The Highland Bulldogs avenged two previous losses to Civic Memorial with a 51-48 Mississippi Valley Conference win Saturday at the Highland Shootout.
It was the first loss this season for the Eagles (16-1, 5-1), the top-ranked Class 3A team in the state. Highland (14-3, 4-1), tied for fourth in the latest 3A state rankings, lost to Civic Memorial 58-53 and 57-45 earlier this season.
Highland beat CM four times last season and eliminated the Eagles in the sectional.
Highland’s Rece Portell covered Southern Illinois University Edwardsville recruit Allie Troeckler, who is averaging 22.3 points and has more than 2,200 points in her career, limiting her to just three field goals and 11 points.
“Portell did a fantastic job on Troeckler — held her to 11, and that’s half her average,” Highland coach Mike Arbuthnot said. “Rece is one of these kids that’s a high-energy kid. We were talking before the game; who am I going to put in for Rece if she gets tired — and I told (them), ‘she’s not getting tired, OK?’ She gutted it out.
The Bulldogs trailed 27-21 at halftime when Highland senior Madison Wellen went to work. She drained a 3-pointer to open the second half and scored five quick points to swing momentum.
“That was really big,” said Wellen, whose points helped the Bulldogs outscore the Eagles 20-10 in the third quarter. “We’ve been working on making the extra pass because CM is such a good defensive team. We just found each other open, and I was found open on the 3-point line a couple times. That really worked to our benefit.
Wellen scored 10 of her game-high 19 points during the third quarter and also added eight rebounds.
“That made it a ballgame,” Arbuthnot said. “If that had been the other way, and they got up 10 or 12, it might have ended up different.”
Highland also got 12 points from Ellie Brown, 10 from Alex LaPorta and seven from Portell. Wellen had four of the Bulldogs’ eight 3-pointers.
The teams battled down the stretch as Alaira Tyus nailed a 3-pointer to tie it 48-48 with 2:08 remaining. After both teams committed turnovers, Highland’s Hayley Taylor was fouled, and she sank the second of two free throws with 15.6 seconds remaining to give the Bulldogs a 49-48 lead.
Thinking Troeckler might attempt the potential game-winning shot, the Bulldogs watched as CM’s Kaylee Eaton let a 3-pointer fly from the corner. The shot was off the mark with about three seconds remaining. Highland’s Emmy Nyquist then sealed the win with two free throws.
Troeckler missed a running 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
“Somebody said something about an upset. I don’t think this was an upset,” Arbuthnot said. “It’s one of those where we’re two good teams... Today it was our turn.”
The loss meant the end of a beard Civic Memorial coach Jonathan Denney had been growing since the start of the season. He agreed not to shave it until the team’s first defeat.
“I really didn’t anticipate going 16 games,” Denney said. “They made more plays down the stretch than we did. They’re a great team, and we knew that coming in. There’s no excuses. I think they just outplayed us today.”
Anna Hall led the Eagles with 12 points. Eaton had 10.