By Michael Finnegan / Special Contributor
Highland Park jumped out to an early double-digit lead over visiting Rockwall, and behind a suffocating defense in the fourth quarter went on to win 36-26 on Tuesday in the season opener for both teams.
Although it was the just the first game, it was a big one for the Lady Scots. The Lady Jackets beat Highland Park in the opening game last year, and more importantly beat them a second time in February to knock HP out of the playoffs.
“They had bookend victories over us last year,” said HP head coach Nicole Villarreal. “They beat us this time last year, and then eliminated us from the playoffs. So we had a little bit to play for in this game.”
Emily Weisfeld, one of five returning starters for HP (1-0), had nine first-quarter points and led the Lady Scots to a 17-5 advantage after the first quarter.
“Emily played extremely well,” said Villarreal. “She was a spark on defense and her floater in the lane worked well for us all night.”
Weisfeld led all scorers with 15 points while also finding open teammates for scores when the defense collapsed on her.
Behind 22-15 at halftime, Rockwall (0-1) went on a run to open the third quarter. Faith Mason-Vestal stole a pass and drove the length of the court for a lay up to pull the Lady Jackets within three points at 22-19. But Rockwall did not get any closer.
Julia Jenevein sank a 12-foot jump shot in the lane, and Tess Salinaro finished a layup for the Lady Scots just before the end of the third quarter to cap a five-point run, giving HP a 27-19 lead.
Switching from a man-to-man defense to a 1-3-1 zone, the Lady Scots stifled Rockwall’s offense in the last quarter.
“We wanted to give them different looks defensively,” said Villarreal. “Even though it’s early, we are buying in on help defense, and it paid off tonight.”
Rockwall came within six points after a layup by Cathryn Deshong with 3:35 left in the game. But after a baseline jumper by Weisfeld and a short bank shot by Caroline Van Kirk, the Lady Scots were able to pull away late.
Jenevein had eight points for HP, and Eve Loewe finished with six.
“I’m very proud of our team,” said Villarreal. “We were missing two of our starters and even though it was our first game, we brought lots of energy.”