Mequon - The new age of the Homestead boys basketball team harkens back to the old glory days of the Highlanders of the 1990s.
Because despite distractions, these Highlanders are winning games they're supposed to and are keeping themselves in the North Shore Conference race.
Case in point, the Highlanders work last week as they defeated NSC second-tier teams Grafton (62-52) on Friday and Port Washington (54-47) to stay in a tie for the league lead with powerful Germantown at 3-0. Homestead also improved to 7-1 overall.
"If there's one thing people can say about us now," said second-year Highlanders coach Marquis Hines, "is that we are winning games that are close. A few years ago, I don't think Homestead teams would have won those games. It's very good to see that."
The Highlanders are giving themselves even more challenges as they seek to re-gain their footing among the area's elite teams.
They host the John Chekouras Classic on Dec. 28 and 29 with nine-time state Division 4 and Division 5 champion Randolph playing Waukesha West in one semifinal and then the Highlanders hosting Madison East in the other on Dec. 28. The consolation and championship games will be played on Dec. 29.
"We've tried to schedule aggressively this year," Hines said, "and nobody thought we'd be this good so far. It's good that way. It helps us fly under the radar a little bit."
Grafton (1-2, 3-3), long a doormat in the NSC, is also making inroads toward respectability and so made it harder on Homestead than Hines probably would have liked on Friday.
But Hines was also pleased with the character his team showed, as they went without sophomore point guard La Monte Bearden because of a coach's decision.
The Highlanders only led 27-26 at the half but broke open the game with a 20-10 third-quarter surge.
New faces like freshman Joseph Binyoti, who ran the point, and Darius Marshall (eight points) played valuable roles in the game, Hines said. He also said that Jaylen Key had some key rebounds and that Jake Laihinen made some critical free throws.
Laihinen was the only player in double figures for Homestead with 17 while James Reilly had nine and Sam Kaegi eight.
And Hines was very happy with the road win at Port on Dec. 13.
Long a famous pit for unwary opponents no matter what the Pirates record is, Port's gym has seen many an upset over the years, but Homestead did not let that happen this night.
In the back-and-forth game, Homestead took a 40-38 lead into the fourth quarter after trailing by as many as six in the third. The Highlanders eventually hung on courtesy of a huge 3-pointer by Kaegi and some clutch free throws by center Luke Worthington.
Hines is impressed with the Pirates.
"That coach (John Bunyan) does a great job," Hines said. "They run their plays. They're very hard-nosed on defense. They just make it very hard to win, especially up at their place."
Bearden had 14 points to lead the Highlanders while Laihinen had 11, Reilly nine and Worthington eight.
"We were down, but we made up the difference in a hostile environment," Hines said.
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