By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
The Highlands Bluebirds girls basketball team knew it had to slow down Pleasure Ridge Park guards Kelsey Adwell and Paige Murphy to win the Second Annual State Farm Holiday Classic on Saturday.
The duo torched Newport Central Catholic for 39 points on Friday. The Lady Panthers had also beaten 9th Region rivals Conner and Ryle in recent weeks.
But the Bluebirds (10-4) stood up to the challenge holding them to a combined 20 points in a 52-39 victory at Conner.
Adwell had just two three-pointers on her way to 14 points and no other Lady Panthers (12-3) scored more than six points, including Murphy. Murphy made just two three-pointers for that total. Pleasure Ridge Park had won 8-of-9 contests entering the game.
Newport Central Catholic employed a full-court press in the second half and that bothered Pleasure Ridge Park. Highlands employed the same man-to-man press strategy and recorded 16 steals led by their two freshmen guards. Haley Coffey recorded five steals and Brianna Adler had four.
“My girls do a great job of recognizing who they have to get out on,” said Jaime Walz-Richey, Highlands head coach. “That’s what we did. (Adwell and Murphy) can score a lot of points so we wanted to limit their looks at the basket.”
Coffey and Adler also helped the Bluebirds’ effort offensively. Coffey made all six free-throw attempts on her way to a team-high 12 points and Adler made two three-pointers on her way to nine points.
Highlands again had many players contribute. But the senior Twin Towers especially helped out the cause offensively.
The Bluebirds had an advantage in the paint and Jesse “Dirt” Daley cashed in with 10 points and seven rebounds. Fellow Twin Tower Leah Schaefer added nine points to go with nine rebounds and five assists. Highlands nabbed 33 rebounds overall.
Highlands led 29-22 at halftime. Pleasure Ridge Park cut the margin to four with two quick scores in the third. But the Bluebirds made an 11-4 run on three steals, including two from Coffey, that resulted in scores.
“We changed up our press and got a lot of easy baskets off our press,” Richey said. “I was able to go to my bench and we were able to wear them down.”
Highlands made 15-of-36 shots for 42 percent, including 2-of-9 from three-point range. The Bluebirds also hit 16-of-23 free throws for 70 percent.
The Bluebirds take on Newport Central Catholic (9-3) at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Highlands boys 62, Middlesboro 48
The Bluebirds (5-6) salvaged a win in the Pikeville Invitational Tournament on Saturday over the Yellowjackets (8-5).
Highlands put three players in double-figures. Luke Turner led the way with 22 with Nick True contributing 14 and Bailey Witte adding 13.
The Bluebirds travel to Villa Madonna (5-6) on Thursday for a 7:30 p.m. contest.