Cahokia junior Richard Robinson went to the bench with his fourth foul with 1:06 to play in the third quarter Wednesday.
It was just what the Highland Bulldogs needed.
With the 6-foot-7 Robinson idled, the third-seeded Bulldogs erupted for a 14-0 run that powered them to a 51-46 victory in the semifinals of the Class 3A Highland Regional.
"He was a big guy in the middle contesting shots and things," 6-4 Highland junior Sam LaPorta said of Robinson. "With him off the floor, we felt we could do a lot more things offensively. We got things done. We shot the ball better and got it into the paint for good shots."
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LaPorta finished with 15 points and was a force on the glass for the Bulldogs (21-8), who will play East St. Louis (14-10) in the championship game at 7 p.m. Friday.
Steven Torre, a 6-8 junior, had 11 points, while juniors Brady Feldman and Jake Kruse had 10 points apiece. Feldman scored eight points in the fourth quarter. Senior Steven Schniers finished with five points.
Highland, which committed six of its 12 turnovers in the first 6:25 of the third quarter, trailed 34-27 when Robinson scored in the lane with 1:21 left in the period.
LaPorta started the outburst innocently enough, sinking a free throw at the 1:06 mark. Torre followed with a putback of Feldman's missed 3-pointer just ahead of the buzzer to get the Bulldogs within 34-30 heading into the fourth quarter.
Kruse followed with a 3-pointer and LaPorta had a three-point play that put the Bulldogs ahead 36-34 — their first lead since the first quarter. Feldman had two free throws then Feldman converted a three-point play to make it 41-34 with 5:47 left.
"Our team, a number of times, has just found a way," Highland coach Brian Perkes said. "Looking back on it, I'm not sure how we did it. But we did it. ... Our kids don't quit. I'll say that about them. They just battle and battle, and more often than not, we come out on top."
The job was made easier with Robinson not being involved in the action.
"He's one of their two main players," Perkes said. "That would be like taking one of our main players off. It certainly had an impact on the game. When you take one of your better players off the floor for one reason or another, it makes a difference. It tests your depth.
"There was no coincidence about it. (Robinson's absence) came into play."
Robinson led the sixth-seed Comanches (13-14) with 15 points. Junior Elijah Rice and Deavis Johnson had seven points apiece.
Comanches coach Darian Nash lamented the loss of Robinson.
"That hurt us," Nash said. "That was a key. We missed his presence. It's a tough pill to swallow.
"But this will make us better for next season. I told them, 'Next season starts tomorrow. If you don't want to feel this next year, you need to work.' I'm looking forward to next year. We'll be back — a lot stronger, I hope."
Cahokia led 21-20 at halftime, but went on a 10-2 surge to lead 31-22 with 4:39 left in the third quarter. Perkes called two timeouts in the first 3:06 of the period as the Bulldogs looked for answers.
"We just looked a little jittery," Perkes said. "I don't know if it was so much Cahokia. They hit a couple of buckets, and then they extended the lead a little bit. We got back on our heels. We did have to take some timeouts, but the game was on the line. We had to settle our kids in. They just had to go out there and play."
LaPorta is looking forward to another challenge from East St. Louis, a team with similar athleticism as Cahokia.
"(Terrence) Hargrove and (Joe) Reece are definitely two competitive guys," LaPorta said. "They're going to do everything they can to beat us. They're going to (apply) ball pressure, and we're going to have to handle that. I think it's going to be a great game."