|Photo: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Newport Central Catholic's Grant Moeves (13) scores in a regular season game. The Thoroughbreds will go for their seventh straight district championship at Newport on Friday at 7 p.m.|
|PHOTO: Highlands senior Justin Weyer fires up a jumper in a recent regular season game. Weyer is one of three Bluebird seniors on the squad that just finished its season.|
That has not happened since 2000. So when the season has been on the line since then, they’ve seen each other in the district tournament trying to advance to the championship game. It had mostly been because of the 36th District’s old blind draw format.
But for the second straight year, the Highlands Bluebirds and Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds played their district rivals in the regular season to determine seeds. The teams had to meet in the semifinals because NewCath again blazed through district competition and Highlands went 1-3 in district play to take the fourth seed then beat Dayton in the first round of the tournament.
The determined Thoroughbreds (27-3) again used their size inside and speed outside to handle the Bluebirds, 67-28 Wednesday at Newport High. NewCath has beaten Highlands 11 straight times and won 30 in a row against district opponents.
“We have one thing on our mind and we know what our goal has been all year – to get to Rupp Arena,” said Ron Dawn, NewCath Head Coach. “I have no idea how many games in a row we’ve won (16). They don’t care about that. Let’s get to the next game.”
NewCath knew this game was the first of many steps needed to reach its ultimate goal of its first region championship since 2000. The Thoroughbreds will go for their seventh straight district championship Friday against the host Wildcats (14-15). The Wildcats beat Bellevue, 74-49 in the second semifinal contest. Game time is 7 p.m.
“We know we have to get better every day in practice and games,” said Seth Freppon, NewCath senior. “We have a great group of leaders. We’re all focused. We know what we need to do.”
NewCath senior Drew McDonald again scored a double-double of 16 points and 12 rebounds to go with two blocks as the Thoroughbreds saw 11 players hit the scorebook. They forced the running clock in the second half with a comfortable 46-11 lead at halftime.
“People get on him about his defense, but I think his defense is improved. He doesn’t give up many easy shots (inside),” Dawn said. “They were trying to crowd (McDonald) early. We hit some shots. One-on-one, he’s a load in there so once we got them to come outside, I felt our chances to get the ball in there were great.”
Thoroughbred junior Ben Weyer followed with 14 points and five rebounds. Zack Pangallo added nine points and five assists.
NewCath won the rebounding battle, 31-16. The Thoroughbreds also recorded 15 assists to six for the Bluebirds.
“They’re a difficult matchup,” said Kevin Listerman, Highlands Head Coach. “I’m proud of our kids and the way they battled. It’s tough to change culture and those kids have started to do it.”
But the biggest sign that NewCath executed better came in the turnover department. The Thoroughbreds had just four turnovers to 16 for the Bluebirds. The first NewCath turnover did not come until 1:53 remained in the first half.
The Thoroughbreds took 10 more shots than the Bluebirds and made the most of them. They hit 27-of-50 shots for 54 percent to 12-of-40 for 30 percent for the Bluebirds. NewCath also hit 9-of-16 free-throw tries for 56 percent to 2-of-4 for 50 percent for Highlands.
The Bluebirds (8-17) saw seven players score. But only senior Parker Harris had more than five points with 10 in his final game. Harris, Kenny Ball and Justin Weyer graduate this spring for Highlands.
NewCath scored the first two buckets of the game before Nick Kendall answered with a jumper with 6:40 left in the first quarter. But the Thoroughbreds followed that with 21 straight points to go up 25-2 with 7:30 left in the half. They finished the half with a 12-0 run.
Highlands returns three starters to build around next year. They are Mitch Cain, Bo Hebel and Nick Kendall.