On paper, it looked like an easy night for the Highland basketball team against the smallish Orphans, but Saturday’s nonconference game against Centralia was anything but a breeze for the host Bulldogs.
Highland had to overcome foul trouble to Sam LaPorta and Jake Kruse as well as a persistent defensive effort from the Orphans.
But the Bulldogs used a late run in the final four minutes to knock down Orphans for a 56-44 victory.
“They are well-coached and they threw a lot of things at us defensively with good weak side help and they are very handsy on the ball,” Highland coach Brian Perkes said. “We knew it was going to be a game we were going to have to grind out.”
Both teams came out playing hard man to man defense as shot after shot was contested.
Up 9-5 early in the second quarter, the Bulldogs got their biggest lead of the first half on a three-point basket by Kruse, who finished with 18 points.
“They were just playing hard man to man and they were on the ball and get a lot of steals,” Kruse said. “I think the biggest thing for us was just finding people open.”
A Steven Torre free throw and a backdoor bucket from Torre to Etter pushed the lead to 20-14 with eight seconds left in the first half but Central cut the lead to four at the break on a pair of technical foul shots. Torre had seven points in the first half and finished the night with 18 points.
Highland (10-1) led by five late in the third quarter but Centralia junior guard Preston Johannes kept the Orphans close with a bucket to cut it to 34-31 as the third quarter ended.
Johannes scored 17 points.
Highland’s depth and scoring ability finally paid off in the fourth quarter as Torre knocked down a pair of free-throws and Brady Feldman sank a pair of foul shots to kick off a 10-3 run to deny the Orphans comeback bid..
“Jake when he’s open he’s shooting the three and he can drive the lane and shoot and Jack just find open spots and then Brady just drives the lane and scores at will,” Torre said. “We were up by four and then we hit those free throws than then we were all the sudden like 121, so those free throws were big.”
Centralia dropped to 5-5 with the loss.
The Bulldogs will take well-earned a week off before paying a visit to Mississippi Valley Conference rival Triad for a game next Friday at 7:30 p.m.