Girls Basketball

Clutch players: Highland’s Portell, Ponce provide thrills despite disappointing loss

Minutes after a heartbreaking 59-57 double overtime loss to Chicago North Lawndale in the semifinals of the Class 3A State Tournament, four Highland players sat in the media room at Redbird Arena for their postgame press conference.

Although exhausted from a 40-minute battle rarely seen in girls basketball at its highest level, Alex LaPorta, Madison Wellen, Rece Portell and Amanda Ponce patiently sat with coach Mike Arbuthnot and answered questions from a small group of reporters.

Not a single tear was shed. Although their dreams of a state title were gone, the Bulldogs knew they had given everything they had. On this day it wasn’t quite good enough.

“I said earlier this week that this basketball team has played hard and given everything they have each time they’ve stepped on to the court all year. We knew they (North Lawndale) were a good very athletic basketball team. We had been watching them for the last couple of days,’’ Arbuthnot said. “The effort was there and we played well. I’m just so very proud of this basketball team.’’

And so should the entire city of Highland be proud of its Bulldogs. A large group of Bulldogs supporters filled nearly four sections of Redbird Arena to watch their favorites make history as the first Highland girls team to play in the state tournament. Among the fans were the entire Bulldogs boys basketball team which played Althoff in the Class 3A Triad Regional title game on Friday night.

What they saw was the first girls state tournament double overtime game since Althoff lost to Regina Dominican in the 2002-03 Class AA third place game 64-60.

And it was plays by Portell and Ponce which made it happen again on Friday.

Portell, who had seven points, made what will go down as the most famous shot in Highland girls basketball history when she hit a 3-point jumper with three seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 42 and send the game into overtime.

“No it wasn’t a set play,’’ Arbuthnot said, laughing. “Rece is an excellent shooter. It was a big shot.’’

Ponce’ shot wasn’t as dramatic, but it was equally important.

With the Phoenix leading 48-45 with 24 seconds left in the first overtime, LaPorta made one free throw and missed the second. But following her shot, LaPorta stripped the ball from a North Lawndale player and when Ponce gathered the turnover and scored on a layup, the game was tied at 48.

Ponce then tied the game again at 50 when she made two free throws.

“Alex made a good play of going after the ball,’’ Ponce said of the play. “I was able to make the shot.

“It’s disappointing to lose., But we gave it our best effort. We’ll just come out tomorrow and try to win the third place game.’’

By the numbers

Ponce was the lone Highland player in double figures with 24 points while Kia Brooks led North Lawndale with 21 points.

Highland outrebounded the Phoenix 35-29 and had five less turnovers, finishing with 11 to 16 for North Lawndale.

North Lawndale finished the game shooting 42.6% (20-of-47), while Highland was 20-of-53 and 37.7%.

IBCA All-State Team announced

Edwardsville junior Makenzie Silvey has been named as an Illinois Basketball Coaches Association first team Class 3A-4A All-State selection in the list whihw as released non Friday.

Silvey, a 5-10 guard, led Edwardsville to a berth in the Class 4A Bloomington Super-Sectional where it lost to Lisle Benet Academy 53-51 on Monday.

Edwardsville aophomore Rachel Pranger and Civic Memorial junior Allie Troeckler were named as second team all-state selections. Both Pranger in Class 4A and Troeckler in Class 3A were voted as Associated Press second team all state selections earlier in the week.

Highland’s Amanda Ponce was voted as a third team all-stater while Edwardsville sophomore Kate Martin was chosen as a fourth team all-state selection.

Special mention selections were Maddie Nekola of Mascoutah, Lajarvia Brown of Alton, Morgan St. James and Kaylah Rainey of Belleville East, Sophie Thompson of Triad, Alex LaPorta of Highland, Celeste Akoro and Marta Durk of O’Fallon, Kaitlyn Fischer of Collinsville, Madison Wellen of Highland, Criste’on Waters of Edwardsville, Rokelle Stanley of East St. Louis and Chamya Darough of Belleville West.