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Highlands is playoff-bound for first time since 2014

February 12, 2019

The Highlands team that qualified for the playoffs Feb. 8 was an evolved version of the one that hit a rough patch midway through the District 27-5A schedule.

One key component for the Owls (21-12, 9-6) was their passing attack, which found gaps in Burbank’s zone in a 53-29 win at Alamo Convocation Center and helped Highlands stun Alamo Heights (22-9, 12-3) on Feb. 12 in a homecourt win. The victories elevated Highlands over Jefferson (13-19, 8-7) and Edison (11-22, 7-8) into fourth place in the district.

“We’ve continued to make progress,” said Highlands senior Mario Padilla, who led the Owls with five assists. “We have to keep playing the way we played today. We have to play as a team.”

Highlands was one of eight area teams to qualify for the postseason prior to the final week of the regular season. The Owls were scheduled to face another qualifier, Brackenridge (26-7, 11-4), Feb. 11 in their 27-5A finale.

The Owls reached the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

“We rebounded very well tonight,” Highlands coach Lorenzo Pena said. “They tried to slow us down, which spread us out and spread them out. It’s to our favor when they spread us out.”

Burbank fell behind 14-5 early in the game and wasn’t able to recover after learning tragic news earlier in the day. The Bulldogs’ longtime coach Herbert Jackson’s mother passed away Feb.7 in the evening.

“We fought our way through it,” said Burbank assistant coach Gilbert Vasquez, who previously coached Kennedy. “Highlands is a tough team. We knew what we were facing.

“They applied pressure early on. After that, they did a great job of scoring off turnovers.”

Zachary Osio (12 points) helped Highlands get off to a sizable lead. The senior made three 3-point shots in the first quarter as the Owls jumped out to a 19-10 advantage. He sank another 12 seconds into the second quarter to add another three points to the lead. .

“I thought, at midseason, that the kids had to learn to play against a zone,” Pena said. “The kids love playing against a zone now.”

Highlands forced four turnovers in the first quarter and six in the second on the way to a 29-15 halftime lead. Padilla (6 rebounds), who only scored six points, led the Owls with four steals and Thomas Makey (22 points, 5 rebounds) finished with three.

“Defense really isn’t my game,” said Padilla, who was hampered by a knee injury earlier in the season, “but my coach has pushed me to play like I used to play. My defense was really good tonight.”

Many of Padilla’s assists came on entry passes from the wing to Makey for layups.

Makey scored 22 points and Padilla added 13 as Highlands upset Alamo Heights 51-36 Feb. 5. The Owls led 34-22 after three quarters.

The Bulldogs cut the Owls’ lead to 31-20 with 6:14 remaining in the third quarter after Joaquin Regalado nailed a three-pointer and Aaron Trevino scored off a steal. A three-pointer from Matthew Sampayo brought the margin back to 11, but Highlands pulled away. The Owls outscored Burbank 10-2 in the final period.

“These guys are seniors,” Vasquez said. “They’ve been playing together a long time. I think, considering the circumstances, they did a very good job.”