It took an early fourth quarter run to jumpstart the Highland Bulldogs, but once they got rolling, archrival Triad could only watch them pull away.
Sam LaPorta scored seven of his game-high 17 points to kick off a surge early in the final quarter and the Bulldogs stretched their lead to 16 points on their way to a 56-46 win at Highland on Friday.
The victory secured Highland’s (26-5) their second straight Mississippi Valley Conference championship. The Bulldogs went 10-0 in conference play for the second straight season.
“It’s a long season and its hard schedule and to get there from where we came from is just amazing but we’re ready for the postseason now,” LaPorta said.
Equally significant for the Bulldogs, they set a new single-season record for wins, breaking the old record of 25 set during the 1995-96 season.
“Highland’s had 99 years of basketball and its special ( to get the record),” Highland coach Brian Perkes said. “We hadn’t talked about it until just recently and we brought it up after about win No. 23 and we thought ‘hey, it’s in sight and we have a chance to do it,’ so you can look back on it when they are coming to their class reunions and they can say we set the record for schools wins.”
Triad (11-18, 5-5) came out energetic in the opening quarter as the pesky Knights grabbed the lead three times, the last one coming off a Jonah Ogden basket that made it 10-9 with 2:40 left in the first quarter.
“Triad played well tonight and they knocked down some shots down and they played well,” Perkes said.
Up two points, the Bulldogs got a big lift from senior point guard Brady Feldmann to end the quarter as Feldmann knocked down a 3-pointer at the buzzer to make it 19-14. Feldmann, who is headed to McKendree University to play football, had another big night against the Bulldogs archrival as he broke loose for 15 points.
“I always love playing against these guys,” Feldmann said.
Highland led just 29-24 at halftime and held a 41-34 lead after the third quarter.
“We kind of struggled against them early, Feldmann said. “They packed it (their defense) in on us and made it hard to pass around on the perimeter. We came in at halftime and made some adjustments.”
Those adjustments paid off to start the fourth quarter as the Bulldogs tightened down their 2-1-2 press and LaPorta kickstarted the big run with a bucket, a step-back 3, and another basket as the Bulldogs parlayed a 9-0 run into a 50-34 lead that turned the light outs on Triad.
“They were hanging around into the third quarter, so to get that run was really big,” LaPorta said. “We play really well in front so when they’re chasing us, we can do a lot of things and do what we want.”
Jake Kruse finished the night with 13 points, giving the Bulldogs three players in double figures.
Steven Torre was strong defensively as he blocked four shots in the first half.
Next up for Highland is a Class 3A regional semifinal game on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Salem High School. The Bulldogs get the winner of Monday’s Centralia-Benton first-round game.
“This is the kind of hard-fought, physical game we’re gonna see at regionals and we’re gonna be ready for it,” Feldmann said.