Friday, January 6, 2017
Defensive Stops Galore
But one huge request from the coaching staff in the huddle changed that. That was defensive stops.
They came in bunches after that as the Highlands Ladybirds (10-4 overall, 3-0 district) did not allow the visiting Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds (6-6, 2-1) to score double-digits in the final three quarters on their way to a convincing 62-30 36th District victory. The win puts Highlands in great shape to earn the top seed in the district tournament for the fourth straight year since the district went to a seeding format before the 2013-14 season. The Ladybirds have just one district game remaining against Newport on Jan. 14 in Fort Thomas.
Highlands has won six of the past seven meetings against its rivals. That includes beating the Thoroughbreds in the district championship in 2015 and in the district semifinals in 2013.
The Ladybirds held the Thoroughbreds to just 10-of-45 from the field for 22 percent including 1-of-11 from three-point range. NewCath made 9-of-14 free throws for 64 percent.
NewCath started the season with two seniors in center Ajia Rice and guard Olivia Schalk and three juniors. But Schalk is injured and Rice is no longer with the team. The Thoroughbreds started one junior in guard Lexy Breen and four sophomores in twin forwards Kacy and Kara Zimmerman, guard Jalyn Vogt and Bryanna Bridewell. Kara Zimmerman led NewCath with seven points and seven rebounds.
Breen averaged 14.2 points per game prior to NewCath's loss at Campbell County on Wednesday. Highlands held her to just three points.
Sophomore Zoie Barth once again displayed consistent play leading Highlands with 14 points. She made 4-of-7 shots including 2-of-3 from three-point range and 4-of-6 free throws to go with five rebounds, seven assists and three steals.
"That's one thing we told the girls after the game we were happy with is the defense against Breen and also Bridewell," said Jaime Walz-Richey, Highlands Head Coach. "We had to limit their open shots and rebound and I thought we did a great job of rebounding. We started going after the ball and we got some easy shots. Even in the first quarter, we were rushing passes against their zone and making some silly passes. We did a better job of that in the second half."
Seniors Jenna Martin and Lauren Epperson picked up two fouls each in the first half and had to sit most of the it. Martin finished with nine points to go with four steals and an assist and Epperson had a blocked shot to go with five points and four rebounds. Epperson picked up one more foul in the second half, but no one else had more than two fouls for Highlands.
But a number of teammates picked up the slack. Senior Taylor Baioni finished with 11 points on 4-of-5 from the field including three three-pointers. Sophomore Morgan Coffey also made some key shots in the first half finishing with eight points.
"I think they're starting to understand practice," Richey said. "All because they're not on the first five doesn't mean they're not getting in so they're coming to practice and competing to get that playing time going against the varsity kids. I think that's really paying off for when they do get in the game. I think Zoie and Jenna are probably the two top guards in the (9th) Region so when they go against them and are able to stop them, they breed that confidence and they think they can score."
Highlands finished 20-of-39 from the field for 51 percent including 7-of-18 from three-point range for 39 percent. The Ladybirds made just 15-of-27 free throws for 56 percent.
"We work as a team," Baioni said. "That's our main goal. We win and lose together no matter what. If somebody's having a bad day, we pick them up off the bench. We have pretty good depth and it shows when you have kids who aren't having a good game or in foul trouble. They're cheering on you from the bench."
Highlands turned the ball over 17 times to just 15 for NewCath. But the Ladybirds did record 11 steals to eight for the Thoroughbreds.
The Ladybirds made sure they dominated the boards against the Thoroughbreds winning that battle, 40-23 as 11 Highlands players grabbed at least one each and 10 scored total. Senior Emma Little and sophomore Chloe Jansen led the way with six rebounds each. Jansen also had three assists.
Highlands led just 13-12 after the first quarter. The Ladybirds used a 4-0 run to take the lead as Little made a long jumper from the right wing and Coffey hit a jump shot from the left wing as time expired.
Aside from the defensive stops with the tight 3-2 zone and man-to-man defenses, Highlands made a major adjustment against NewCath's 2-3 zone defense putting Barth in the middle of it and having players like Baioni and Jansen handle the point guard duties. Barth and her teammates moved around all game to keep NewCath guessing defensively.
"I'm very lucky to have Zoie," Richey said. "She can play multiple positions. I have guards that can get each other the ball that makes it great and I have Lauren that's a post player, but she's really a wing so I have a lot of versatile players. That is great. I thought Emma Little did a great job defensively and offensively (Friday)."
Barth scored her first seven points as Highlands went up 20-13. She later assisted a Brooke Dill score on the right post to put the Ladybirds up 27-15. Highlands led by 12 at halftime, 31-19.
That lead stayed in the 12 to 15-point range until the last three minutes of the third quarter. Highlands used a 7-0 run to go up 44-25 after three quarters. Martin hit a three-pointer and free throw with Coffey making a jumper and Dill hitting a free throw during that run.
The Ladybirds put the final touches on the victory with a 15-0 run in the fourth quarter. That let some of the younger girls earn varsity playing time. They learned some valuable lessons from the upperclassmen on playing with emotion in rivalry games, but not getting emotional.
"They really help us out keeping focused like when we're playing a bad game, they tell us 'Good Game' and stuff like that," said Olivia Gessner, Highalnds sophomore guard. "They tell us we really can't focus on the crowd. We have to focus on what our coaches are telling us before the game and what we have to focus on for that game."
Highlands takes on another rival on Tuesday in the Notre Dame Pandas (5-9). Game time is 7:30 p.m. in Park Hills.