Bluebirds, Ladybirds come through in Doubleheader
|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands honored its basketball Hall-of-Famers in between games Monday. The four members, from left, are Panny Sarakatsannis, Jaime Walz-Richey, Ken Shields and Scott Draud.|
|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands senior Morgan Race fires up a free throw in the 57-35 win over Ludlow on Monday.|
|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands junior Brooke Dill (4) puts up a jumper in the game against Covington Holmes on Monday. Highlands recorded a huge 62-49 victory over the defending 9th Region champions.|
Highlands (18-7 overall) welcomed in the team picked by many to repeat as region champs in the Covington Holmes Lady Bulldogs. Holmes entered the game 20-3 overall including a perfect 10-0 mark in 9th Region action. The Lady Bulldogs lost 59-55 to Mercer County in the Elite Eight of the state tournament last year and graduated three players from that team.
The concern entering the game may have been how well Highlands could handle the Holmes athleticism. The Lady Bulldogs had four players averaging double-digit scoring coming into the game in junior guard Laila Johnson (14.6 points per game), sophomore guard Kamari Graham (14.1), senior guard Jaynice Stovall (13.9) and junior forward Tyrah McClendon-Englemon (11.2).
"We really limited them to one shot," said Jaime Walz-Richey, Highlands Head Coach. "There in the second half, we really rebounded the ball well and that is one of the things we talked about. Make them take the hard shot then go get the rebound and I thought everyone did that."
Holmes tried to take out senior guard Jenna Martin (17.0) shading its defense her way. But while the Ladybirds did turn it over some, they executed their offense well for the most part and limited the Holmes penetration defensively on their way the victory in Fort Thomas on Monday. Highlands moved to 11-2 in region play with the win.
"I think after the St. Ursula game (a 47-41 Highlands loss on Jan. 3), we really realized that we needed to start (attacking) stronger in order to win games like that," said Lauren Epperson, Highlands senior forward. "So in practice, Jaime won't call any fouls. She'll just say to be physical with each other and it helps us in games like this."
Both teams played three games in four days. But while Highlands did not leave Fort Thomas for all three of those 9th Region wins, Holmes beat Newport Central Catholic (66-31) on Friday then ventured about three and a half hours down to Albany, Kentucky to face Clinton County from the 4th Region and won convincingly, 61-25 for what was its seventh straight win.
Martin still scored 11 points and recorded two steals. But sophomore Zoie Barth had a huge game scoring 19 points making 6-of-11 shots to go with three assists, a block and three steals. Sophomore Chloe Jansen followed with 12 points making 6-of-8 shots and recorded four assists and a steal. Senior Lauren Epperson followed with nine points and junior post Brooke Dill had eight with senior Emma Little making a three-pointer.
"They were very athletic," Little said. "We just focused on passing the ball and making sure we got the shot we wanted. They were really keying on Jenna and Zoie so the rest of us had to step up and make plays. That was really crucial in helping us win."
Stovall and Englemon finished above their averages with 19 and 15 points respectively. But Highlands held Johnson to five points and Graham scoreless. Englemon added eight rebounds, two blocked shots and four steals and Stovall had four steals and two assists. Englemon had 13 points in the first quarter.
"I thought we did a better job of knowing where (Englemon) was the rest of the game," Richey said. "We did an unbelievable job. It's a credit to those girls."
Highlands won the rebounding battle, 37-28. Epperson, Barth and Jansen recorded eight each for the Ladybirds.
Highlands made 23-of-47 shots for 49 percent including 7-of-16 three-pointers for 44 percent. The Ladybirds also made 9-of-16 free throws for 56 percent.
Holmes hit 19-of-55 shots for 35 percent including 4-of-19 three-point tries for 21 percent. The Lady Bulldogs also made 7-of-11 free throws for 64 percent.
Highlands had 11 assists and seven steals off 10 Holmes turnovers. The Lady Bulldogs recorded four assists and 12 steals off 16 Ladybird turnovers.
Both teams committed nearly the same amount of fouls with Holmes making 16 compared to 14 for Highlands. The game saw a number of tough calls go both ways. Holmes fourth-year Head Coach Tony Perkins received a bench warning in the first half for leaving the coach's box.
The game stayed tight throughout the first three quarters. Holmes had its biggest lead at 11-7 in the first quarter after Englemon hit a three-pointer. The Lady Bulldogs led 15-13 after the first quarter before Highlands came back to take a 26-24 halftime advantage.
The Ladybirds held a 40-39 lead entering the fourth quarter before using an 11-0 run to start the fourth quarter to pull away. Barth recorded to steals and ensuring scores in addition to a three-pointer to lead Highlands during that run. Holmes cut the lead to eight twice before Highlands pulled away.
Highlands takes on Boone County (7-16) on Friday. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
Highlands 57, Ludlow 35:
The Bluebirds (12-13 overall) not only have double-digit victories in a season since the 2012-13 campaign, they have also equaled the win total from that team. Highlands moved to 9-6 in region play with its second straight win.
"For the most part, when you only give up 35 points, you give yourself a heck of a chance to win," said Kevin Listerman, Highlands Head Coach. "We stayed with the defensive game plan. I liked this group from day one. The kids have very much accepted their roles. This group has been very focused in practice. They really want to get to 14 and 15 wins. They realize what that means in the bigger picture and moving forward. This group still believes it has its best basketball ahead of them."
Senior Kyle Finfrock had seven rebounds and four points before leaving with a sprained left hand. But after the game, Finfrock said he will be back for the next Bluebird contest Friday.
A number of teammates picked up the slack in Finfrock's absence. Junior guard Braden Posey and sophomore post Ben Sisson led the way with 10 points each and senior guard Bryce Traylor had nine. Sisson scored eight in the fourth quarter to help Highlands pull away. Listerman also credited Morgan Race and Griffin Huber for picking things up defensively in Finfrock's absence.
"We grew a lot (Monday) and came together," Sisson said. "We got some experience playing without him. Kyle is one of our biggest producers."
Highlands hit 22-of-40 shots for 55 percent including 8-for-18 from three-point range for 44 percent and 9-of-14 free throws for 64 percent. The Panthers (9-14) made 11-of-34 shots for 32 percent including 0-for-6 from three-point range and 13-of-18 free throws for 72 percent.
Ludlow tried to spread things out and patiently attacked because of its lack of size. Junior guards Justin Blackburn and Max Hathaway led the Panthers with nine points each.
"They like to run around and keep you moving," Race said. "You have to just stay in yours spots and make sure you are paying attention to where your guy is."
In between games. Highlands honored its four Hall of Fame basketball members. They are Richey, Coach Ken Shields, Scott Draud and Panny Sarakatsannis.
Highlands travels to Lloyd Memorial (17-9) on Friday. Game time is 7:30 p.m.