Mascoutah got everyone’s attention on Wednesday with an upset of favored Triad at the Class 3A Triad Regional, but the Highland Lady Bulldogs wanted no part of back-to-back celebrations by the Indians.
Highland lost in the regional final in each of the last three years, but ended that streak by pounding out a 57-34 championship win over Mascoutah on Thursday as the Lady Bulldogs claimed their first regional title since 2012.
Highland (27-4) blew things open early and never looked back to beat Mississippi Valley Conference rival Mascoutah (16-13) for the third time this season.
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Highland senior Amanda Ponce had 13 of her team-high 17 points in the first half while Alex LaPorta contributed 15 points and Madison Wellen added 13 points.
Highland, which has won 10 in a row, will face Carbondale at 6 p.m. Monday in the semifinals of the Benton Sectional.
“We felt like we had something to prove and I’m just so happy for them,” Highland coach Mike Arbuthnot said. “I’m happy for the seniors and I’m happy for these kids because you know we got beat in the regional final the last two years and it’s nice to be able to get one.”
Ponce said the Lady Bulldogs didn’t really care who they played as long as they left the gym with a regional championship plaque.
“Losing in a regional championship game the past three years of my high school career, it’s been frustrating,” Ponce said. “It’s really nice going out there and getting one for ourselves and heading out to sectional for the first time.”
Highland pushed the ball upcourt quickly and attacked seams in the Mascoutah zone defense. Using quick ball movement and accurate shooting (21-of-35 through the first three quarters), they shot the Indians right out of the game.
“They did everything right, unfortunately,” Mascoutah coach Terry Moeller said.
With nine points, senior Caitlin Lammers narrowly missed being the fourth Highland player to reach double figures.
“We knew we had to come out right away and play good from the get-go because they could come back at any time,” Lammers said. “Once we started hitting shots, then it just started rolling and they couldn’t stop us. This is the best we’ve played in a while so it was good to come out play like this.”
Ponce closed out the first half by draining a pair of 3-pointers that pushed the Lady Bulldogs’ halftime lead to 31-16.
Highland broke on top 6-0 and kept finding openings in the Mascoutah zone throughout the first half.
LaPorta had six of her eight first-half points in the opening quarter.
“We knew we had to come out strong, and we flowed together and found the open person,” LaPorta said. “We really got the momentum in the third quarter when we came out strong because we knew there was 16 minutes left and we couldn’t let up, so we did our best. This feels pretty good and it is a lot of fun.”
The Indians had difficulty cracking the Lady Bulldogs’ active zone throughout the first half, sinking only six of 16 shots.
“I’m just going to give a lot of credit to Highland,” Moeller said. “They really played a great game tonight. Their coach came in with a great defensive scheme and took us out of some things early and we didn’t have an answer for it. Our conference is pretty tough.”
Unlike the night before when the Indians pulled the big upset over Triad, there was virtually no drama in this game.
Mascoutah’s top scorer was Kennedy Bryant with 12 points.
“We came out with our total effort of trying to stop their main two scorers,” Arbuthnot said. “Rece Portell did a great job on 10 (Maddie Nekola) and Alex (LaPorta) did a great job on 54 (Tennaye Green). I think that took them out of the flow a little bit.
“Offensively we wanted to try to get out after it, really push the ball. We feel like we’re athletic enough to get rebounds and push them down — and we were able to finish.”
Not done yet
And the Highland players feel they are far from done.
“No we’re not done, we’re already looking forward and moving on to the next one,” Lammers said.
“Postseason is a new season so we’re going to try to keep this trucking and see how far we can take this,” LaPorta said.
Highland 54, Jerseyville 34
The Bulldogs used a 21-0 run over the first two quarters and easily dismissed the Panthers to reach the championship game.
Ponce and Wellen scored 13 points apiece to lead Highland while LaPorta finished with nine points.
“We came out and our pressure ‘D’ was pretty good early,” Arbuthnot said. “We wanted to force 10 (junior Mackenzie Thurston) away from the basket because she likes to penetrate. We put Hayley (Taylor, a junior) on 33, (Bethany) Muenstermann, so she didn’t get any looks. We knew those were their top two scorers and we wanted to make sure we stopped those two. We did a pretty good job in the first half.”
Taylor fell hard on her face with 5:46 to play in the second quarter as she fought for a loose ball with Jerseyville senior Mikayla Kraut, who was called for a foul.
Taylor walked off after being attended to on the court, but she remained behind the bench and received treatment until the start of the third quarter when a stretcher arrived to cart her to an ambulance and a local hospital. The second half began after she left.
“She came down face-first and she’s got a couple of teeth that are loose,” Arbuthnot said. “She showed some early signs of a concussion. Initially, she was fine, but wen she got up and moved around a little bit when we got her off, she got a little bit lightheaded.
“Most of it’s precautionary. It scared the kids. No doubt about it. We settled them down. I let them know everything was precautionary. She was awake and squeezing (hands) and not showing any signs of negative things. Once I told them that, the kids relaxed a little bit. But it’s still scary seeing a teammate being carried off.”
Jerseyville finished 13-15.