It was a moment that Highland Park boys basketball players and coaches would rather forget, when the Scots squandered a lead in the closing minutes against Richardson Pearce in the final game of last season, causing them to miss the playoffs for the first time in almost 20 years.
Yet the memories of that February evening are still vivid, thanks to a locker-room poster that conveys Pearce’s jubilation and HP’s disappointment. It’s an image the Scots see every day, and it serves as motivation heading into a new season.
“We don’t want to relive that,” said HP guard Stefon Jauregui. “Our 6A debut didn’t turn out the way it should have.”
Indeed, the Scots might assume a rare underdog role after finishing with a 15-16 overall record and placing sixth in District 10-6A during their first season at the state’s highest classification.
“To come so close and not make it was not pleasant,” said HP head coach David Piehler. “It took me a while to get over that.”
The Scots open the season on Tuesday against South Oak Cliff at Ellis Davis Field House before returning home to host the annual Scot Classic tournament this weekend.
HP returns five players from last year’s team, including Pete Davis, who led the team in scoring with almost 15 points per game. He also was the top perimeter shooter for HP. Others returning after playing key roles last season include Jauregui, center Ben Reichert, and guard Ben Mills.
Piehler said the Scots should have more depth and experience, and be more potent on offense this year. Among the top newcomers are Ethan Nussbaum, Will Reichert, and Andrew Enzor.
“There’s some good chemistry and they’re working hard. They’re very unselfish,” Piehler said. “This year we have more than just one guy who can shoot the ball. We’re going to try and play at a faster pace.”
That sounds simple enough, but the district schedule will continue to be difficult, led by defending champion Richardson. It’s a product of life at the 6A level.
“Last year we realized that even the teams at the bottom were still solid,” Piehler said. “It won’t be a surprise to us this year. Every game we play will be tough.”
By next February it will have been four years since HP won a playoff game, but Jauregui said this year’s returnees hope to reverse that trend, even if it means defying expectations.
“Nobody thinks we’re going to do anything. We find motivation in that,” Jauregui said. “I’ve never been more excited for a season. We want to turn some heads and surprise some folks.”