The inside-outside combination of seniors Alex LaPorta and Madison Wellen scored 11 points in the first quarter, and the Highland Lady Bulldogs were never threatened as they repeated as champions with a 52-25 win over Mater Dei Thursday at the 39th annual Mascoutah Girls Holiday Invitational Basketball Tournament.
Wellen scored on a 10-foot jumper and added a 3-pointer in the first four minutes, while LaPorta added three baskets from short range as the Bulldogs (12-3) had all five starters score at least one point en route to taking took early command by racing out to a 16-4 advantage and never looking back.
“Inside, outside, they do such a great job,” Highland coach Mike Arbuthnot said of Wellen and LaPorta. “They help our young guards get into the flow of things.”
Freshman Ellie Brown got it flowing in the second quarter, pouring in seven points to help Highland take a 31-13 cushion into halftime.
It is Highland’s fourth Mascoutah tourney title. In addition to 2015, the Bulldogs also won the championship in 2006 and 2010.
But Highland had never been this dominant before in being crowned the champions of the annual 16-team event, winning by margins of 26, 18, 15 and 27 points. That is an eye-popping average margin of victory of 21.5 points.
“We played well here this week, and in the last three weeks or so, it seems like we’ve kicked it up a notch. Our intensity has really improved on both ends of the floor,” Arbuthnot said. “We enjoy coming to play at Mascoutah because of the great competition we see here. It helps you play well for four straight games. We did that here this week.”
Wellen threw in a game-high 21 points, including dumping in eight points in the third quarter to help the Bulldogs take their biggest lead of the night at 31 points (47-16) late in the period.
“I think the way we played the last few days is going to give us a lot of confidence,” Wellen said. “We’ve been executing really well.”
The Bulldogs coasted home the rest of the way with a running clock in effect.
Junior Rece Portell scored nine points, while LaPorta and Brown finished with eight points each, and senior Hayley Taylor and sophomore Emmy Nyquist added four points and one point, respectively.
As good as Highland’s offense was, the Bulldogs’ defense was even more impressive.
Highland held Mater Dei (9-5) scoreless for stretches of nearly 5 1/2 minutes both in the first and second quarters en route to building the 31-13 halftime bulge.
In addition, the Bulldogs held the Knights to single digits in all four quarters and kept the Knights without a double-digit scorer. Logan Braundmeier led Mater Dei with eight points.
Mater Dei, which had to rally to beat Okawville in the quarterfinals and Belleville West in the semifinal in order to reach the title game, saw any chance of a comeback go away in the opening two minutes of the third quarter.
Wellen opened the period with a pair of short jumpers, Portell hit a 3-pointer shot and LaPorta scored on an offensive putback.
The 9-2 surge gave Highland a 40-15 lead with about five minutes left in the third quarter.
Wellen and LaPorta, both all-state honorable-mention selections a year ago, highlighted the 2016 Mascoutah Girls Holiday Invitational Basketball Tournament All-Tournament First Team.
Wellen topped all scorers in the tournament with 87 points, while LaPorta totaled 48 points and amassed the most rebounds in the tourney.
Other first-team members were Althoff senior Kyleigh Vaught, Belleville East sophomore Kaylah Rainey and Belleville West junior Sydney Thurwalker.
Second-team selections were Logan Braundmeier and Kelsey Gerdes of Mater Dei; Paige Kasten of Nashville; Madison Hackstadt of Okawville; and Destiny Johnson of Belleville East.
Highland 59, Belleville East 44
In the only tight game the Bulldogs had in the tourney, Highland pulled away in the final minute and a half to win by 15 points and avenge an earlier defeat to the Lancers at the Salem Lady Wildcat Thanksgiving Tournament.
Highland and Belleville East were deadlocked 17-17 after the opening quarter and again, 27-27, at the half before the Bulldogs grabbed came out of the fourth quarter with the smallest of leads at 38-37.
