By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
CRESTVIEW HILLS – It was a tough one to swallow for the visiting Highlands Bluebirds and their faithful supporters here Tuesday.
At one end, Dixie Heights Colonels standout junior Brandon Hatton drew a foul even though Highlands sophomore Jensen Feggins appeared to be straight up. Hatton made 1-of-2 free throws to give the Colonels the 60-59 lead with 4.9 seconds left.
Then at the other end, Highlands junior Drew Houliston quickly dribbled the ball upcourt and tried to put up a shot near the basket. He appeared to be fouled harder than Hatton but received no call as time expired allowing Dixie Heights to escape with the win.
The loss left Highlands 2-1 on the young season while Dixie Heights (4-1) has won four in a row after opening the season with a 65-63 loss to Newport Central Catholic. Highlands opened the season with wins over St. Henry and Bellevue.
But the Bluebirds can take a lot of positives out of the game. They had three double-digit scorers led by junior Drew Houliston with 23, Luke Turner with 13 and Nick True, 12. Houliston made 12-of-14 free throws.
They also outdid the Colonels in the assist and rebounding categories. They had 14 assists and 24 rebounds to 10 assists and 20 rebounds for Dixie Heights. Karl Hinkel led Highlands with seven assists and True grabbed six rebounds.
“I thought overall for the entire game we played pretty good defense,” said Mike Flynn, Highlands head coach. “We carried out our game plan well on defense. We also had a lot of good moments (offensively) where we had a lot of people touching the ball and good offensive balance.”
Highlands could have a special season if it plays like it did in all but the third quarter. The Bluebirds led 34-31 at halftime but lost the third quarter, 15-8 and trailed 46-42 entering the fourth quarter. They made just 2-of-7 shots in that quarter.
“In the third quarter, we became a turnover machine. A lot of them were unforced,” Flynn said. “They (Colonels) picked up the defensive pressure. Give them credit. But we were our own worst enemy. When you turn it over that many times, it comes down to the end of the game, which is what happened.”
Hatton finished near his average last year with 19 points with two three-pointers. Teammate Adam Daria followed with 11 points and Alex Milligan came off the bench to score 10 for Dixie Heights.
Dixie Heights shot better from the field making 25-of-47 shots for 53 percent to 47 percent (17-of-36) for Highlands. But the Bluebirds made it to the free-throw line more making 24-of-31 free throws for 77 percent to 7-of-12 for 58 percent for the Colonels. The Colonels committed 20 fouls to 15 for the Bluebirds.
Highlands scored the game’s first six points and led 8-2 at one point in the first quarter. But Dixie Heights came back and took the lead twice in the quarter. But Turner recorded a steal tied the game at 18 to end the first quarter with two seconds left.
Highands led for all but 30 seconds in the second quarter. The Bluebirds went up 31-22 with 2:22 left in the half after Jake Gronotte made two free throws. But Dixie Heights finished the quarter with a 9-3 run to cut the margin to three at halftime.
The end of the third quarter really hurt the Bluebirds. They turned it over a couple times as the Colonels went on a 9-0 run to end the quarter and go up 48-42 entering the fourth quarter.
Dixie Heights appeared to be pulling away late in the fourth. The Colonels used a 6-0 run to go up 59-53 with 1:51 left in the game. But Turner made two free throws and Houliston made two more a second later when Dixie Heights committed a technical foul. Thirty seconds later, True tied the game at 59 on a nice assist from Feggins.
But Dixie Heights held the ball until the final seconds. Hatton drove the middle and drew the foul.
Highlands continues road action Friday at 7:30 p.m. The Bluebirds travel to Alexandria to battle the Bishop Brossart Mustangs (5-0).