G. Michael Graham Photo. Highlands guard Ava Abner (22) drives to the hole against Southwestern's Allie Venable (2) in Friday's contest. Highlands won both games in the State Farm Holiday Classic to move to 9-4 on the season. The Bluebirds face Pleasure Ridge Park for the tournament championship at 4:15 p.m. today at Conner.
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
HEBRON – The thought may be scary for opponents.
The Highlands Bluebirds girls basketball team knocked off two more good opponents in the State Farm Holiday Classic on Friday to improve to 9-4. Highlands beat the Boone County Lady Rebels, 46-40 in overtime and 12th Region contender Southwestern Lady Warriors, 51-37. The Bluebirds will face 12-2 Pleasure Ridge Park for the classic championship at 4:15 p.m. this afternoon.
Highlands had not beaten Boone County (7-5) since Jan. 13, 2009 by a 54-43 count in Florence. The Lady Rebels have won three of the last four 9th Region titles and have had the same head coach in Nell Fookes since the 1985-86 season.
“The seniors had not beaten (Boone County) in high school,” said Jaime Walz-Richey, Highlands head coach. “We talked about that before the game. We needed to play our game and we almost gave it to them. We know we can play much better than we have.”
Highlands once again had balanced scoring. Vanessa Fisse led the way with 15 points and Brianna Adler had 12 making 10-of-12 free throws. Fisse made 3-of-6 three-point attempts.
Highlands sees different players rise up in different games. Sophomore Alex Combs followed Adler and Fisse with eight points and four rebounds.
The difference in the game came at the free-throw line. Highlands made 11-of-15 free throws for 73 percent and Boone County made 7-of-13 for 54 percent. Highlands also hit 15-of-47 shots for 31 percent and 5-of-15 three-pointers for 33 percent. Boone County made 13-of-50 shots for 26 percent including 7-of-23 three-point attempts for 30 percent.
Highlands played a zone and held Lady Rebel standout guard Jessica Jones to six points. The Tennessee Tech signee did grab nine rebounds before fouling out.
Dallis Knotts led Boone County with 13 points and Alexis Switzer followed with 11. Switzer added four rebounds.
Highlands led 18-14 at halftime and 26-20 entering the fourth quarter. But Boone County won the fourth quarter, 18-12 to force overtime.
Highlands won the rebounding battle, 39-36. Senior Jesse “Dirt” Daley led all rebounders with 10 for the Bluebirds.
“You can tell we’re progressing and that we haven’t hit our peek yet,” said Ava Abner, Highlands guard. “We still can get better. I think that our defensive rebounding will get us where we need to go.”
Highlands had been playing without injured seniors Leah Schaefer and Emilie Parton. Schaefer made her return Thursday and played in both games Friday. Parton did not play in either contest Friday.
“We’re not completely healthy,” Richey said. “Leah and Emilie are not 100 percent. (Parton) played a little (Thursday). We’re not going to be 100 percent until the end of January. But my younger girls are gaining confidence. We can be a dangerous team when we’re clicking together. They trust in one another.”
Schaefer scored just four points against Boone County but erupted for 14 against Southwestern as Highlands won all three Pool B contests. The Xavier signee made 6-of-7 free throws to go with three rebounds and a blocked shot.
Fisse put together another stellar game with 12 points. She did not hit any three-pointers but did make all five two-point attempts. Daley added 10 points.
Highlands once again saw many other player do small things to help record the victory. Lydia Graves made two crucial three-pointers and Adler had three steals with Abner and Fisse recording two each.
“It’s good that we have different people we can rely on,” Combs said. “When we had Leah (Schaefer) out, we had other people step up. That’s made our team stronger.”
Highlands led 24-19 at halftime and 38-30 entering the fourth quarter. That lead let the Bluebirds spread the court and attack the rim from different directions.
“We feel we have great guards,” Richey said. “If we do a spread, we can take care of the ball and also take girls off the dribble like we did.”
Highlands hit 19-of-36 shots for 53 percent, including 3-of-9 from three-point range for 33 percent compared to 13-of-34 for 38 percent, including 6-of-22 from three-point range for Southwestern (8-5).
The Bluebirds also made 10-of-12 free throws for 83 percent. Southwestern made 5-of-9 free throws for 56 percent.
Adison Corder and Samantha Fitzgerald kept the Lady Warriors in striking range. Corder made 5-of-9 three-point attempts on her way to 19 points. Fitzgerald added 12.