High-octane Highlands roars past Albert Gallatin in Class 5A first round

Monday, February 21, 2022 | 9:49 PM

Backed by junior guard Jimmy Kunst’s 24 points and a 32-point second quarter, fifth-seeded Highlands made quick work of No. 12 Albert Gallatin, 76-44, in the first round of the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs Monday night.

“We know the sky is the limit for this team and we said that coming in,” said Highlands coach Cory Dotchin. “We’re clicking at the right time. We had two great scrimmages last week with Central Catholic and Pine-Richland, and it kind of carried over into tonight.”

Highlands (17-6) moves on to play No. 4 Penn Hills (18-4) in the quarterfinals Thursday.

Highlands came out on fire. Cameron Reigard drained a 3-pointer from the left elbow to give the Golden Rams a quick lead, and it was a track meet up and down the floor from that point on. Blake White cut the Highlands lead to 3-2 with a deep jumper just inside the 3-point arc. White finished with 10 points and was shut out in the second half.

Nick Pegg knocked down two free throws to tie the game at 6-6 with 5 minutes, 45 seconds remaining in the first quarter. That was as close as Albert Gallatin (10-12) got the rest of the night.

Highlands just kept running the floor. Carter Leri added a layup, Kunst drained another 3-pointer, and Brayden Foster added two layups to put the Golden Rams up 16-6. The Colonials got out of the first quarter trailing 22-14.

“The funny thing was at the end of the first quarter, we were down eight,” said Albert Gallatin coach Shea Fleenor. “We looked at it going into it, we were 12-point underdogs. We just tried to keep ourselves in range.”

The Colonials did a great job of keeping themselves in range, but there was nothing they could have done to prepare themselves for what they were about to witness in the second quarter.

Nearly every Highlands player who touched the ball knocked down his shots. Kunst opened it up with a pull-up jumper in the paint, and Leri added a layup. Kunst came back down the floor and nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the arc, and Leri responded with another long ball from the right elbow before Albert Gallatin called a timeout to stop the bleeding.

Kunst finished with a game-high 24 points and nine rebounds. Foster had 16 points and seven rebounds, Reigard finished with 11 points, and Leri chipped in with 10 for Highlands.

“Man, they shot the lights out tonight,” said Fleenor. “We missed some easy ones. They’re really good. Kudos to them. They’re so much bigger than us.”

Kunst eclipsed the 1,000 career points mark with a 3-pointer to extend the Highlands’ lead to 37-18 with 4:58 remaining in the second quarter.

“(Kunst) puts in the hard work, and he’s a great kid on and off the court,” Dotchin said. “He’s a coach’s dream.”

Foster, Kunst and Reigard paced the Rams’ attack to close out the second quarter with a commanding 54-23 lead.

“I knew coming into this game we were going to have to jump on them,” said Kunst. “We ran a lot. I was open, they found me, and I’m really appreciative for it, especially in that second quarter.”

The entire second half was played with a running clock.

Jamire Braxton led Albert Gallatin with 12 points and White added 10.

“When we’re unselfish and guys are sharing the basketball and making basketball easy, we have good players who can capitalize on that,” Dotchin said. “We have the horsepower when everything is clicking, and that’s when basketball is fun.”

William Whalen is a freelance writer.

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