|Highlands wins close ballgames|
|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands senior Jenna Martin (13) fires up a free throw in a recent game. Martin scored 16 points as the Ladybirds downed Mason County, 46-43 Thursday.|
The Mason County Lady Royals (11-3 overall) came into the game ranked 11th in the latest BluegrassPreps Top 20 poll and Highlands found itself ranked 17th. Mason County also entered the game on a 10-game winning streak and held a record of 5-1 against 9th Region opponents including a win over 12th-ranked Covington Holmes. Its two losses came to 19th-ranked Ryle and 3rd-ranked Mercer County. Highlands moved to 2-2 against the current Top 20.
With the game tied at 43 with 34 seconds left, Highlands senior Jenna Martin stepped to the free-throw line and made 1-of-2 attempts to put the hosts up 44-43.
Then sophomore Zoie Barth came up with a crucial charge on the defensive end with 13 seconds left. Highlands managed to dribble off eight seconds when Lauren Epperson found Barth. Barth hit both free throws to make the final score of 46-43.
"Every play counts," said Jaime Walz-Richey, Highlands Head Coach. "We made some big plays at the end and we didn't make mistakes. It was a game that we didn't shoot free throws very well. But we found a way to win."
Martin led Highlands with 16 points making 6-of-15 shots to go with three assists and two steals. Barth and Epperson followed with 11 and senior Emma Little scored the other eight. Barth had two assists and five steals. Epperson and Martin led Highlands with four rebounds each and sophomore Chloe Jansen chipped in three assists.
"We just want to take control of the tempo of the game," Martin said. "We wanted it more than (they did). We executed all of our plays. I think we'll have to string together performances like that to be able to win the region."
Highlands hit just 7-of-16 free throws for 44 percent and 16-of-44 shots for 36 percent including 7-of-16 from three-point range for 44 percent. Mason County made 17-of-37 shots for 46 percent including 3-of-15 from outside for 20 percent in addition to 6-of-8 free throws for 75 percent.
Mason County did have some size inside surrounded with quality shooters. Senior guard Whitney O'Mara led the Lady Royals with 14 points with senior forwards Briana McNutt and Maddie Boone scoring eight each.
Mason County won the rebounding battle, 29-20. McNutt and junior guard/forward Kara Mogan had six each. Highlands trailed 30-29 at halftime and held the Lady Royals to just 13 points in the second half.
A big difference in the game came in the turnover department. Highlands recorded 12 steals on 18 Mason County turnovers while the turning the ball over just eight times on seven Lady Royal steals. Sophomore Morgan Coffey followed Martin and Barth with two steals.
Highlands hopes to wrap up a fourth straight undisputed top seed in the 36th District Tournament at home Saturday against Newport (4-11, 0-2). Game time is 7:30 p.m.
Highlands 81, Ryle 78 (2OT):
The Bluebirds came away from Union with another impressive 9th Region win.
Highlands moved to 8-9 overall and 5-3 in region play with its third straight win and fifth in the last six games. The Bluebirds have won three of the last four meetings against the Raiders (9-9).
"We've talked about learning how to close out games and learning how to win," said Kevin Listerman, Highlands Head Coach. "It wasn't pretty, but we've played a lot of games here in the last week against pretty good competition. For us to come in and find a way to win on the road was huge."
Highlands senior post Kyle Finfrock again led the way with 21 points. The Bluebirds saw three others reach double figures in Braden Posey, Carl Schoellman and Bryce Traylor with 19, 15 and 11 points respectively. Schoellman made five three-pointers in the second half.
"It feels amazing," Traylor said. "It brings smiles in the locker room. We're playing our game. We're having fun. That's what it's all about. Everybody on this team makes a huge contribution."
Bluebird senior Bradley Greene recorded three steals. The final one sealed the game in the second overtime with 12 seconds left. He hit two free throws to give Highlands a five-point lead.
Highlands made 19-of-27 free throws for 70 percent and Ryle made 21-of-28 for 75 percent. Senior guard Braden Cheesman led the Raiders with 17 points before fouling out in the second overtime. Senior guard Aaron O'Hara and sophomore forward Vince Rankin had 16 each.
"For the most party, we did a pretty good job," Listerman said. "They're big three had solid nights, but we didn't let any of them have huge nights so that's what gave us a chance to hang around even though we were struggling on offense for a long time."
Highlands plays at Dayton (4-12) on Saturday in another 36th District game. Game time is 7:30 p.m.