After winning just 12 games combined in the last three seasons, the Triad Knights made a statement heard loud and clear around the Mississippi Valley Conference on Monday at Triad High School.
“We have arrived and we’re here to stay,’’ a jubilant Knights coach Josh Hunt said following Triad’s 63-55 win over Highland. “We shocked the world tonight.”
Staking her claim as one of the elite players in the St. Louis area, junior Sophie Thompson scored 34 points — and the Knights made 12 of 12 from the foul line in the closing 1 minute 50 seconds — as they ended the Bulldogs’ dream of an undefeated MVC season with the upset win.
Sophomore Sam Bassler added 13 points and junior Abby Burroughs contributed 13 rebounds and eight assists for the Knights (16-7, 4-3), which saw a 14-point lead go away thanks to a furious rally by Highland.
Trailing 48-34 late in the third quarter following Thompson’s sixth 3-point basket, the Bulldogs (22-3, 7-1) rallied behind junior Amanda Ponce. One of the MVC’s top players, Ponce tallied 13 of her 20 points in the fourth quarter and when senior Olivia LaPorta scored on a short jumper with 2:04 left, the game was tied at 51.
But the young Knights refused to wilt. Thompson gave her team back the lead 13 seconds later, and when Bassler and Burroughs followed with two free throws each, the Knights had a 57-51 lead.
Highland, despite the brilliance of Ponce in the final eight minutes, would get no closer than four points the rest of the night.
“The difference in the game tonight was that we handled their pressure. We had a little trouble with it in the fourth quarter, but our point guard Hannah (Johnson) did just a tremendous job of handling the basketball all night,’’ Hunt said. “This is without a doubt the biggest win we’ve had around here for a long time.
“But all of the credit goes to the girls. They have worked so hard and to being able to beat a great team like Highland shows them that hard work really does pay off. I’m very proud of all of them.’’
Thompson, a 5-10 sharpshooter, was just unstoppable all night. Combining with Bassler to connect from 3-point range, Thompson scored six early points while the 5-8 Bassler added five points as Triad jumped out to a quick 14-5 lead.
The Knights never let up as Thompson scored 17 points in the first half, which ended with the Knights leading 29-21.
“We wanted this game very much tonight,’’ a smiling Thompson said. “I knew we had a chance to have a good team. I just wasn’t so sure it would happen this soon.
“I had a good night. But I felt like we were all scoring. My teammates are the ones who were able to get me the ball in a position where I could make some shots. This was a team effort.’’
Thompson, who connected on six of her first seven shots from beyond the 3-point line, canned two more long range jumpers in the third quarter.
But trailing 40-31 after three quarters, Highland nearly kept its unbeaten league season alive with a courageous comeback attempt in the final period.
“I was proud of the way the girls fought back. We had some chances late but we just missed a lot of 2 and 3-footers tonight. That’s the way basketball is some nights,’’ Highland coach Mike Arbuthnot said. “The credit goes to Triad. They played very well and deserved to win this game.
“Sophie (Thompson) had a great game. We tried numerous things to try and slow her down. She didn’t miss many shots tonight.’’