Highland battled to still hold a 46-43 advantage with 3 1/2 minutes left and had increased its margin by a single point to 48-44 with 1:29 left before pulling away from the foul line.
For the game, the Bulldogs sank 15-of-19 (79 percent) free throws. Wellen did most of the work from charity stripe, going 10-for-13 and finishing with a game-leading 20 points.
LaPorta was next on the game’s scoring pylon with 16 points.
Kaylah Rainey led Belleville East with 15 points and hit 7-of-11 field goals, but the rest of her teammates struggled mightily at 28 percent (10-for-36).
In addition, the Lancers made just 3-of-17 attempts from behind the arc.
Also scoring for Highland were Taylor with nine points, Brown with six points, Portell and Nyquist with three points apiece, and junior Lauren Baer with two points.
Highland 57, O’Fallon 39
Wellen scored 16 of her game-best 26 points in the first half and the defending champion Highland Bulldogs broke open a close game with a 14-2 scoring spurt midway through the second quarter in a 57-39 quarterfinal round win over the O’Fallon Panthers.
Highland led just 17-12 after one quarter, but with Wellen, a 5-9 guard, and 6-foot senior forward Alex LaPorta combining to score 13 of Highland’s 15 points in the second quarter, the Bulldogs lead was 32-18 at halftime.
The Bulldogs then blitzed the Panthers with an 18-4 third quarter to put the game out of reach at 50-22 heading into the fourth frame.
LaPorta contributed a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds for Highland.
“We knew O’Fallon was going to be a tough team and they play very fast, so we knew our turnovers would have to be kept to a minimum,” said Wellen, who also had a double-double after pulling down 10 rebounds. “Once we adjusted to the pace of the game, we were able to control what we did both offensively and defensively. We had a really strong third quarter, and I think that made a statement in the game. We knew O’Fallon is a well-coached and well-disciplined team, and they can be very dangerous. We definitely came out and made a statement today.”
Also numbering in the scoring column for the Bulldogs were Taylor with six points, Portell with five points, Brown with three points and Nyquist with two points.
Highland 48, Breese Central 22
After a lackluster first half, Wellen made sure her team’s stay in the winner’s bracket of the Mascoutah Girls Holiday Invitational Tournament wouldn’t be a short one.
Wellen connected on 4-of-5 three-point attempts to key a second-half run that had the Bulldogs run past the Cougars in a first-round game on Tuesday of last week.
Ranked fifth in the first Class 3A state poll, Highland used a stingy defense to hold the Cougars scoreless for the first 11 minutes and built an 18-6 lead at halftime. But when Wellen and Brown heated up in the third quarter, Central was in trouble.
Wellen scored 12 of her 20 points in the period, and Brown added a pair of three-point baskets for Highland which expanded its lead to 41-16 after three quarters.
Central, which won the tournament title in both 2014 and 2015, would get no closer.
But in a rematch of the 2015 title game won by Highland, the outcome was never in any doubt.
The Cougars didn’t score their first point until junior Faye Meissner hit a free throw with 4:59 left in the second quarter. Sophomore Allison Fehrmann then connected on a 15-foot jumper to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 10-3.
But that’s as close as Central would get.
Wellen, who went 6-for-9 from behind the arc for the game and 7-for-11 overall, then hit a 3-point jumper and LaPorta followed with an offensive rebound and basket as Highland widened the halftime margin.
Wellen and Brown went to work in the third quarter, combining for six 3-point field goals and 18 points as the Bulldogs lead grew to 41-16 after three quarters.
For the game, Brown scored 10 points and dished out five assists, while LaPorta, the St. Louis area’s top rebounder, averaging 15.9 rebounds per game, grabbed 14 rebounds to go with nine points, three assists and three steals.
Abbie Horstmann led Central with six points.
Also scoring for the Bulldogs were Nyquist with five points, Taylor with three points and senior Abby Melosi with one point.