By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
The undefeated Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds basketball team (10-0) downed the Russell Red Devils (9-4), 67-61 in the Ashland Invitational Tournament semifinals on Friday.
NewCath has taken down two 16th Region contenders in this tournament. The Thoroughbreds will need to take down a third to win it. The Thoroughbreds face host Ashland Blazer (9-2) at 7:30 p.m. this evening for the tournament championship.
Thoroughbreds head coach Grant Brannen has plenty of memories in this tournament as a player and assistant. Brannan played in this tournament in 1997 when NewCath fell in the first round to eventual state champion Scott County. Then in 2003 as an assistant, NewCath beat Pendleton County for the tournament championship.
“It feels great,” Brannen told the Ashland Daily Independent. “Obviously, this is a first-class tournament. Our kids have done well being in a different environment. I guess it’s almost like a home game for Russell.”
The Thoroughbreds held a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, but could not put away Russell. The Red Devils trimmed the margin to 64-61 with 1:40 to play. The Thoroughbreds ran down the clock before senior captain Michael Bueter hit a lay-up with 35 seconds left.
NewCath shot better than 50 percent from the field for the second straight day. Bueter made 3-of-4 three-pointers on his way to 21 points. Bueter has 50 points in the tournament after scoring 29 against Boyd County.
NewCath also took advantage of its size inside as 6-foot-8-inch center Jake Schulte had 16 points and nine rebounds including some alley-oop dunks. Fellow 6-6 sophomore Drew McDonald added 15 points. Brannen also credited point guard Zach Pangallo for dishing out 11 assists to go with five points and a few steals.
The Red Devils also saw three players reach double-figures. Jacob Porter led the way with 17 points. Kyle Skaggs added 16 with Lance Evans grabbing a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Harlan County boys 52, Highlands 47:
The Bluebirds (4-6) dropped their third in a row with another loss in the Pikeville Invitational Tournament on Friday to the Black Bears (12-1).
Highlands got behind by 15 but fought back in this contest. Luke Turner led the Bluebirds with 18 points.
Highlands faces Middlesboro (8-4) at 3 p.m. today.
NCC girls go 1-1 in State Farm Classic:
The Thoroughbreds (8-3) split games Friday in the State Farm Holiday Classic at Conner.
They defeated the Lewis County Lady Lions (5-7), 71-29 in the morning game. Junior standout Nikki Kiernan notched another double-double with 22 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots.
Kiernan had plenty of help in this contest. Alexus Mayes made two three-pointers on her way to 16 points and Imani Lankheit had 10. Ansley Davenport and Loren Zimmerman added one three-pointer each.
The second game saw the Throughbreds fall behind by as many as 23 points before they rallied to cut the margin to seven twice in the fourth quarter. They eventually fell 65-56 to the Pleasure Ridge Park Lady Panthers (12-2) of Louisville.
Panther guard Kelsey Adwell and Kiernan tied for game-high 24 points each. Lady Panther teammates Paige Murphy and Carenthia Brown added 15 and 10 points each. Adwell constantly penetrated to the basket and dished out five assists even though she seemed to constantly get away with walking and palming the basketball.
NewCath made a major adjustment in the second half with a full-court trapping press. Twelve of PRP’s 22 turnovers resulted in NewCath steals. Kiernan, Michaela Ware and Zimmerman made three steals each for the Thoroughbreds.
“We kept on playing hard,” said George Stoll, NewCath head coach. “We have to be able to put two halves together. That’s part of being young. But you have to learn from it or it’s not worth anything.”
Kiernan added her third double-double of the tournament with 15 rebounds and three blocks. Mayes and Ware followed with nine points each.
NewCath won the rebounding battle, 32-27 including 14-5 in offensive rebounds. But the Lady Panthers shot better making 21-of-47 shots for 45 percent and 19-of-23 free throws for 83 percent. The Thoroughbreds made 22-of-68 shots for 32 percent and 9-of-13 free throws for 69 percent.
NewCath battles Southwestern (8-5) in the fifth-place game at 12:45 p.m. today.