Highland senior forward Sam LaPorta has been known much more for his football exploits than his skills as a basketball player.
LaPorta, who recently signed to play college football at the University of Iowa next year, will now also be known for his hoops skills thanks to hitting a major career milestone on Tuesday..
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Late in the first quarter against Mascoutah, LaPorta scored the 1,000th point of his career and led three scorers in double figures with 16 points as the Highland took down a scrappy Mascoutah club 53-44 to gain the inside track on the Mississippi Valley Conference championship.
LaPorta scored his 1,000th point on a short jumper with 2:53 left in the first quarter to give the Bulldogs a 10-2 lead. He got his 1,001 and 1,002 points on a bucket with 6:17 left in the second period. He becomes the 18th player in Highland High School history to achieve the milestone and was glad to see a modest goal he set as a freshman come to pass.
“It’s really cool (to get the 1,000 points),” LaPorta said. “It’s an honor and it’s not just me, it comes from my teammates on good passes and getting me open on certain plays. To get the win on top of it was really cool because it puts us way on it front in the conference.”
Highland (20-4, 6-0 in MVC play) now holds a two-game lead over Mascoutah (15-8, 4-2) and is in the driver’s seat for the conference title.
The Bulldogs got a big night from LaPorta in their biggest game of the season as his effort and energy powered the Bulldogs from the get go.
“When your best player is also your hardest working player, that’s awfully nice to have,” Highland coach Brian Perkes said. “He’s the best athlete I’ve ever coached by far.”
The Bulldogs led by seven after the first quarter and a 10-2 run to start the second quarter pushed them to a 24-11 lead as Steven Torre keyed the run with a short bucket.
“The first half I was really pleased with the way we played and our energy level and everything was so much better tonight than it was Saturday,” Perkes said.
Mascoutah regrouped in the third quarter thanks to Jared Johnson’s long-range shooting.
Johnson, who led the Indians with 11 points, drilled a deep three-ball cutting the lead to 30-28 before LaPorta answered with a bucket at the other end.
The Indians showed plenty of grit and toughness after a lackluster first half, putting together a strong second half.
“In the second half we came out and played inspired basketball, turned it around and some shots, came back into the game and just came out a little bit short,” Mascoutah coach Justin Love said. “Nothing negative I have to say about our guys and it was great for our fans to come out and support us.”
LaPorta put the exclamation point on the game with a steal and a rousing two-handed jam that brought the student section to its feet for a 50-40 lead to 1:41 to play. He flashed a big grin to the Bulldogs student section after the dunk.
“The dunk is always the crowd pleaser,” LaPorta said. “They love those and I try to get as many of those down as I can a game but it doesn’t always work out that way.”
What has worked is the Bulldogs hold on the conference championship. Highland has won the MVC title outright three of the last four seasons and is peaking at the right time.
“We told them after the game that they’ve got a chance to set some records at the school,” Perkes said. “(Set) some all-time records and leave their mark and I think when we look back on it 10 or 15 years from now, we’re gonna realize these guys were pretty special.”
Jake Kruse added 12 points and Torre despite fouling out added 11 points.