|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands senior Mitch Cain scored 12 points on Friday against Bellevue.|
The Highlands Bluebirds fell to the Bellevue Tigers by a 61-60 count last year in 36th District action. Highlands drew the fourth seed in the district tournament as a result, beat Dayton in the first round before top-seeded Newport Central Catholic ran away for a 67-28 victory in the semifinals on its way to its seventh straight district championship
Things did not turn out much better this year. Just 3:04 into the game, Highlands Head Coach Kevin Listerman called a timeout with the Bluebirds trailing 5-0 and having just one shot and four turnovers on their first five possessions.
Highlands moved quicker on its feet after the heated timeout. But the Bluebirds once again struggled shooting the ball and with turnovers and lost the crucial district game, 40-29.
"The game comes down to having good guard play and we didn't get it," said Kevin Listerman, Highlands Head Coach. "Ultimately, they outprepared us. They outplayed us. (Bellevue Head Coach) Jimmy (Hicks) has done a tremendous job down here. He outcoached us. They did everything right and we did little right. We have to regroup and look ourselves in the mirror and try to get better."
The only bright side to the story is Highlands can still earn the third seed despite falling to 5-11 overall and finishing district seeding play 1-3. If Bellevue (12-10, 1-2) loses at Newport Central Catholic on Feb. 15, Dayton and Bellevue will also finish 1-3 in district play leaving a coin flip to decide the third seed. NewCath is 3-0 in district play and Newport finished 3-1 for the second seed.
"It was huge. We put ourselves in a hole when we played Dayton back (on Dec. 15 in a 55-48 loss)," Hicks, a 1988 Highlands graduate, said. "But we knew that if we came out and played the way we were capable of playing, we could play with them, make it a ballgame and give ourselves the opportunity."
Bellevue's 2-3 zone gave Highlands problems all night. The Bluebirds had a size mismatch inside with Kyle Finfrock and Bo Hebel. But they did receive the ball in the paint enough to do damage.
"Zones take away some of the interior stuff. That's what zones are designed to do," Listerman said. "So we have to be able to see openings, make passes and make shots. We didn't do any of those three."
The Bluebirds did win the rebounding battle, 31-24. Finfrock once again led the way with 13.
On the other side, Bellevue had two players reach double digits. Senior forward Nick Baker had 14 points and senior guard Matthew Fryman scored 10.
"We've been pretty good in our 2-3 zone defensively," Hicks said. "Our game plan was to make sure we fronted Finfrock because once he gets it down in the blocks, he's tough to stop. He's a handful."
The Tigers shot better at the free-throw line making 6-of-9 for 67 percent. On the other side, Highlands hit 4-of-10 for 40 percent.
The Bluebirds did tie the game twice in the first half. But Bellevue used a 9-0 run to end the first half and go up 22-13.
Highlands came out and trimmed the margin to 22-20 with 4:40 left in the third. The Bluebirds cut it to one with 2:15 left in the quarter. But the Tigers led 29-26 entering the fourth quarter.
The Bluebirds did not make a field goal in the fourth quarter. On the other side, Bellevue hit 4-of-6 free throws down the stretch to pull away.
Highlands does not play again until Friday. Holmes comes to town for a 7:30 p.m. contest.
Louisville Male 59, Highlands 45:
Highlands dropped the first game in the Louisville Invitational Tournament to fall to 14-8 on the season.
The Ladybirds travel to Ryle on Monday. Game time is 7:30 p.m.