Staffaroni, Scots Rally to Keep Season Alive

Highland Park's Alex Staffaroni is mobbed by teammates after hitting a game-winning shot on Tuesday against McKinney North. (Photo: Chris McGathey)
Highland Park’s Alex Staffaroni is mobbed by teammates after hitting a game-winning shot on Tuesday against McKinney North. (Photo: Chris McGathey)

PLANO — Highland Park didn’t find a consistent shooting touch on Tuesday until its season was on the line.

First, the Scots rallied from a double-digit deficit to force overtime. Then, Alex Staffaroni drilled a 3-pointer with two seconds left to propel HP into the regional semifinals for the first time in almost a decade.

The Scots finished off a 47-44 victory over McKinney North in the Class 5A Region II quarterfinals, and will meet Mansfield Timberview at 6 p.m. Friday at the Culwell Center in Garland.

“It shows the resiliency of these guys and the character, grit, and determination,” said HP head coach David Piehler. “These guys just don’t want their season to be over. I couldn’t be prouder.”

Staffaroni’s game-winner from the corner came off a baseline inbound pass from Matthew Lodwick with the score 44-44, and four seconds on the clock. The junior guard was an improvised option when the defense covered the designed lob pass.

“He was open,” Piehler said. “That was the secondary option off that play.”

The Bulldogs (25-8) took advantage of some uncharacteristically cold outside shooting by the Scots (26-9) to stretch their advantage to 10 points early in the third quarter.

That’s what HP started chipping away. A 7-0 run included a trey by Dillon Powell, followed by layups from Ethan Nussbaum and Michael McMonigle to tie the score at 34 midway through the final quarter.

The Scots trailed again down the stretch, but took a 39-38 lead with 1:22 remaining on another Nussbaum layup. Nussbaum added the first five points of overtime for the Scots.

“We got better shots and started making them,” Piehler said.

McKinney North’s Shannon Watkins, who sat out for much of the first half in foul trouble, nearly provided a heroic effort for the Bulldogs, with 10 of his squad’s 23 points after halftime. But as a team, the Bulldogs shots just 2-for-6 from the free-throw line during that span.

Earlier, the Scots countered their struggles from the three-point line with some solid rebounding and defense. Still, McKinney North closed the first half on an 11-1 run and held the Scots without a field goal for the final five minutes to take a 23-15 lead at the break.

Nussbaum scored 13 of his game-high 15 points after halftime and added seven rebounds. Staffaroni, who was scoreless in the first half, finished with a trio of 3-pointers for nine points.

Watkins and K.J. Harris paced the Bulldogs with 14 points apiece, with Malik Perry contributing 12 points. Only four players scored for McKinney North.

Although leading scorer Will Enzor has been inactive during the playoffs, the Scots earned their 16th consecutive win overall. They will next face Timberview (28-7), which hammered defending state champion Lancaster 76-52 in its regional quarterfinal.

“This isn’t the most talented team I’ve had, but it might have the most heart,” Piehler said. “They hang in there and make plays, and find ways to win in the end.”

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