|Ladybirds handle Ladycats in district semifinals|
|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands eighth-grader Rory O'Hara puts up a free throw in Tuesday's 36th District semifinal game against Newport.|
After all, the Highlands Ladybirds basketball team won its four 36th District seed games by an average of 34.75 points during the regular season on its way to a fourth straight top seed in the district tournament. Add to that, the Ladybirds have lost just once in the district semifinals in Jaime Walz-Richey's 15-year tenure as head coach. That came by a 55-47 score in 2010 when the district used a blind draw format.
But Highlands (21-8 overall) still left nothing to chance against the fourth-seeded Newport Ladycats (11-20) on Tuesday running away in the second quarter for a 70-35 victory. The Ladybirds led just 13-7 after the first quarter, but used a 22-4 second quarter to go up 35-11 at halftime leaving everyone associated with the program breathing easier.
"I think our press started bothering Newport," Richey said. "We got some easy shots. Some of it is the first time they've played in a big game. But I thought we did a good job of keeping our composure and doing what we told them to do."
Highlands recorded 23 steals on 32 Newport turnovers while yielding 11 steals on 15 turnovers to the Ladycats. That led to 11 more shots for the Ladybirds. Highlands made 25-of-48 shots for 52 percent including 10-of-19 three-point tries for 53 percent compared to 11-of-37 shots for Newport for 30 percent including 4-of-12 from three-point range for 33 percent.
Highlands shot two more free throws than Newport. The Ladybirds committed 13 fouls to 12 for the Ladycats. Highlands made 10-of-16 free throws for 63 percent compared to 9-of-14 for 64 percent for Newport.
Highlands senior guard Jenna Martin had not experienced a postseason victory in her three previous years in high school. She did more than her part to change that scoring 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting including 5-of-9 from three-point range to go with four assists and six steals.
"It feels good. I know my teammates are super happy for me," Martin said. "We're just really excited to get out there and play at (Northern Kentucky University). Coach Richey told us the first game is the hardest. There's more pressure there so we knew we'd come out tense. We just relaxed and played our game to pull out the win."
Ladybird sophomore Zoie Barth also made 9-of-14 shots including 3-of-6 from three-point range on her way to 22 points. Barth also had three steals.
Highlands dished out 16 assists to one for Newport but lost the rebounding battle, 27-21. Sophomore Chloe Jansen led the Ladybirds with five assists to go with four steals. Jansen also tied Barth and Hannah Buecker with a team-high three rebounds.
Highlands extended the lead to 55-24 after three quarters. That let the coaching staff put in the reserves for most of the quarter as eight different Ladybirds scored. Eighth-grader Rory O'Hara made her varsity debut for Highlands.
"It's great to get the district experience," Richey said. "We lose six seniors so they're going to be asked to do some things in the district tournament next year."
The Highlands coaching staff continued to coach the reserves hard as opposed to taking the pedal off the metal. Freshman guard Maggie Hinegardner said she and her teammates appreciate that.
"We knew we had a lead, but we knew we still had to keep it up and not let them think they could get back in it," Hinegardner said. "We definitely needed (the coaching) because once we younger girls get out there, we still need to know how to do things."
Newport saw six different players score. Junior guard Ramey Garland led the way with 14 points.
Highlands takes on Newport Central Catholic (12-15) on Thursday in the district championship. Game time is 7 p.m.