The Highland basketball Lady Bulldogs reeled off two more victories to run their winning streak to five games after trampling the visiting Centralia Orphans on Monday of last week before traveling to Mater Dei on Saturday and out-dueling the Knights 61-52.
Highland (8-2) traveled to Civic Memorial on Tuesday for the first of two big showdowns between the two Mississippi Valley Conference titans. The Bulldogs, who defeated the Eagles all four times last season, will be seeking to avenge a 57-45 loss to CM on Nov. 26 in the championship game of the Salem Lady Wildcat Thanksgiving Tournament.
Highland 61, Mater Dei 52
Senior guard Madison Wellen was the main trigger for the Bulldogs’ victory after shredding the Knights’ defense for almost half of her team’s point total with a game-leading 30.
Wellen, who raised her season scoring average to 18.7 points per game to climb to 16th place in the bi-state area, connected on an even 50 percent (10-for-20) of her shots from the field, including being on target from long range after burying three out of her five attempts from behind the 3-point arc. She also collected seven rebounds, four assists, three steals and one blocked shot.
“This game was a good test for us,” Wellen said. “We are getting into the heart of our season and we’re starting to see tougher competition. Mater Dei is a big rival of ours, so we all came ready to play. Our defense forced a few turnovers, and we were able to get some easy looks in transition. We have been working really hard on that in practice, and it’s good to know it is paying off.”
Senior forward Alex LaPorta also played a pivotal role in Highland’s win after posting her ninth double-double in in 10 games with 17 points and 15 rebounds. She helped the Bulldogs own a commanding 39-19 advantage on the boards.
LaPorta is tied for the lead in the St. Louis metro area in rebounds with a hefty average of 15.6 boards a game. She also added four steals and two assists.
The Bulldogs’ defense helped key the victory after holding Mater Dei (6-3) to 29 percent shooting (16-for-56). The Knights also did not do themselves any favors at the charity stripe after sinking just 60 percent (18-for-30) of their foul shots.
After edging Mater Dei 15-13 in the first quarter, Highland stifled the Knights to just five points in the second stanza to increase its halftime lead to 26-18.
The Bulldogs kept the momentum rolling en route to carrying a comfortable 42-30 advantage into the final frame.
Mater Dei placed three players in double figures but the trio all struggled shooting the ball against Highland’s pesky and disruptive defense. Kelsey Gerdes paced the Knights with 17 points but 12 of her 16 shots, while Logan Braundmeier added 16 points on 6-for-15 shooting and Kierra Winkeler had 14 points on 5-for-17 shooting.
Winkeler also pulled down a team-best eight rebounds to go with three assists and three steals, while Gerdes led her team with four steals.
Also producing numbers for the Bulldogs were freshman guard Ellie Brown with five points, six assists, three rebounds and two steals; junior guard Rece Portell with five points, three boards, three assists and one steal; senior center Hayley Taylor with two points, seven rebounds, three assists and one steal; and senior guard Abby Melosi with two points, one rebound and one steal.
Highland 66, Centralia 42
On Monday of last week, the Bulldogs routed their fourth consecutive opponent, and it was the third game in a row that all 14 players on Highland’s varsity roster got playing time.
“I was real happy with the way we played,” Highland coach Mike Arbuthnot said. “We came out and had a really good first quarter and had a quick start. We got the transition going a little bit, got some easy baskets and got some defensive pressure. We’re getting a lot of kids a lot of playing time, and that’s good, because we’re getting to look at a lot of different kids in a lot of different situations.”
Heading the 11 players who scored at least two points for Highland were Wellen (16) and LaPorta (11). Both hit double figures despite sitting for minutes at a time. They both were also the game’s top thieves with five steals apiece and helped key a defensive unit that wreaked havoc on Centralia for 21 turnovers. LaPorta also yanked down a game-best 14 rebounds and has reached double digits in boards in ever game this season. She also added three assists. Wellen went 7-for-13 from the field and also contributed four rebounds and two assists.
Brown dished out a game-topping seven assists and leads the team in that category at almost five a game. Brown also had three rebounds and one steal.
“Ellie Brown stepped in and made an impact right from the beginning, and she deserves all the playing time she gets,” Arbuthnot said. “She is a hard worker, and she is probably harder on herself than anyone. She plays hard, she handles the ball well and runs the show well. She is a nice complement to everybody else and the sky is the limit for her.”
Taylor contributed seven points, five boards, two blocked shots, one assist and one steal.
“Hayley has really stepped up the last couple of weeks and really played well,” Arbuthnot said. “Her shooting is more consistent because she is getting her feet set. And she is being a little more physical and show a little bit better physicality. She is giving us some real good minutes and is a very valuable player to us.”
Senior guard Alisse Koishor has also been playing well, as she produced eight points, four rebounds and one steal.
“Koish (Koishor) stepped in tonight and gave us some real, real good minutes and played real well, so she is building confidence, which could earn her even more playing time,” Arbuthnot said.
Also scoring for Highland were Portell with seven points, sophomore Kayla Eads with four points, senior Katie Kampwerth with three points, and Melosi, senior Breanna Frahm and sophomore Emmy Nyquist all with two points apiece.
Leading the way for Centralia were Latavia Maines and Nikita Maines with 18 and 15 points, respectively.