In what is expected to be a four-round heavyweight fight between Highland and Civic Memorial this season’s, the Lady Bulldogs looked poised to win the rematch through 2 1/2 quarters Tuesday in Bethalto. But the Eagles used a key 14-0 second half-run to score a 58-53 come-from-behind victory.
Highland claimed all four showdowns last year en route to going on and taking third place in the state in Class 3A. However, CM has turned the tables this season to prevail in both encounters.
“I really think this is the second round of a four-round heavyweight championship fight,” said Jonathan Denney, whose team remained undefeated at 11-0 overall and 3-0 in the Mississippi Valley Conference. “We’ve played (Highland) four times the last seven years and I fully expect to play them to play them four times this year.”
The Eagles snapped Highland’s (8-3, 3-1) five-game winning streak. The two Class 3A toughies will face each other one more time in the regular season at 10 a.m. Jan. 7 in a game that will tip off the Highland Optimist Shootout. The game will more than likely decide if the two squads will share the MVC crown or if CM will win it outright. A fourth meeting in the postseason is also likely.
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The Bulldogs controlled play for the first 2 1/2 quarters before the Eagles ratcheted up their level of play.
HHS senior Madison Wellen nailed a jumper to put her team on top 31-26 halfway through the third quarter.
After CM senior Allie Troeckler, a Southern Illinois University Edwardsville recruit, hit a 3-pointer to pull the Eagles even, Wellen responded again with a bucket for a 36-34 lead with 2:29 to go in the period.
The Eagles then turned up the heat defensively and surged for a 14-0 run to go on top 48-36 early in the final frame.
Troeckler pumped in 11 of her game-high 25 points in the quarter, including six in the spurt to help stake her team to a 42-36 advantage after three quarters of play. Troeckler’s two free throws gave her team the lead for good at 38-36 with 2:08 left in the third.
CM was far from done as juniors Kaylee Eaton and Alaira Tyus drilled back-to-back 3-pointers to open the final stanza and give the Eagles the 12-point cushion with 5:46 to play.
But the Bulldogs still had plenty of fight in them. Wellen, junior Rece Portell and freshman Ellie Brown each drilled a trifecta to trigger a 14-4 run that chopped the deficit down to 52-50 with 1:31 left.
The Eagles left the door ajar by missing 8 of 14 free throws in the final two minutes. Highland sophomore Emmy Nyquist hit a triple with 34 seconds left to again get within two at 55-53.
But Highland did not help its own cause, twice missing the front end of a one-and-one in the final 23 seconds.
“We had our chances. We had the opportunity, we just didn’t get it done,” Highland coach Mike Arbuthnot said. “Their toughness got us again this time for about a three-, four-minute span. They started taking away some of the things we were trying to do and we did not really counter off of that. It kind of snowballed on us.”
Seniors Wellen and Alex LaPorta led Highland with 17 and 12 points, respectively, while Eaton finished with 15 points for the Eagles.
Also for the Bulldogs, senior Hayley Taylor chipped in seven points, Portell finished with six points, Nyquist added five points, and Brown and senior Abby Melosi each had three points.
Highland used a 10-2 second-quarter surge to race out to an eight-point lead (27-19) in the second quarter before CM cut the margin down to 27-24 by halftime.
But the Eagles took charge with a 24-9 overall run to turn the three-point deficit into a 12-point advantage early in the fourth.
“They really out-toughed us in the first half,” Denney said of the Bulldogs. “They dominated the boards, they just seemed to be a little bit tougher. They were a little hungrier in that first half. Execution-wise, the third quarter great. But even with the 12-point lead, (Highland) didn’t go anywhere. We’ve got to be a little stronger with the basketball. I’m proud of my girls. We haven’t had many games like this this year, so it’s nice to see how they respond in a tight game.”