We just hope that we’re a good ball team by Christmas time.”
Triad, which is coached by former Highland standout player and coach Stephanie Harris, was paced by senior Hannah Johnson’s 19 points. Sophomore Heather Rood chipped in 13 points for the Knights, who also got seven points from sophomore Molly Suess.
Also numbering in the scoring column for Highland were Taylor with six points and six rebounds;Portell with five points, three assists and two boards; Koishor with two points and two rebounds; and Kampwerth with two points and one board.
LaPorta was never bigger than in the second quarter when she poured in eight of her game-high point total.
Wellen (six) and LaPorta (five) and LaPorta combined to throw in 11 of HHS’ 17 points in the third quarter. Taylor added four of her six markers in the quarter and Koishor parlayed a steal into a layup to put Highland on top by 18 points with just over 30 ticks left in the third.
Wellen (eight) and LaPorta (six) teamed up to score all 14 of their team’s points in the final stanza to easily help the Bulldogs fend off any hint of a Knights comeback.