By Mark Jurgena
Thanksgiving Week saw the Highland girls basketball team face more stiff competition as they squared off with perennial Class 4A and Class 2A powers before heading back to Salem to finish their final tournament game. The mostly inexperienced Bulldogs went 1-2 during that time.
“I would say we’re on the upswing a little bit,” said coach Clinton Hamilton. “Obviously, there’s still a lot of things to improve on between now and regional time. Our biggest thing is going to be consistency. How do we perform every day we go out there and do the little things right.
“I tell the girls all the time that we’re never going to be the most talented team… this year…we’ve got to be the most fundamental team. We’ve got to play harder, we’ve got to get loose balls, rebounds, stuff like that.”
Highland 54 Salem 40
Highland returned to Salem after a week layoff to finish the season-opening tournament and defeated the host school to finish the tourney at 2-2.
“I thought we made some shots,” began Hamilton. “We made eight threes and Grace Wilke made five by herself in the first half. She came out and really set the tone. That does a lot for a young team, just kind of easing into a game rather than pressing the whole time. I think we are pressing a little bit instead of letting it come to them.”
Wilke finished the game with 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting including 5-of-7 from three. She added in six rebounds, three assists, and two steals.
“Defensively we had a few possessions where we really helped each other out and did a good job talking,” said Hamilton. “The more that we can clean that up and do that every time down the floor, it’s just going to keep us in the game more. We’re a defensive first type of team. Against Salem, we did a nice job of that.”
Emma Warner added 11 points. Abby Huelsmann and Larissa Taylor doled out four assists apiece with Taylor also grabbing six boards.
Breese (Central) 59 Highland 23
On November 24th, the Bulldogs got out to a 5-0 start, but it was all Central after that as they went on a 12-0 run the remainder of the first quarter on their way to a big win at Highland.
The Bulldogs committed 26 turnovers on the night as Central pressed their way to a lead in the first half.
“Central’s a good team, they played well,” said Hamilton. “We just weren’t comfortable with the ball in our hands with pressure that night.”
Taylor led the Bulldogs on the stat sheet once again as she had eight points, six rebounds, two steals, and two blocks on the evening.
Warner tossed in six points and had four rebounds while Wilke had five boards.
O’Fallon 46 Highland 30
Highland ended the first quarter of the home opener with Southwestern Conference favorite O’Fallon up 10-8. But the next two quarters the Panthers outscored the Bulldogs 32-9 and ended up taking a 16-point victory.
“We played a great first quarter,” Hamilton said. “I told them after the game that just goes to show we can play with anybody if we just do the little things. O’Fallon, they’ve got seven or eight athletes that can get out and pressure you. We put a lot on Abby Huelsmann’s plate, I thought against O’Fallon we did a decent job. But when they put seven or eight kids that are more athletic than anyone we’ve got, eventually that’s going to catch up to you.
“O’Fallon is certainly one of the best teams in the area this season. I wasn’t upset with the way we played. I thought we did some really nice things.”
The Bulldogs went 4-for-9 in the opening quarter getting six points from Larissa Taylor and four from Grace Wilke.
“Larissa’s got so much untapped potential,” said Hamilton. “One of these days it’s going to click with her and she’s going to be a really, really good player. She was probably our best player overall that night. She’s very capable of scoring inside and scoring outside.”
However, OTHS turned things around throughout the 2nd quarter as they began the period on a 12-0 run to take a 20-10 advantage. Highland’s Abby Schultz broke the string with a three to get the Bulldogs within seven. The Panthers then went on a 6-0 run before Addison Crask sank a free throw to make it 26-14. O’Fallon later hit a free throw to take a 27-14 lead into the locker room.
OTHS outscored the Bulldogs 13-5 in the third. The only points by HHS were a field goal by Taylor and a three from Crask. Highland won the fourth quarter on the scoreboard 11-6.
Taylor led Highland in scoring with 11 while Wilke tossed in six. Abby Schultz led in steals with six.
O’Fallon moved to 3-0 on the season after the win.
After hosting Waterloo in their MVC opener on Monday and traveling to the other SWC preseason favorite Edwardsville Tuesday (both results were unavailable at press time), Highland hosts Mascoutah tonight in another MVC tilt.
Bulldog Notes: -Highland finished the Salem tourney with a 2-2 record. Carterville and Teutopolis finished the tourney with 3-1 records. The Lions beat T-Town 50-43 to claim the tiebreaker and win the championship. HHS beat Carterville in game one of the tourney 44-43 on November 18th. Centralia also finished the tourney at 2-2 while the host school went 0-5.
“We beat the team that won it,” Hamilton said. “It’s just getting that consistency out of our kids.”
-Grace Wilke of Highland was named to the all-tourney team.