HIGHLAND — Allie Troeckler of the Civic Memorial girls’ basketball team threw everything in her vast arsenal at the Highland Bulldogs on Thursday.
Yet her game-best 29 points and 12 rebounds weren’t quite enough.
The Bulldogs used a fourth quarter comeback to edge the Eagles, 45-42, in a key Mississippi Valley Conference game. The 16-3 Bulldogs, winning their 13th consecutive game, improved to 6-1 in the Valley and remained tied (on the loss side) with Triad for the lead. CM, which dropped to 11-7 overall and 3-3 in the Valley, lost to Highland for the third time this season.
“They made the plays down the stretch to win it,” CM coach Jonathan Denney said. “We didn’t do it and that’s something that has to change.”
Highland coach Mike Arbuthnot probably doesn’t want to change much in the Bulldogs’ recent history against the Eagles. They have won six of the last seven games the past two seasons. This year, the ’Dogs three wins have been by a total of 11 points in three locations: Bethalto, Highland and Salem.
“They (Eagles) are so well-coached that we are fortunate to have beaten them three times,” Arbuthnot said. “We squeaked one out with a good team effort tonight.”
The Valley affair featured a trio of 9-point runs, including 2 by the Eagles. CM led 25-15 late in the second quarter, 25-20 at half and 34-29 after three quarters.
However, Highland refused to buckle and responded with a 16-point fourth quarter.
“We were out of synch for a while, but we kept battling back,” Arbuthnot said.
Senior guard Amanda Ponce spurred the Bulldogs. Ponce, tallying a team-high 17 points, scored 6 in succession midway through the fourth quarter to turn a 5-point deficit into a 1-point lead.
“Ponce is a great player and she really wants it. We gave her layup after layup,” Denney said.
CM never regained the advantage after Ponce put a charge into the Bulldogs. The Eagles were within one point of the Bulldogs twice within the final two minutes. They trailed 43-42 with 50.6 seconds and had the ball, but couldn’t score again.
Madison Wellen of the Bulldogs made a pair of free throws with 19.7 seconds remaining for a 3-point lead. Highland then guarded Troeckler tightly on CM’s final possession and she missed a tough shot from 3-point range.
All figured, Troeckler made 13 of 28 shots to go with her double-digit rebounding. Teammates Katelyn Turbyfill (7 points) and Kaylee Eaton (6 points) were the only other Eagles to score. CM made 18 of 57 shots, so minus Troeckler, the Eagles hit just 5 of 29 field-goal attempts.
“We need to have more than one player step up for us,” Denney said. “Allie almost single-handedly did it for us. But we need more than one player making big plays. Basketball is a team game and the other girls have to make shots, too.”
Troeckler scored all of CM’s 8 points in the fourth quarter and had 17 of their 19 second-half points.
“We didn’t do the little things,” Denney added. “But I thought except for the first four minutes of the game (when Highland led, 9-0), we controlled it.”
Arbuthnot praised the work of Highland guards Madison Wellen (9 points), Rece Portell (7 points) and Caitlin Lammers (2 points). He also wondered whether the Bulldogs could overcome Troeckler’s performance.
“She is going to get her points,” Arbuthnot said of the 5-foot-11 junior, a Class 3A first-team All-Stater last season. “The biggest thing is that you don’t want her to get open and go full court to knock down a shot. Alex LaPorta did a good job defending her last shot.”
CM has lost 7 games by a difference of 26 points, including 6 of them by 4 points or fewer. The other defeat was by 6 points. Highland’s victory snapped the Eagles’ four-game winning streak. The Bulldogs are the two-time defending conference champs, though they shared the MVC title with the Eagles two years ago.
“We are a possession or two away from winning all of those games,” Denney said of the multiple narrow losses this season.
The Eagles play Saturday in the inaugural Atrium Hotel Great Rivers Shootout at Alton High and then go to the Martin Luther King Shootout on Monday in St. Louis. After going to Columbia on Jan. 21, they will begin action Jan. 24 in the Carrollton Tournament. CM is seeded third behind defending champion Calhoun and newcomer Lebanon.
HIGHLAND 45, CM 42
CM 9 16 9 8 – 42
Highland 9 11 9 16 – 45
CM (11-7, 3-3) – Allie Troeckler 29, Kaylee Eaton 6, Katelyn Turbyfill 7. 2FG-15 3FG-3 FT-3 PF-19
Highland (16-3, 6-1) – Alex LaPorta 6, Madison Wellen 9, Amanda Ponce 17, Caitlin Lammers 2, Hayley Taylor 4, Rece Portell 7. 2FG-15 3FG-3 FT-6 PF-13