After splitting the conference title with two others last year, Highland was not in a sharing mood Friday night and left no doubt which team is the champion this year with a 62-44 home win over Jerseyville.
Highland (19-8) clinched the Mississippi Valley Conference crown outright with a still-perfect league ledger of 9-0 and the Bulldogs will have a chance to sweep the conference with a home win over Civic Memorial Tuesday in the regular
“Of course we didn’t want to share it,” said junior forward Sam LaPorta, who led three Bulldogs in double figures with game-leading 13 points on 5 of 7 field goals to go with a game-high nine rebounds and five assists. “Every single person showed up. Everyone distributed the ball well, we passed well and everybody played good defense. We feel our confidence is building right now for sure. We’re shooting the ball better than we had been and we’re putting everything together — offense and defense.
“I thought it was an all-around good game and hopefully on Tuesday we can finish off the sweep (of the conference).”
After Jerseyville (14-12, 5-3 MVC) jumped out to a 7-2 lead on a 3-pointer each by Kurt Hall and Blake Wittman, it was all Bulldogs from then on.
Highland 6-foot-8 junior center Stephen Torre scored six of his 12 points in a key third-quarter run. Torre, who also had five rebounds and a game-best four blocked shots, sandwiched his six points between 3-pointers from junior guard Brady Feldmann and senior guard Cameron Altadonna as the Bulldogs closed the opening quarter on a 17-3 to go on top 19-10.
Highland was far from done.
LaPorta then scored the first eight points of the second stanza to help Highland extend its lead up to 33-18 by halftime.
Senior forward Stephen Schniers scored six of his 10 points to open the third quarter to help the Bulldogs push the margin up to 20 points (41-21) 3:25 into the second half. Schniers also added four boards, two assists and one steal.
Highland took its biggest lead of the game at a 25-point gap (56-31) on a layup from LaPorta in the fourth quarter.
“We stretched our lead out at the half and they never made a serious run at us in the second half,” Highland coach Brian Perkes said. “That was good to see because sometimes it’s hard to play from in front. But we built upon that lead and I thought we played a pretty good game all the way through tonight.
“Offensively, I think we are much better right now than we were 2 1/2 to 3 three weeks ago, and this is when you want to be playing your best ball — at the end of the season.”
Highland kept the momentum going after posting a dominant 67-49 home victory over Waterloo three nights earlier.
“We made some shots tonight and we’ve looked a lot better the last couple of nights,” he said. “We’ve worked really hard on our offense the last week and a half to two weeks and I think it’s paid off.”
Hall and Wittman shared team-high honors for Jerseyville with 10 point apiece. Wittman also shared team-high honors in rebounds with Lucas Ross with each grabbing six boards. Ross also added seven points.
Also manufacturing numbers for the Bulldogs were Feldmann with nine points, two rebounds and two assists; Jack Etter each with six points and two boards; junior Jake Kruse with six points; Altadonna with three points and two rebounds; junior Blake Barth with two points and two boards; and senior Jonathan Dickman with one point.
In addition to having a chance to go 10-0 in the MVC on Tuesday night when they host Civic Memorial, but the Bulldogs will also have a chance to score its 20th win for the first time in more than 20 years since the Bulldogs, under coach Jeff Faulkenberg, did it back-to-back years in 1995 (22-8) and 1996 (25-6).
“These types of seasons don’t come along very often,” Perkes said. “It’s been 22 years since we’ve won 20 games here and there have been some talented teams that have come through this program in the last 22 years. And it is a chance to go 10-0 in the conference. Those are milestones and things that just don’t happen that often.”
Highland will host a Class 3A regional Feb. 26 through March 2. The Bulldogs earned the sectional’s third seed and will first take on the winner of No. 6 Cahokia and No. 11 Triad in the second semifinal at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 28.
The first semifinal will pit No. 2 East St. Louis against the winner of Breese Central and Mater Dei at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 27.
The regional championship will take place at 7 p.m. Friday, March 2.
Highland 67, Waterloo 49
On Tuesday, Feb. 13, Highland outscored the visitors 22-10 in the second quarter to widen a three-point lead to a hefty 15-point bulge (37-22) by the break. Waterloo would never threaten again.
HHS was adept at distributing the ball and getting good shots. Highland shot 54 percent (26 of 48) from the field — including going 6 for 12 from behind the arc — and tallied an impressive 22 assists on its 26 made field goals.
In addition, Highland doubled Waterloo on the boards, 30-15.
Torre was dominant in the post, logged a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds, four on the offensive end. He was on fire, converting 9 of 10 field-goal attempts to go with two blocked shots, one assist and one steal.
LaPorta’s all-around skills were on display, contributing 15 points — on 4 of 7 field goals and 7 of 8 free throws — six rebounds, six assists, three steals and one block.
Kruse scored all nine of his points on three 3-pointers in the second quarter to help Highland run away from Waterloo.
For Waterloo, Ross Schrader led the way with 16 points and Tre Wahlig was close behind with 14 points.
Also producing numbers for Highland were Feldmann with seven points, two rebounds and one assist; Schniers with six points, four boards and three assists; Altadonna with three points, four assists and three rebounds; senior Deakon Thornton with three points; Dickman with three points and three assists; and Etter with two points and one rebound.