When the Highland Bulldogs needed them the most, Stephen Schniers and Jake Kruse came to the rescue Wednesday at the 57th annual Mater Dei Christmas Tournament.
Schneirs and Kruse made 3-point field goals to help key a 12-0 scoring run midway in the fourth quarter as the second-seeded Bulldogs rallied for a 54-51 win over the Okawville Rockets.
Struggling to find the range on a day that began with a loss to Carlyle, Highland (8-3) trailed 42-33 with just under six minutes remaining following a 10-foot jumper by Rockets senior Luke Hensler.
But in danger of falling to 0-2 and out of title contention, the Bulldogs responded.
“It was just a matter of hitting some shots and executing the offense. We didn’t play well at all against Carlyle earlier in the day and we’ve really been in kind of a funk after we beat Centralia,” Bulldogs coach Brian Perkes said. “I did a little research and discovered that we’re something like 11-24 here at this (Mater Dei) tournament. We’ve got a good ball club that hasn’t played as well as its capable of the last couple of games.
“I was happy to see us come back and play better in the fourth quarter.”
Kruse started the run with a 3-point jumper and Schniers followed up a missed shot by Sam LaPorta with an offensive rebound and basket to cut the lead to 42-38. Two missed shots and a Rockets’ turnover resulted in baskets by LaPorta and Brady Feldman as Highland tied the score.
The Rockets then had a chance to retake the lead, but following a missed shot by Caleb Frederking, Schniers gave Highland the lead for good with his 3-point jumper.
“We had some kids step up and make some big shots for us,” Perkes said. “Kruse, I think hit a couple of big 3-pointers and Schniers stepped up and hit the 3-point shot, which I think gave us the lead. He’s capable of doing that.”
“It was a struggle out there at times for us. But give Okawville some of the credit for that. That’s a good basketball team.”
Okawville had its chances in the final two minutes. Trailing by five points following free throws by Cameron Altadonna and Jack Etter, Okawville closed to within 51-49 on a 3-point jumper by Frederking with 50 seconds remaining.
A potential game-tying 3-point shot was blocked by a Highland defender in the closing seconds.
“We just didn’t finish well tonight. We played well to get the lead but we just didn’t close it out,” Rockets coach Jon Kraus said. “We had a couple of costly turnovers and they (Highland) had a couple of kids step up and hit 3-pointers that we didn’t expect.”
Junior Will Aubel led Okawville with 13 points, while Frederking added 12. LaPorta had 12 points and 11 rebounds to lead Highland, while Kruse also added 12. Schniers scored 11 and Brady Feldman was also in double figures with 10 points