Thursday, February 23, 2017
Fourth title in Five Years for Ladybirds
But instead of playing like that, the Highlands Ladybirds (22-8 overall) made it their tournament to dominate. They finished off the Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds (12-16), 69-41 to win their third straight district championship and fourth in the last five years Thursday at Dayton.
Highlands used a 7-0 run to go up 10-4 in the first quarter and never looked back. The Ladybirds won the six district seed and tournament games by an average of about 34 points per game.
Every Highlands player available picked up her game in the victory. Sophomore Zoie Barth and senior Jenna Martin put up their usually dominant numbers. Barth scored 23 points making 6-of-11 shots including 4-of-6 three-pointers and 7-of-9 free throws in addition to five assists, six steals and a blocked shot. Barth dazzled the crowd with a steal and behind-the-back pass in transition to Martin for a lay-up with 4:20 left in the game to put Highlands up 60-37.
Martin scored 16 on 6-of-14 shooting including 3-of-8 three-point tries in addition to two assists and a steal. The duo also nabbed a team-high seven rebounds each.
"I thought Zoie and Jenna came out and set the tone in both games," said Jaime Walz-Richey, Highlands Head Coach. "They shot the ball extremely well. But (Thursday), other teammates stepped up and made shots. It's a credit to Jenna and Zoie and it's a credit to their teammates."
Fourteen different Highlands players again saw action in the game. Senior Lauren Epperson followed Barth and Martin with nine points to go with three assists, five rebounds, three steals and a blocked shot. Sophomore Hannah Buecker and senior Emma Little made 3-of-4 shots including one triple on their way to seven points.
Highlands won the rebounding battle, 36-21 and blocked five shots. Senior Taylor Baioni energized the crowd with three rejections.
"We got everyone in the mix," Little said. "Zoie and Jenna made great passes and (the teammates) made great plays. Everyone just played together and made the extra pass so we were able to get the win. We bond together. When one person goes down, the other people just have to step up and we really did that (Thursday). We'll have to do that the rest of the season."
The Ladybirds made 22-of-46 shots for 48 percent including 10-of-22 three-point tries for 46 percent and 15-of-25 free throws for 60 percent. On the other side, NewCath made 16-of-47 shots for 34 percent including 5-of-19 for 26 percent and 4-of-8 free throws for 50 percent.
Highlands attacked the NewCath 2-3 Zone and Triangle-and-Two defenses with sound ball movement and successfully pressured the Thoroughbreds at various angles all over the court. The Ladybirds had 12 assists, 12 steals and 14 turnovers to three assists, eight steals and 19 turnovers for the Thoroughbreds.
"Defensively, I felt like what we did what we needed to do," Richey said. "We made it a bit fast-paced in the first half to get some easy steals and lay-ups. We knew we had to push the ball, but make the easy pass. I thought we did that and got some easy looks and converted."
Junior guard Lexy Breen kept the Thoroughbreds in striking distance with 13 points making 5-of-15 shots including 3-of-10 from three-point range. But Highlands closed out on her better after she made her third triple with 6:20 left in the third.
Highlands led 17-11 after the first quarter. But with 1:21 left in the quarter, sophomore Chloe Jansen left the game with an injury. She put no pressure on her left leg receiving help to the training room before returning to the bench in the second quarter with an ice pack on her left leg. Jansen said she does not know the extent of the injury after the game.
The Ladybirds led by four early in the second quarter before using an 11-2 run to go up 28-15. Barth and Martin hit three-pointers during that run. Barth hit two free throws to put Highlands up 38-23 at halftime.
Breen's third three-pointer cut the Highlands lead to 42-28. But Little made a three-pointer and Barth hit two-of-three free throws to increase the lead to 47-28. The Ladybirds led 52-33 with 3:23 left in the third quarter.
Highlands put the game away with a 12-0 run in the fourth quarter to go up 67-37 with 2:01 left in the game. The teams let their reserves finish the game and receive some tournament experience.
"(The main varsity players) really help during practice. They push us in practice a lot to make us go faster and work on our game," said Olivia Gessner, Highlands sophomore guard. "I do appreciate that. They get excited for us like we get excited for them. It makes it fun to play."
Highlands did not take the traditional route with the all-tournament team. Jansen received a spot on the squad and senior Macy Gabbard took Most Valuable Player honors. Gabbard has been out for the season since the season-opening loss at Louisville Sacred Heart in addition to sophomore Morgan Coffey.
Highlands will not know the 9th Region quarterfinal opponent until Saturday. The 34th and 35th District championship games take place Friday.
Highlands finished 12-2 against the 9th Region during the regular season. But Highlands could see one of those teams in the quarterfinals in the Cooper Lady Jaguars. Conner beat Cooper, 61-57 in the 33rd District championship at Boone County on Thursday.