Highlands boys run away from Mt. Pleasant in crucial section victory

Friday, February 1, 2019 | 10:06 PM

Edging toward its 11th section title in school history, Highlands showed no letdown from Tuesday’s big win at Knoch.

The Golden Rams put on a show for the home fans Friday on senior night, rolling to an 86-59 victory over Mt. Pleasant in a Section 1-4A contest.

Junior Johnny Crise scored 21 points, punctuated by four dunks in the first half, and collected 16 rebounds — three during one offensive sequence.

Highlands held the Vikings scoreless for a little more than six minutes in the first half, racing to a 41-19 lead at halftime.

The Golden Rams are 8-1 in the section, 13-5 overall. They need a victory at Derry on Tuesday night to clinch at least a share of the section crown.

Knoch’s game was postponed Friday night. It is a half-game behind the Golden Rams with two games left.

“As a coaching staff, we were worried about us coming out a little stale,” Highlands coach Tyler Stoczynski said. “We came out with some fire, and that’s good. We need to make sure we protected our home court, and that’s what we did tonight.”

Highlands went on an 18-0 run that bridged the first and second quarters to take control.

“We got outplayed, outhustled and outphysicaled,” Vikings coach Allan Bilinsky said. “They’re a very good team, and they’re what I expected them to be from the beginning of the year. If we have defensive rebounds, that game’s a lot closer.”

Mt. Pleasant fell to 4-15, 1-8.

Crise had 12 rebounds in the first half, compared to seven for Mt. Pleasant, which often was limited to one shot per possession.

“We challenge our guys all the time, whether it’s practice or in games,” Stoczynski said. “We’re always putting our guys to the test, and they responded tonight. They were really physical and dominated that facet of the game.”

Crise led four Golden Rams in double figures. Korry Myers had 17 points and Dom Pesci 15, though both started the game on the bench, giving way to seniors Dylan Signorella and Chris Leahy.

Junior Luke Cochran had 11 assists for Highlands to go with his 15 points.

Despite the down season, the future looks bright for Mt. Pleasant. Junior Jacob Johnson scored 21 points, and promising freshman Luke Brandner, at 6-foot-5, finished with 15 points.

Sophomore Jonas King, at 6-4, grabbed seven rebounds to lead the Vikings.

“I keep saying, and I guess I’m tired of saying, we’re very young,” Bilinsky said. “We lose Sam Napper and Zak Lucullo, one starter and one sub, but we have a lot coming back. Luke has a lot of room to grow.

“I call him a blank canvas. And we’re trying to get some stuff on the canvas that resembles basketball. Jonas King does a great job for us, too. The future should be bright, depending on what they want to do during the offseason.”

If Highlands and Knoch tie for section honors, both will receive a plaque, per WPIAL policy.

For Highlands, it would be the fourth time in school history the Golden Rams won back-to-back sections.

George Guido is a freelance writer.

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