Highlands drops Johnstown to cruise into PIAA 2nd round

Friday, March 10, 2023 | 10:18 PM

JOHNSTOWN — With some light snow predicted for the ridges of Cambria County, the Highlands boys basketball team set out on a 65-mile trip to Johnstown for its PIAA Class 4A first-round game hoping to avoid any slick spots.

When the Rams hit the floor Friday night at Johnstown High School, it was smooth sailing from start to finish.

Jimmy Kunst scored 23 points to lead five players in double figures and Highlands used a fast start to set the tone for an 81-67 victory, setting up a second-round matchup Tuesday with Lincoln Park at a yet-to-be-determined site.

Highlands (22-5), the WPIAL’s fourth-place team, bolted to a 9-1 lead and dominated Johnstown in the first quarter, coming away with a convincing 23-6 advantage. Kunst scored eight points and Cam Reigard sank a pair of 3-pointers to lead the way.

Reigard finished with 19 points, including six 3-point shots. Chandler Thimons added 14 points to go with 11 rebounds, Bradyn Foster scored 12 and Jordyn Tavarez chipped in 11 for Highlands, which enjoyed a 40-25 halftime lead.

“The guys executed from the jump, and that led to us getting some good, high-quality shots,” Highlands coach Corey Dotchin said. “Guys fed off that energy. It was an awesome start. We’ve had that throughout the year with good starts in games and this was just another one for us.”

It came at a great time, giving the Rams some added confidence after a pair of 23-point losses to Lincoln Park and Laurel Highlands to close out the WPIAL playoffs.

Johnstown (22-4), with a 12-man roster than includes four freshmen and three sophomores, was led by senior Nyerre Collins’ 23 points. Donte Tisinger added 12 for the Trojans, who won the District 6 championship.

Highlands’ biggest challenge came in the third quarter when Johnstown cut a 20-point deficit to single digits, 46-35, on a three-point play by the sophomore Tisinger.

“We turned the ball over and gave them some easy baskets,” Johnstown coach Ryan Durham said. “When we got it down to nine, we had two turnovers back-to-back after that. It’s tough for a young team to fight back against a very good basketball team.”

While Foster leads the team in scoring this season, Kunst had a hot hand in this one for Highlands.

“The good thing about our team is we have a really solid sextet,” Dotchin said. “At any time, it could be anybody’s game.”

After Johnstown’s best run, Highlands regrouped and rode some hot 3-point shooting by Reigard, who scored three in a cluster during the fourth quarter to help the Rams maintain a comfortable lead.

“That’s a really good team,” Durham said before turning his attention to his coaching counterpart, Dotchin. “He does a really good job with those guys. I love Jimmy (Kunst). He’s a really solid point guard. They’re tough.”

Kunst added eight rebounds and six assists for Highlands. Foster also garnered eight boards.

“Our guys were really nervous to start the game,” Durham said. “It’s a lesson. Next year, when we get to this point, we’ll be a little bit more prepared to handle the environment.”

As Dotchin prepared to head to the team bus with his players right beside him, he was hoping the snow wasn’t piling up outside.

“I couldn’t tell you which way we’re traveling. That’s up to the bus driver,” he said. “We won, though, and it’ll make the trip more enjoyable.”


More Basketball

Suspended Shady Side Academy coach Jonna Burke files lawsuit against PIAA
Westmoreland County Senior Spotlight: Greensburg Salem’s Ashlan Price
Hampton point guard Meghan Murray commits to Kent State
Westmoreland high school notebook: Znavor takes over Yough girls basketball team
Kiski Area’s Johns excited to commit to Shippensburg for basketball