Highland IL Women’s Team Plays in Consolation Quarterfinals
Three days after being beaten by Alton 59-36 in the first round of the 35th Annual Highlands Tournament, the last thing the Highland Lady Bulldogs wanted was to go 0-2 in their own event.
Highland senior guard Grace Wilke did her part to ensure HHS was not a premature exit from the field. Wilke rocked a calm first half and broke for 10 points in the second half and the 14th-seeded Lady Bulldogs used a run late in the third quarter to propel themselves to a 51-36 victory over Taylorville in the consolation quarterfinals on Tuesday, January 18. at Highland High School.
The victory was huge for HHS as it ended a six-game losing streak and marked the club’s highest-scoring game of the season to date. More importantly, the triumph was also the first home victory in what has been a difficult season for Highland (6-19).
“We won one game in Mascoutah and we played three (there), so we’re trying to get into the consolation championship here,” Wilke said. “We were ready to win at home and it was our first home win. It feels good (to have it).
Highland started offensively early as senior point guard Abby Huelsmann made a pair of 3-pointers to help the Lady Bulldogs take a 12-4 lead.
A pair of free throws from Abby Schultz pushed the margin to 19-11 with 4:25 left in the second quarter, but buckets from Kyleigh Heimaness and Mazie Fleming cut the lead to 19-15 with just over one minute left in the second quarter.
After a Larissa Taylor bucket for HHS, Fleming dropped in another layup in the dying seconds to cut the Lady Bulldogs advantage to 21-17 at intermission.
The Lady Bulldogs, however, came out strong to start the third quarter. Taylor knocked down a jumper to start a 10-2 run capped by a pair of free throws from Wilke that extended the Lady Bulldogs lead to 31-21 with 3:41 left in the period.
Wilke, who scored just two points in the first half, escaped for 10 points in the second half to lead the Lady Bulldogs with 12 points.
“My mentality (changed after the first half),” Wilke said. “I wanted to win and I wanted to get involved, so the mentality at half-time changed (for me).”
“That’s the difference”
Highlands coach Clint Hamilton was pleased with Wilke’s second-half push and solid ground game from Huelsmann, who added 11 points.
“She made a nice 3-point shot in transition that kind of kicked her off and we put the ball in the middle against their area. And when she’s confident, she can score against the best of them,” Hamilton said of Wilke.
“Abby Huelsmann has done a great job handling the pressure and she’s done that all year.”
Watching the team break the 40-point mark for the first time this season also thrilled Hamilton.
“That’s the difference,” he said. “We hold another team at 30 and eventually we score the ball a bit, and even if we score 40 we win the game. The most important thing in the last few days of training was “if you’re in the middle of the zone, I don’t care if it’s a bad shot, just look to score first.” We’ve been too passive all year waiting for someone else to shoot.
Next stop: Nashville
HHS will face Nashville at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, January 19 in the consolation semifinals. Nashville beat Belleville East 41-26 to advance.
“It was a big win for us and we have another chance against Nashville. Hopefully we can get to the weekend… that’s always the goal when you go into a tournament to hopefully get four games and we’ve taken the first step to get there,” Hamilton said. “So hopefully we can put another one together.”