Though Jonny Stempel is the point guard who holds Highland Park's basketball team together, the glue mostly stuck in his absence. The Giants lost to Lake Forest 35-33 Thursday night after leading most of the game.
An honorable mention all Central Suburban League choice last year, Stempel missed the Lake Forest game with the flu as his teammates rallied behind the efforts of Jake Norcia and Lane Gierke to zoom ahead of the Scouts midway through the first quarter of a low scoring game.
"We played well together which shows how well we banded together in Jonny's absence. I love the way we executed," said Highland Park Coach Paul Harris about his squad's reaction to the absence of Stempel's 11 point per game average from the lineup. "He's our best three point shooter. I think we missed that more than anything else."
Gierke assumed the leadership role early when he put the Giants on top midway through the opening period, 5-2, with a three pointer and made two of three free throw attempts to keep the Scouts at bay.
"He (Gierke) played well on both ends of the floor," said Harris. "I know he wishes he made a few more shots, but his energy and effort made our team better."
An example of Harris' priase, Gierke Stole the ball from Lake Forest and drove the floor for a layup to give the Giants a 30-26 lead midway through the final period.
Highland Park built its lead in the second quarter taking an 18-12 advantage into the intermission as Norcia took the baton from Gierke, making all four free throw attempts—he was perfect for the night with six—and a three pointer for seven of his team's 11 second quarter tallies.
"Without him it would have been a lot harder," said Harris of Norcia's play. "He had a lot of good shots. I was proud of how all the other players stepped up in his (Stempel's) absence."
Ben Levine took his turn at the helm in the third quarter as he hit a pair of three pointers to help the Giants maintain their edge, 26-21, at the conclusion of the period.
In the fourth quarter, Lake Forest chipped away at the Giants' lead with a barrage of three point shots but Highland Park had four opportunities to send the game to overtime or win it in the last 30 seconds.
"Our defense played well, we got a hand in their face, but you have to give them credit. They had a hot hand," said Harris. "You just can't give away catch and shoot threes."
With the game tied and 44 seconds remaining, Lake Forest's Alex Schwartz hit from the arc to put the Scouts ahead, 35-32, with the balance of the game taking place at the Giants' end of the floor. Cole Stern missed a shot, got his own rebound and was fouled, making a free throw to cut the lead.
An offensive foul by Lake Forest's Thomas Durrett with 2.7 seconds remaining gave Highland Park a final opportunity to win, but an off balance shot by Norcia missed.
"We set up the way we wanted and got our shots," said Harris of his team's efforts in the final half minute.