|Cooper takes down Highlands in 9th Region Quartefinals|
|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands sophomore Zoie Barth attacks the rim Monday. Barth scored 15 points, but Highlands lost 77-62 in the 9th Region Quarterfinals.|
Junior standout guard Lexi Held picked up her second foul just 1:02 into the game for the Cooper Lady Jaguars forcing her to take a seat. That gave the Highlands Ladybirds a huge opportunity.
The Ladybirds (22-9 overall) did go up eight points twice in the first quarter. But Cooper (21-7) held its ground trailing just 17-15 after the first quarter. Then Held came back into the game in the second quarter and sparked a 14-3 run to end the first half to turn a 23-18 deficit into a 32-26 halftime advantage. Cooper then expanded the margin to 20 points in the third quarter on its way to a 77-62 9th Region Quarterfinal win Monday at BB&T Arena.
"We knew when (Held) went out we needed to take advantage of it," said Jaime Walz-Richey, Highlands Head Coach. "We did a little bit, but not near as much as we needed to. We still had some miscues. Lexi is unbelievable player. She can get to the rim with ease and she has an unbelievable jumper. She can also pass to her teammates when they're open. She's a complete player."
Cooper won in its first-ever appearance in the 9th Region Tournament since the school opened in 2008. On the other side, Highlands lost in the region quarterfinals for the first time since 2012.
The Lady Jaguars displayed their balance winning the rebounding battle, 40-19. Despite fouling out, Held finished with 18 points and eight rebounds with senior guard Hailey Anderson recording a game-high 20 points. Junior guard Asyah Mitchell added 12 points and senior Kendra Smith had a double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds with junior guard Emily Bleska and senior forward Hailey Nicholas scoring eight each.
"Our girls stepped up," said Nicole Levandusky, Cooper Head Coach. "They've been doing it all year. Nobody has really seen it. They did what they had to and got the W."
In her final game, Highlands senior Jenna Martin gave a valiant effort scoring 20 points to go with two steals. Sophomore Zoie Barth finished with 15 to go with five steals and three assists with senior Lauren Epperson and Emma Little following with nine and eight respectively.
Highlands made 21-of-45 shots for 47 percent including 5-of-18 three-point shots for 28 percent and 5-of-12 free throws for 42 percent. Cooper hit 25-of-43 shots for 58 percent including 4-of-9 three-point shots for 44 percent and 23-of-31 free throws for 74 percent.
"We thought we had some great shots, great looks," Richey said. "The ball just didn't go in the basket. We felt like they hit some shots that bounced around the rim and went in. Our came out. Sometimes, that happens. But I was proud of the fight. We didn't stop until the final horn."
The Ladybirds did record 11 steals on 16 Lady Jaguar turnovers while turning the ball over eight times on five Cooper steals. The majority of the steals came in the first quarter when Highlands built the two eight-point leads.
Trailing 50-30 with 2:49 left in the third quarter, the Ladybirds made things interesting. The finished the quarter with eight points to trim the margin to 50-38 entering the fourth quarter. Highlands trimmed the margin to 11 late in the fourth quarter but came no closer.
The Ladybirds graduate six seniors in Martin, Epperson, Little, Rachel Vinson, Taylor Baioni and Macy Gabbard. The six helped Highlands to three straight 36th District championships.
"They always came into practice ready to work," Richey said of the seniors. "You usually start the freshman year with 10 to 12 players. Those six were willing to stick it out coming to practice every single day maybe not getting the playing time that they wanted, but there was never a complaint. That what you want in seniors."
Highlands will build around returning starters Barth and sophomore Chloe Jansen in addition to sophomore Hannah Buecker. Players like sophomores Ashley Hayes, Olivia Gessner and freshman Maggie Hinegardner and Megan Walz could have expanded roles next season.