After having only two of their first 22 games at home, getting to finally play in their friendly confines again couldn’t have come at a better time for the Highland Bulldogs.
Coming off back-to-back losses in which the Bulldogs had major offensive woes and facing a key Mississippi Valley Conference game, Highland was revitalized offensively, scoring one more point than those two games combined with a 66-60 home victory over the Mascoutah Indians on Tuesday, Jan. 30.
The Bulldogs made it back-to-back wins with a 52-39 home triumph over non-conference foe Waterloo Gibault on Friday night.
“It’s nice to get back home, because we all shoot the ball better here. We practice here every day, and it’s good to be back home,” said HHS junior guard Brady Feldmann.
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The two wins boosted Highland’s overall record to 17-7, while the victory over Mascoutah kept the Bulldogs perfect in the MVC at 7-0 and in the driver’s seat in the chase for the conference championship.
The team will now be playing at home all the way through the regional, which Highland will host Feb. 27 through March 3.
Highland 66, Mascoutah 60
While Mascoutah (15-9, 4-2 MVC) lost for just the second time in its past 11 games, Highland snapped its two-game losing streak and took control of its quest for the conference championship.
“After sharing the conference last year, we want to win it outright this year, and we’re doing pretty well right now,” Feldmann said.
The Bulldogs hold a two-game lead over the rest of the conference with three league games to play. Highland split the conference title last season with Civic Memorial and Triad.
The last time Highland started conference play 7-0 was two years ago when it finished 10-0.
“When we have a three-game lead with two to go, I’ll feel more comfortable,” Highland coach Brian Perkes said. “We certainly control our own fate. It’s up to us. We don’t need help from anybody else, so that’s a good feeling.”
Highland 6-foot-4 Sam LaPorta and Mascoutah 6-5 senior Blake Weiss shared game-high honors after matching one another with 20 points.
LaPorta, who made 9 of 17 field-goal attempts and also pulled down nine rebounds to go with six steals and four assists, scored seven points in the fourth quarter to help Highland close out the game after the Indians had tied it up at 48-48. He also chipped in seven points in the second quarter to help the Bulldogs build a 31-24 halftime advantage.
Feldmann was second on the scoring pylon in the game with 15 points on a sizzling 5-for-7 shooting from the field, including going 3-for-4 from long range. He also dished out six assists.
Mascoutah also received 12 points from junior guard Jarred Johnson and 11 points from senior guard Jaydon Stewart.
Senior Stephen Schniers also logged nine points, four boards, three assists and three steals for the Bulldogs.
Highland 6-8 junior Stephen Torre was an impenetrable wall at times in the post. He swatted away six Mascoutah shots. He also scored six points and had four rebounds.
“If they won, they would have been tied with us. So this is a big confidence booster after two bad games,” Torre said. “And I think this really helps us secure the conference. It was kind of fun tonight. Offensively, it wasn’t really going (for me), so defensively I thought I needed to step up.
“When it was later in the game, I just started to try and block everything. Every ball I wanted to swat away.”
After mustering just 29 points the entire game at Breese Central on Saturday, Jan. 27, the Bulldogs scored 31 in the first half against Mascoutah.
“We knew it was going to be a battle,” Perkes said. “They have been on a bit of a roll and really playing good, so we beat a good basketball team tonight. I told our kids in the locker room after the game that we showed a lot of character, not only in stretches in this game, but simply to be able to bounce back from the debacle we had in Breese where we had one point after the first quarter and scored 29 total.
“It was a character test tonight, and I thought our kids responded very well.”
Feldmann canned three big 3-pointers in the second half. The first came to put Highland on top 36-24, just 50 seconds into the second half. The Bulldogs’ biggest lead was 39-26, which came on junior Jack Etter’s 3-pointer.
After the Indians went on a 17-4 run to close within a point, Feldmann drilled his next trifecta with time running out in the third frame to give the Bulldogs a two-possession lead (47-43) heading into the fourth quarter.
Mascoutah ultimately tied the game at 48-48 in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter, but Highland rallied for a 13-3 run to push the lead up to double digits at 61-51 with 2:45 to play. In the spurt, Torre scored four points, while Feldmann hit his final 3-pointer and LaPorta added three points.
“I am comfortable and confident taking big shots, and I just wanted to make plays for my team,” Feldmann said. “They tied it up, then we started hitting big shots, and that helped us get over the top. It was two very good teams going at it.”
Also contributing numbers for Highland were junior Jake Kruse with eight points, four assists and two steals; Etter with five points and two rebounds; and senior Cameron Altadonna with three points, two rebounds, two assists and one steal.
Highland 52, Gibault 39
The Bulldogs won three of the four quarters. After edging the Hawks 15-12 in the opening stanza, Highland opened used a 12-5 second period to open up a double-digit lead (27-17) at halftime.
Gibault (7-17) nipped the Bulldogs 14-12 in the third quarter before Highland won the final frame 13-8 to pull back away by double digits.
The Bulldogs helped the Hawks commit 22 turnovers and shoot only 40.5 percent (15 of 37) from the field.
Torre topped Highland in scoring with 14 points, while LaPorta, Feldmann and Schniers all matched one another with eight points apiece.
Karson Huels led Gibault with 18 points, but he also turned the ball over a game-high eight times. Logan Doerr also had six turnovers for the Hawks.
Also scoring for the Bulldogs were Altadonna with six points, and Kruse and senior Jonathan Dickman each had four points.