The Highland girls basketball team hit its stride en route to an emphatic 65-30 victory at Triad on Thursday to open up HHS’ defense of its four consecutive conference championships.
The Lady Bulldogs led only 18-15 early in the second quarter, but Highland clicked into overdrive and overpowered the Knights 36-8 through the end of the third quarter to carry an insurmountable 54-23 lead into the final eight minutes.
The Lady Bulldogs took their biggest at 65-24 in the fourth quarter before Triad rallied for the game’s final six points.
“I like the way we played,” Highland coach Mike Arbuthnot said. “We had some real good practices this week. Kids are starting to understand exactly what we are trying to do.”
Despite winning four of five games to start to the season at the Salem Thanksgiving Tournament, Arbuthnot said the team had some issues with running its transition offense.
But that was not a problem for Highland (5-1) against the Knights (3-2) in both teams’ Mississippi Valley Conference opener.
“We got out after it defensively and created some turnovers and shared the ball real well in the offense,” Arbuthnot said. “I thought the kids played well together and put together a real nice ballgame tonight.”
The Bulldogs, who knocked down nine 3-pointers, placed three players in double figures. Sophomore Ellie Brown (19 points), junior Mae Riffel (16) and senior Rece Portell (14) combined to score 51 of Highland’s total output, and the trio did so in three quarters of play.
“That was probably one of the top games that I’ve had, and my teammates encouraged me, so it felt really good,” Riffel said of her career-high 16 points. “We feel like we are playing better together now. We really went on a run, and we were pumped. It was an all-around good team effort.”
Brown and Riffel shared game-high honors in assists with five each. Brown also had with five rebounds and two steals. Riffel and Portell shared game-best honors in rebounds with seven apiece. Portell also added three assists and one steal. Riffel also had one steal.
“Mae Riffel had a fantastic game for us, and we had three people with 14 or more points. So the thing is, that we’ve got some kids that are capable of scoring,” Arbuthnot said. “I am just really pleased with the way we shared the ball. We had a lot of assists, and when we have a lot of assists, that’s great for us, because that means we are sharing the ball and we are doing the things that I want in the offense.
“We’re seeing progression, and this is the time of the year where you keep trying to improve and doing the little things that get you ready for the Christmas tournament and all that.”
Triad, which did not feature a double-figure scorer, was led by junior Caleigh Miller, who had eight points, and junior Ali Barisch added seven points for the Knights.
Highland also received seven points, two rebounds, two steals and one assist from sophomore Ashlyn Klucker; three points, three assists and two steals from junior Kayla Eads; four points, one board and one steal from senior Lauren Baer; and two points, three assists, three steals and two rebounds from junior Emmy Nyquist.