G. Michael Graham Photo. Highlands' Bailey Witte (12) guards Beechwood's Kyle Fieger (with ball) in Friday's game. The Bluebirds pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 49-38 9th Region victory.
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
The host Highlands Bluebirds boys basketball team wanted to carry some momentum into the postseason.
They continued their late-season surge with a 49-38 9th Region win over the Beechwood Tigers on Friday. Highlands won its final three regular-season contests to enter tournament play 12-15 overall after winning just 10 games all of last season. The Bluebirds moved to 5-10 in region play.
The Bluebirds had to come from behind once again outscoring the Tigers (8-20), 22-6 in the fourth quarter. Highlands hit 8-of-13 free throws for 62 percent in that quarter and 11-of-18 for 61 percent for the game.
Senior Luke Turner led the comeback with 9 of his game-high 18 points in the fourth quarter. Turner scored 27 points in Highlands’ 46-38 victory over Scott on Tuesday making a grand total of 45 in the past two games. Turner made two three-pointers in Friday’s win and made 4-of-6 free-throw attempts all in the fourth quarter.
“It starts with (defensive) stops,” Turner said. “We were getting good looks the entire game. We just couldn’t cash in. Once we made some shots, we got the ball rolling.”
Turner had plenty of help as eight different Bluebirds scored. Bailey Witte and Drew Houliston followed Turner with eight points each.
Highlands made 17-of-42 shots for 40 percent including 10-of-21 shots in the second half for 48 percent. The Bluebirds made four three-pointers overall as Witte and Karl Hinkel made the other two.
Beechwood made 11-of-43 shots for 26 percent including six three-pointers. The Tigers also made 10-of-13 free throws for 77 percent. Beechwood made just 3-of-21 shots for 14 percent in the second half.
“We said we can’t keep giving them three-pointers so we switched to man-to-man (defense) and started pressuring them more,” said Mike Flynn, Highlands head coach. “That turned the game around for us. It made it tougher for them to score.”
Beechwood led 14-7 after the first quarter, 22-18 at halftime and 32-27 entering the fourth quarter. The Tigers made five three-pointers in the first half, including four in the first quarter. Chase Maus and Max Shover made two triples each on their way to 10 points to lead the Tigers.
The Bluebirds surged ahead for good with a 15-0 run to start the fourth quarter to take a 42-32 lead with 1:44 remaining. Houliston scored six points during that Highlands run and Turner had five.
The Tigers did not make a field goal in that quarter and did not score until Kyle Fieger made two free throws with 1:34 remaining. That made the Highlands lead 42-34.
“Our pressure tired them out,” Flynn said. “Their shots were not falling and we did a great job on the defensive backboards. We got every defensive board and that led to some transition baskets. I have to give a shout out to our second team. We made our run with two sophomores in there. Parker Harris and Jensen Feggins were key for us.”
After that point, the Bluebirds made 5-of-8 free throws to seal the deal. Jackson Hall sealed the scoring with a bucket with three seconds left for Highlands.
Highlands pulled away winning the rebounding contest, 37-26. Houliston led the way with eight rebounds and Harris nabbed seven.
“We were just trying to keep position inside,” Harris said. “It was just a matter of getting a body on somebody and getting the ball.”
The game marked the final home regular season contest for four Bluebirds in Karl Hinkel, Turner, Jake Gronotte and Witte. All four started the contest with Houliston.
Highlands faces the daunting task of taking on the red-hot Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds (28-2) in the 36th District Semifinals at home Tuesday at 7:45 p.m. The Thoroughbreds won the regular-season meeting on Jan. 22, 59-22.
“When I think about upsets, I think about Butler a couple years ago,” Turner said. “Their coach (Brad Stevens) always said, ‘We don’t have to be better than that team in a seven-game series.’ We just have to be better than them for 40 minutes, in our case 32 minutes, that we play them. We have to come out, execute and give it everything we have for 32 minutes. It’s either our last game or it’s one of the best games of our lives. We just have to go out there, make it happen and give 110 percent.”
NewCath has won six in a row in the series dating back to a 58-44 Highlands win on Jan. 9, 2010 in Newport. The Thoroughbreds have won the last four district championships following the last Highlands crown in 2008.
NewCath girls 52, Conner 49:
A week ago, it did not look like the Thoroughbreds would reach 20 wins in the regular season.
But that changed this week with two wins. Alexus Mayes buried a three-pointer at the buzzer to lift the Thoroughbreds to a huge victory. NewCath (20-9) finished the regular season with an 11-4 record in 9th Region play and bested last year’s 19-win campaign by a game.
Mayes scored all eight of her points in the fourth quarter. Mayes and Stephanie Lewis scored eight each to follow Nikki Kiernan’s game-high 20 points.
Both teams made 11 two-pointers and nine three-pointers. The Mayes three turned out to be the difference as NewCath made seven to six for Conner.
Mayes and Loren Zimmerman made two triples each for the Thoroughbreds. Michaela Ware, Lewis and Kiernan had the others.
Jordan Scott led Conner (22-7) with 14 points and Brooke Maines had 12. Emily Pluto had eight for the Lady Cougars, but none in the second half. Pluto, Scott and Hunter Hendricks made two three-pointers a piece for Conner.
The game stayed close as Conner’s largest lead was six at one point. The Lady Cougars held a narrow 37-35 lead entering the fourth quarter.
NewCath faces Highlands (22-7) in the 36th District semifinals at 6 p.m. in Fort Thomas. The Throughbreds have won the last four district titles and won the 9th Region in 2011.