|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands senior Chandler New (3) goes up for a score in a recent game against Walton-Verona. The Bluebirds lost a close one at Newport on Thursday.|
The Highlands Bluebirds boys basketball team had several chances to make plays to beat the Newport Wildcats in the final minute. But the Wildcats (11-4 overall, 2-0 district) escaped with a 37-36 win over the visiting Bluebirds (2-6, 0-1).
Highlands took 49 shots in the win making 15 on its way to nearly 31 percent from the field including 4-of-14 from three-point range for 29 percent. The Bluebirds also made just 2-of-6 free-throw tries for 33 percent.
The hosts hit 15-of-46 shots for 33 percent including 2-of-13 from downtown for 15 percent. The Wildcats also made just 5-of-11 free throws for 46 percent.
The Bluebirds have three district games remaining including a match-up with seven-time tournament champion Newport Central Catholic (10-2, 1-0). Highlands hopes to at least earn the second or third seed to avoid a potential match-up with the Thoroughbreds in the district semifinals like last year. The Bluebirds beat the Wildcats in the semifinals two years ago to reach the 9th Region Tournament.
Opponents average 53 points against them. But Highlands averages 49 points a game. The wins will come once that average goes up.
"I like how we've played defensively all year," said Kevin Listerman, Highlands Head Coach. "We just need to finish. We need to earn the right to face them again."
Junior Kyle Finfrock has given the Bluebirds consistency in the post averaging 9.5 points and about eight rebounds per game. Senior guard Mitch Cain averages just more than 12 points a game.
"We just have to keep playing hard," Cain said. "We've done pretty well with the energy part."
Cain scored 12 to lead Highlands with his lone three-pointer coming at the buzzer to end the game. But the Wildcats held Finfrock to four points and a team-high five rebounds.
Newport has three players averaging double figures in senior guards Ethan Snapp (17.2 points per game), Kedan Davis (14.2) and Marcus Mullins (12.9). Snapp scored 15 making just two three-pointers on five tries and 5-of-14 from the field and Davis scored nine, but Mullins did not play. Highlands double-teamed Snapp most of the game to get the ball out of his hands.
Newport won the rebounding battle 38-32. Senior forward Kamerson Covington led the Wildcats with 10 rebounds with Davis and Najee Williams grabbing eight each.
The Wildcats looked as though they'd run away early scoring the game's first seven points. They led 18-6 early in the second quarter before Highlands came back with an 11-2 run to trim the margin to 21-17 at halftime.
Newport led 26-25 after three before Braden Posey knocked down a three-pointer to tie the game at 28 with six minutes remaining. The Bluebirds then missed two free throws that would have put them ahead.
Newport scored twice in the next couple minutes and Cain scored once. After Poset made a free throw, Snapp threw over the Highlands pass and found Williams for a wide-open score with about a minute remaining to put the Wildcats up 34-31. But after a Finfrock offensive putback, Snapp made two free throws and Cain appeared to score, but Highlands had a goal-tend to nullify the basket.Snapp then made 1-of-2 free throws with 18.7 seconds left to put Newport up 37-33 before Cain hit his three-pointer.
Highlands takes on Covington Holy Cross on Saturday in the first game in the refurbished gym. Game time is 7:30 p.m.