|Bluebird soccer, Highlands volleyball victorious|
|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands sophomore Alex Ford (4) makes a move in the 9th Region quarterfinals Tuesday. The Bluebirds beat the Beechwood Tigers, 4-0 move on in the tournament.|
But the Highlands Bluebirds soccer team (18-2-2 overall) just could not consistently put the ball past Beechwood Tiger junior goalkeeper Cameron O'Connell. O'Connell dove everywhere making 15 saves for a young Tiger program (9-11-3) making its first-ever appearance in the 9th Region quarterfinals. Even when Highlands put shots past O'Connell, they often flew high or wide.
Luckily for the Bluebirds, they scored more than enough goals to advance to the 9th Region quarterfinals in a 4-0 victory at Tower Park on Tuesday. That marked the first region tournament victory for Highlands since the Bluebirds won the region in 2013.
"Beechwood came in fired up and ready to go," said Matthew Winkler, Highlands Head Coach. "We were in our minds I think mentally ready for the competition. I don't think our play reflected where we wanted to start this game and how we wanted to get this regional run going. But there were good things to learn from this. There are some things we need to work on to prepare for the next game Thursday. But at this level where you're at in the postseason at one-and-done, a win is a win and you move forward."
All four district champions advanced to the 9th Region semi-finals on Thursday. Highlands, the 36th District champions, will take on the 33rd District champion and host Ryle Raiders (18-4-2) at 5:30 p.m. with 34th champion St. Henry (11-7-2) battling 35th champion and defending state champion Covington Catholic (17-5-2) at 7:30 p.m. Highlands beat all three teams at Tower Park during the season.
Highland seniors Solomon Farris and Collin Ginter scored twice in the victory and junior Drew Rom added two assists. Farris added to his team-high with his 16th and 17th goals this year upping his team-high total to 36 points. Those marked the fifth and sixth goals this season for Ginter. Ginter also has three assists for a total of 15 points.
"That goalie (O'Connell) is really quick in there," Ginter said. "Sometimes, you can get it by him. It felt good coming out on top at half then putting them away in the second half. We're going to take every single game like it could be our last."
The assists marked the fifth and sixth on the season for Rom and Brandon Zachary added his second assist of the year. Rom also has one goal for a total of eight points and Zachary has six goals for a total of 14 points.
Highlands out-shot Beechwood, 35-7 including 19-5 on goal. Highlands senior goalkeeper Paul Tully made one save in the first half and senior Simon Frink made four in the second half to preserve the 16th shut-out of the season for the Bluebirds. Highlands has outscored the opposition, 72-15 on the year.
The Highlands defense focused on Beechwood junior Moses Bawibiklian defensively. Bawibiklian entered the game with 44 points on the season on 17 goals and 10 assists.
"Defensively, we had to make sure we knew where (Bawibiklian) was at all times whether it was someone at mid-field or one of the center backs like me or (senior) Parker Smith," Rom said. "We know he's dangerous and could beat us."
Beechwood came out packing the 18-yard box defensively. The Bluebirds had some wide shots until Ginter took a pass from Rom to the left of the goal and buried a shot in the lower left side from just outside the 18-yard box with 28:29 left in the first half. Beechwood abandoned that strategy after that.
"They definitely got numbers behind the ball. That appeared to be one of the strategies they were coming into this game with," Winkler said. "We just had to figure out a way to break them down. We played fast and tried to use some width and play combinations to try to break that down a little bit to get the opportunity. Collin finally found a glimpse of that and was able to break that down and get us on the board."
The Bluebirds went up 2-0 at halftime. Zachary centered a pass from the right to Solomon in the middle of the 18-yard box for his first goal of the game with 18:37 left in the half.
Highlands tried to play the ball upfield and earn one-on-one opportunities with O'Connell, but the Bluebirds committed six off-sides fouls. But Rom played a nice one up-field to Ginter for the goal with 14:03 left in the game to give the Bluebirds a 3-0 advantage.
Farris dribbled into the 18-yard box minutes later and drew a four for a penalty kick with 10:17 left in the game. He buried the shot to give the Bluebirds a 4-0 advantage. Farris missed out on the hat trick of three goals seconds later.
Both teams committed 11 fouls. Beechwood had two yellow cards to none for Highlands.
The Bluebirds also had seven corner kicks to one for the Tigers. But neither team scored off them.
36th District Volleyball Semi-Finals:
Highlands 3, Bellevue 0:
The Ladybirds (19-15 overall) successfully defended their home floor in three games, 25-12, 25-13, 25-13.
"We just talked to the girls and made sure they were pumped up just like any other game," said Katty Ball, Highlands senior defensive specialist. "If you make a mistake, just shake those off because you're going to make them."
Highlands senior Hannah Harris had 12 kills and Lauren Epperson added 11. Ball had 11 digs and landed three aces with junior Gracie Schweitzer digging up 16.
Highlands will take on Newport Central Catholic on Wednesday at home in search of its first district championship since 2012. Game time is 7 p.m.