After a lackluster first half, Highland senior Madison Wellen made sure the Bulldogs’ stay in the winner’s bracket of the Mascoutah Holiday Invitational Tournament wouldn’t be a short one.
An honorable mention all-state selection a year ago, Wellen connected on 4-of-5 three-point attempts to key a second-half run that lifted the defending champion Bulldogs past Breese Central 48-22 in a first-round high school girls basketball game Tuesday.
Ranked fifth in the first Class 3A state poll, Highland (9-3) used a stingy defense to hold the Cougars (5-7) scoreless for the first 11 minutes and built an 18-6 lead at halftime. But when Wellen and freshman Ellie Brown heated up in the third quarter, Central was in trouble.
Wellen scored 12 of her 20 points in the period, and Brown added a pair of three-point baskets for Highland which expanded its lead to 41-16 after three quarters.
Central, which won the tournament title in both 2014 and 2015, would get no closer.
“We hadn’t played for a week and you can only simulate so much in practice, but I thought we came out and played pretty well. We were a little sluggish early, but that’s to be expected,” Highland coach Mike Arbuthnot said. “I thought we really picked it up in the third quarter.”
But in a rematch of the 2015 title game won by Highland, the outcome was never in any doubt.
The Cougars didn’t score their first point until junior Faye Meissner hit a free throw with 4:59 left in the second quarter. Sophomore Allison Fehrmann then connected on a 15-foot jumper to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 10-3.
But that’s as close as Central would get.
Wellen then hit a 3-point jumper and 6-foot senior Alex LaPorta followed with an offensive rebound and basket as Highland widened the halftime margin.
Central coach Nathan Rueter couldn’t fault the Cougars’ defense.
“Honestly, I thought we played hard, and I thought we did a good job on the defensive end of the floor the entire game,” Rueter said. “We just haven’t had anybody step up on the offensive end of the floor. It doesn’t matter how good of defense you play though when you only score 22 points in four quarters of basketball.”
Wellen and Brown went to work in the third quarter, combining for six 3-point field goals and 18 points as the Bulldogs lead grew to 41-16 after three quarters.
“Our bench really picked us up then Madison and Ellie were able to knock down some 3’s in the third quarter and get us going in the third quarter,” Arbuthnot said. “I was concerned because Central is so well coached and they had been playing so much better in the last couple of weeks.”
Brown added 10 points, while LaPorta, the St. Louis area’s top rebounder, averaging 15.9 rebounds per game, had nine points and 13 rebounds. Fehrmann led Central with six points.