Highland's comeback, and season, run out of time

By Jeff Yoder
Posted 2/17/21

An inexperienced Highland boys basketball team showed flashes of its potential during the regular season, but the challenges of the pandemic made it difficult for the Huskies to find …

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Highland's comeback, and season, run out of time

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An inexperienced Highland boys basketball team showed flashes of its potential during the regular season, but the challenges of the pandemic made it difficult for the Huskies to find consistency. 

That was the case again on Friday, as Highland played well at times, but gave up a 14-3 run in the second half of a 55-52 loss to WACO in the opening round of the postseason. 

The Huskies put themselves in position to pull within two points with 12 seconds left after trailing 54-46 with under 30 seconds remaining. 

With the help of a Warrior turnover, Connor Grinstead and Tristan Stokes cut the lead to 54-50 with two layups about five seconds apart. WACO missed its next two from the free throw line and the Huskies got a great look on the next possession, but the layup rolled off the rim and WACO sealed it at the line. 

“With this team, it’s kind of been a battle all year about us playing together as a team,” Highland coach Bill Zywiec said.  

“We took that time when we were down nine, and we ran that little play for Chase, a little slip screen where he popped and hit a three. We ran a motion set, I think Kaige Vonnahme came off of that, hit that three. 

“And so when we run our sets, we get good looks. I never tell these guys not to shoot the three, but it’s got to be a good three. And sometimes we just don’t understand the difference between a good shot and a bad shot.”

Schultz’s 3-pointer started a 7-1 run that cut the lead to two with 3:50 left, but WACO pushed the lead back to double digits just two minutes later. 

Schultz was the most consistent option for Highland on Friday. He scored eight points in the first half, hit a pair of shots from outside in the second, and finished with 16 points. 

Tristan Stokes scored 11 of his 12 points in the second half, including four in the final 1:41 as Highland cut into WACO’s nine-point lead. Colby Stokes connected on a pair of 3-pointers early in the game to put the Huskies up 11-7 in the second quarter. 

The Huskies shot the ball well, but 16 first-half turnovers kept them from building a lead larger than five points. 

Trailing 31-28 with a minute left in the third quarter, WACO scored 14 of its final 28 points from the free throw line. 

A few of Highland’s fouls came on difficult shot attempts by the Warriors, including one that resulted in three free throws. 

“Some of it was just not understanding the situation. Some of it was probably frustration, and some of it’s being a little tired,” Zywiec said.

It was the final game for the Stokes twins and Ramses Vergara, who will be lost to graduation. 

“I appreciate everything they did this season,” Zywiec said. 

“You know this wasn’t a season you want to go through. And they stuck with it. They came to practice every day they battled in practice every day and they were some of our leaders on and off the court. 

“It’s just unfortunate that it had to end this way, but like we talked about afterwards, there are going to be struggles in life and your character comes through when you’re down. And these guys stuck together. They competed in every single game no matter what the outcome was. And that’s going to be a lesson they can take after high school that is going to help them be successful in whatever they decide to do.”

 

Looking ahead

The Huskies are looking forward to having a traditional offseason and more time to prepare next year after a challenging start this year. 

“When you graduate seven seniors and five of them started last year… we really needed the summer just to kind of jell as a team,” Zywiec said. 

“And unfortunately, we didn’t have that. And then when it felt like we were kind of coming together, we were taking another break. And it seemed like we’re starting over again from day one. 

“So I feel bad for the three seniors. That’s not the senior year that anyone hopes for. No fans, having to wear a mask, missing a month of your season. But at the same time we have six juniors coming back next year, that will be seniors. 

One of them, Schultz, finished the season as the Huskies’ leading scorer and rebounder. 

“I’m looking forward to working with them this offseason,” Zywiec said, “and seeing what they can do to help us improve from where we were this season.”

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