G. Michael Graham Photo. Highlands seniors Emilie Parton (11) and Ava Abner (22) get in defensive position as Simon Kenton's Kaitlyn Morrison (31) sets up in the corner. Highlands beat Simon Kenton, 55-47 Thursday to finish the regular season 22-7 overall.
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
If you told head coach Jaime Walz-Richey the Highlands Bluebirds girls basketball team would commit 22 turnovers against the Simon Kenton Lady Pioneers, she said Highlands “would get blown out.”
But instead, the Bluebirds recorded a huge win to finish the regular season, 55-47 on Senior Night on Thursday in Fort Thomas. Highlands concluded the regular season with a six-game winning streak to improve to 22-7 for the most wins since the 2008-09 squad finished 25-6.
The Bluebirds knocked off another 8th Region contender in the process. The Lady Pioneers (24-5) had won four in a row entering the contest. They’d beaten 9th Region favorite Notre Dame, 66-59 in Park Hills on Jan. 18. Their other two losses since Dec. 22 came to Conner and Boone County.
“The majority of our turnovers happened in the fourth quarter,” Richey said. “We have to learn from it. They cut it to (three). We kept our composure, came out and got some stops and started scoring on offense then.”
Simon Kenton had 14 turnovers. The Lady Pioneers recorded 16 steals to six for the Bluebirds. But only a small portion of those Simon Kenton steals came in the open court.
The game marked the final regular season game for six Highlands seniors. They are Leah Schaefer, Jesse “Dirt” Daley, Ava Abner, Emilie Parton, Vanessa Fisse and Kelsey Clark. Daley, Schaefer and Abner normally start, but Parton and Fisse joined them to start the game and Clark came in a few minutes later before the normal starters came in.
“We’ve definitely come together a lot,” Schaefer said. “We went to the Christmas Tournament at Louisville Manual and bonded really well. That made us want to win for each other.”
But every player that came in contributed. Brianna Adler led Highlands with 11 points and Schaefer had 10 with Daley grabbing six rebounds to go with six points. Schaefer also rejected two Simon Kenton shots.
Highlands built a 46-29 lead entering the fourth quarter. The Bluebirds built it by distributing the ball well. They recorded 14 assists to seven for the Lady Pioneers. Schaefer led the way with seven assists and Abner had four.
“This team has been exceptional,” Richey said. “Last year was a totally different story. We really bonded this summer. We know what our goal is. We’re going to do whatever it takes to get us there.”
Posts Christina Cook and Rachel Cox led Simon Kenton’s comeback attempt. Cook had 15 and Cox scored 10.
But Highlands did hold Simon Kenton point guard Abby Owings to just four points. Owings is a career 1,000-point scorer.
“We definitely had to keep (Owens dribbling) to the left,” said Haley Coffey, Highlands point guard. “She’s a shooter and a driver. We put our hands up in her face so she wouldn’t shoot it.”
The teams battled back and forth in the first quarter. Alex Combs made a three-pointer to put Highlands up 9-5 before Simon Kenton came back and took an 11-9 lead into the second quarter.
The Bluebirds took the lead for good in the middle of the second quarter. Parton and Adler made back-to-back three pointers to put Highlands up 19-15. Coffey had an offensive putback and Schaefer scored on a lay-up to give the Bluebirds a 25-18 halftime advantage.
Highlands began to pull away in the third quarter. It began with a 10-3 run on Parton and Adler three-pointers to give the Bluebirds a 35-20 lead.
The Bluebirds increased it to 15 again when Combs converted a three-point play at 42-27 with 2:04 left in the third. But after, a Cook score, Simon Kenton head coach Jeffrey Stowers received a technical foul and Combs made two free throws with Schaefer adding another bucket to put Highlands up 46-29 entering the fourth quarter.
Simon Kenton put itself back in the game with a 14-0 run to start the fourth. The Lady Pioneers trimmed the margin to 46-43 midway through the quarter before Adler scored Highlands’ lone bucket of the quarter.
The Bluebirds pulled the ball out the rest of the game and forced the Lady Pioneers to foul. They hit 7-of-11 free throws down the stretch to win the game.
Highlands made 18-of-35 shots for 51 percent and 14-of-26 free throws for 54 percent. Simon Kenton made 20-of-52 shots for 38 percent and 6-of-12 free throws for 50 percent.
The next challenge for Highlands is the 36th District semifinals against rival Newport Central Catholic (19-9) on Tuesday. The Thoroughbreds have won eight in a row in the series dating back to 2009, including a 56-54 win in Fort Thomas on Jan. 4. Highlands needs to break that streak to advance to the 9th Region tournament.
“I won’t bring that up too bad. I’ll talk about the game of runs,” Richey said. “You can’t get too high or too low. It’s here in our gym. That’s an advantage. We’re going to use that and hope the girls feel at home and play well.”
Game time is 6 p.m. in Fort Thomas.