A big early run by Civic Memorial created too big of a hill for the Highland Lady Bulldogs basketball team to climb.
Civic Memorial started fast, scoring the first 13 points of the game and scraped by for a gritty 43-41 victory over Highland, giving the Eagles the inside track on the Mississippi Valley Conference title with four games left to go.
Sophomore guard Harper Buhs stepped up big for the Eagles with 16 points and junior Anna Hall, who battled foul trouble added 14 points as Civic Memorial moved to 18-4 and 6-0 in the MVC.
Buhs knocked down seven shots from the floor and was tough on the defensive end as well.
“I feel like our team all came together when Anna got in foul trouble, communicated and we had to step up it up and we played well,” Buhs said.
Highland (16-5, 4-2) was victimized by an uncharacteristically slow start as the Lady Bulldogs scored just three free-throws in the first quarter and did not hit a basket until Bella LaPorta’s baseline jumper with 4:07 left in the second quarter.
“You spot a team like that a 13-point lead in the quarter, right out of the gate...I just told the girls it’s tough to dig yourself out of that but I told them I was proud of them for making a good effort and coming back,” Highland coach Clint Hamilton said.
The Lady Bulldogs were down 23-15 at halftime and were within two points or less on six different occasions but failed to tie or get the lead due to missed shots or untimely turnovers.
“There were several times we got within two or three and just didn’t get the ball to bounce our way or get a shot to fall and it just never happened,” Hamilton said. “We could ever get over that hump. That’s the way it goes, especially against a good team like that.”
A Mae Riffel free-throw pulled the Lady Bulldogs within 41-39 with 1:45 to go. Hall answered for the Eagles with a bucket and Highland gave away its next possession with a turnover.
Down four points, Highland dug in and got a stop and pulled within 43-41 on a Riffel drive with 43 seconds left.
On Civic Memorial’s next trip down, Buh’s missed the front end of a one-and-one and the Lady Bulldogs called time out to set up a play.
The Eagles threw a matchup zone at Highland on the final possession and Courtland Tyus killed the play with a steal to end the Lady Bulldogs last chance.
“We went with our matchup zone and our girls did a great job of disguising it,” Civic Memorial coach Jonathan Denney said. “I thought Highland dug in after the first quarter and I’m proud of our kids staying in there and I think we showed at times how good we can be.”
Junior guard Ellie Brown led Highland with nine points. Riffel had 7 points and LaPorta had six points.
Although the Lady Bulldogs are two games behind the Eagles in the conference race and may be on the outside looking in, they may well get another crack at them next week during the Highland Tournament, which is set to run from Saturday (Jan. 12) until next Saturday (Jan. 19).
“It’s a good game for our kids to play in and these games mean a lot and hopefully we’ll see CM at our tournament and hopefully down the road at the Super Sectional,” Hamilton said.