Girls Basketball

Ponce tops 1,000 as Highland downs Mater Dei

Less than a week after leading the Highland girls basketball team to a milestone victory, Bulldogs senior Amanda Ponce recorded one of her very own on Monday at Highland High School.

With a 14-foot jumper from just inside the foul line midway through the fourth quarter, Ponce cracked the 1,000 point mark for her career as she led the sizzling Bulldogs past Mater Dei 56-47 in a battle of perennial girls basketball powers.

Ponce, coming off a brilliant performance last week when Highland won its first title at the Mascoutah Girls Invitational since 2010, joined an elite club when she canned the jumper with just under four minutes remaining. The game was stopped briefly as teammates, coaches and a large home crowd rose to its feet to honor Ponce who continued to solidify her spot as one of the best ever at Highland High School.

“It’s nice to be able to get it over with. Now I don’t have to think about it anymore,” Ponce said following the win. “It’s off my shoulders now so we can get on with the rest of the season.”

As for the game, Ponce combined with teammate Caitlin Lammers for four 3-point field goals to pace a torrid first quarter as Highland (12-3) took a 21-9 lead over Mater Dei (7-7) which saw its three-game winning streak snapped.

“I was very pleased at how we came out and played in the first quarter. After Mascoutah (Tournament) I wasn’t sure what to expect or how we would play,” Highland coach Mike Arbuthnot said. “Caitlin (Lammers) and Amanda (Ponce) came out well and we shot the ball very well early in the game.”

“I am very happy for Amanda to be able to get her 1,000th point here.”

Mater Dei junior Kelsey Gerdes led the Knights with 23 points. But after Highland’s torrid first quarter, the Knights could get no closer than seven points the rest of the way.

Key sequence

Getting four first quarter points from Gerdes, Mater Dei trailed just 9-7 with just over four minutes left in the opening first quarter. But when junior guard Madison Wellen scored on a backdoor cut to the basket, the floodgates opened for the Knights.

Ponce followed with her second 3-point basket of the quarter and sophomore Rece Portell also got behind the Knights defense for a layup as the lead grew to 16-7.

Lammers, a smooth-shooting southpaw followed with her second 3-point jumper and when Ponce added a basket following a Knights turnover, Highland had a 21-7 cushion.

Mater Dei used a 7-0 run early in the second quarter to draw within 23-16, but juniors Hayley Taylor and Katie Kampwerth both scored to push the Bulldogs lead to double figures. Highland led 31-18 at halftime.

“We just weren’t ready to play. We just didn’t execute and I that’s my fault,” Knights coach David Kohnen said. “Defensively, we just gave them too many backdoor layups.”

Key performers

Ponce was the only Highland player in double figures with 16 points as Arbuthnot went to his bench early and often.

“Mater Dei is a good young ballclub and they are getting better,” Arbuthnot said. “The thing I was concerned about was putting them on the foul line. They are one of the best free throw shooting teams in the area and I remember at one time tonight they had hit their first eight free throws. I think they were even 12-for-12 at one time.”

Big week continues for Highland

The schedule doesn’t get any easier for Highland which travels to Central to take on the Cougars on Thursday in a rematch of the Mascoutah Invitational title game won by the Bulldogs. Highland then hosts Triad on Saturday in a game which will go a long way towards deciding the Mississippi Valley Conference championship.

Dean Criddle: 618-239-2661, @CriddleDean