Highlands rallies past Freeport for 5th straight victory

Monday, February 12, 2018 | 10:57 PM

With 3 minutes, 30 seconds left in the third quarter of Monday’s nonsection boys basketball matchup between Freeport and Highlands, the score was tied.

The Yellowjackets built momentum with an 11-3 run capped by a 3-pointer from Ben Beale. The Freeport rally prompted a timeout from Highlands coach Tyler Stoczynski.

The break in the action was just what the doctor ordered for the Golden Rams who, went on run of their own to close out the frame and continued in the fourth to result in a 68-47 victory.

“Freeport played a heck of a game,” Stoczynski said. “They played hard and made it difficult on us. We just had to keep grinding and keep hitting the hammer on the block, and the game eventually broke for us. I challenged each one of those kids during the timeout, and they responded. It was a great win in a hostile environment against a solid team also heading to the playoffs.”

Highlands, the Section 3-5A co-champion, improved to 17-4, and Freeport, the runner-up in Section 1-4A, ended the regular season at 15-6. Both teams now will turn their attention to Tuesday evening’s WPIAL pairings meeting and the release of the playoff brackets.

The Rams won their fifth game in a row, and the Yellowjackets saw their seven-game winning streak snapped.

“We planned this game a year out because we knew how good they were, and we felt we were going to be where we’re at right now,” Freeport coach Mike Beale said. “Highlands is a very good team, and I thought we played well. At this point in the year, you just can’t simulate that type of intensity in practice. The speed and quickness was what we went after. We wanted to run up and down with them to see where we stood.”

Highlands and Freeport, former section rivals in Class AAA, didn’t play last year after the PIAA’s move to six classifications split the teams up. The Rams won their third in a row against the Yellowjackets.

“This was the kind of game we wanted going into the playoffs,” Stoczynski said. “We wanted that playoff intensity and playoff feel. It can only help both teams for this year’s playoff run.”

Four Highlands players finished in double figures, led by 21 from Johnny Crise. He also had 12 rebounds.

Shawn Erceg finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds, and Ryan Signorella and Romello Freeman added 11 and 10 points, respectively.

Luke Cochran scored eight points and provided 11 assists for the winners.

Beale led Freeport with 16 points, nine of which came on a trio of 3-pointers in the third quarter as the Yellowjackets rallied from a seven-point deficit early in the period. Isiah Bauman added 11 points.

Freeport was held off the scoreboard for the first 3:43 of the fourth quarter. The Yellowjackets committed five turnovers during that stretch, and Highlands turned a six-point lead at the end of the third into a 58-41 advantage.

Erceg scored 11 of his 13 points in the fourth.

“They executed well, got some key rebounds and some easy putbacks that helped push them ahead,” Beale said. “We threw the ball away a few times. We just weren’t able to stay with them.”

“We really picked up our intensity in the fourth quarter,” Stoczynski said. “At times, we had three guys playing hard or four guys playing hard, but we didn’t have that cohesive unit for long stretches until the fourth.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Mlove_Trib.

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