Saturday, February 18, 2017
Senior Night Split for Highlands
The school honored the senior basketball players, cheerleaders and dance team members as part of the doubleheader with Beechwood. The Ladybirds (20-8 overall) put an exclamation point on the night with a convincing 70-29 victory over the Lady Tigers (9-15). The Bluebirds (12-16) then tried to do the same thing but came up short in a 63-55 defeat to the Tigers (15-12).
The six Ladybird seniors are guards Jenna Martin, Taylor Baioni and forwards Lauren Epperson, Macy Gabbard, Rachel Vinson and Emma Little. They scored a combined 35 points in the final regular season this year for Highlands. Martin did her usual thing scoring 14 points on two three-pointers to go with four assists and two steals. Highlands clinched its fifth straight season of 20 or more victories.
Epperson added nine points in her return after missing two games. Epperson added six rebounds, two assists, two blocked shots and a steal. Baioni and Epperson each made a three-pointer with Little leading Highlands with four steals and Vinson recording two blocked shots and an assist.
"We've worked in practice on rebounding and they did that," said Jaime Walz-Richey, Highlands Head Coach. "We were able to get some points in transition, which we haven't been able to do for a while. We did all the little things we needed to do."
Gabbard has been injured since the season-opening loss at Louisville Sacred Heart. But she dressed for the game.
"They asked me if I wanted to go out on the court, but I didn't really feel the need to because it's not really that, that's important," Gabbard said. "It's about being able to be with your team for your last game. I'm trying to help (my teammates) cheering them on."
Sophomore Hannah Buecker led Highlands with 15 points and Zoie Barth scored nine as 10 different Ladybirds scored. The Ladybirds made 25-of-54 shots for 46 percent including 7-of-23 from three-point range and 13-of-18 free throws for 72 percent.
Beechwood runs a lot of its offense through seniors Allison Johnson and Kimi Stokes. Johnson and Stokes came in averaging 20.3 and 14.1 points per game. But Highlands held them to 10 and five points respectively. The Lady Tigers tried to penetrate and spin to the basket. But Highlands trapped successfully to take that away for the most part.
"It's a credit to the players," Richey said. "They came out and executed our game plan. (Johnson) is an unbelievable player. She was just named Player of the Year in the 9th Region so we knew we had to get the ball out of her hands. It took all five of them out on the court to do that."
The Lady Tigers made 12-of-41 shots for 29 percent including 1-of-9 three-point tries for 11 percent and 4-of-6 free throws for 67 percent. Highlands won the rebounding battle, 37-22 and had 11 assists, 17 steals, five blocked shots and just 16 turnovers to one assist, seven steals, one blocked shot and 26 turnovers for the visitors.
"It really paid off getting our shots up and working on rebounding," Vinson said. "We had to use our strengths to our advantage. (Hard trapping) was very critical because if (Stokes and Johnson) were scoring, it would have been a close game. But trapping them and making them pass the ball meant others had to score, which they didn't."
Highlands led 39-17 at halftime. The Ladybirds extended it to 59-22 after three allowing the reserves some playing time. Freshmen Maggie Hinegardner and Meghan Walz saw their first varsity action in the win.
"I was really nervous and the speed of the game was faster than I anticipated," Walz said. "But once I got out there, it was easier to run with it."
Highlands earned the top seed in the 36th District Tournament at Dayton and will face either Newport (10-19) or Bellevue (15-14) in the semifinals on Tuesday. Game time is 6 p.m.
Following the first game, free throws doomed the Bluebirds. They made just 5-of-15 for 33 percent while the Tigers made 17-of-19 for about 90 percent.
"It's really just a mental thing," said Kevin Listerman, Highlands Head Coach. "You got to step up and knock those shots down. There's not really much you can do for the free throws other than practice them. We shoot them. There's lots of different ways to do that. The bottom line is it's hard to simulate game pressure in practice. It was just one of those nights where we shot it poorly from the free-throw line."
The six Bluebird seniors are centers Kyle Finfrock, Brent Angel, forwards Luke LaFrange, Morgan Race and guards Brad Greene and Bryce Traylor. They combined for 41 points in the losing effort. Finfrock nearly had a double-double with 14 points and nine rebounds with Greene and Traylor scoring nine each and Jacob Noe adding eight. LaFrange added seven rebounds and Greene had three assists.
Highlands won the rebounding battle, 36-33 including 13-4 on the offensive glass allowing the Bluebirds to outscore the Tigers, 17-6 on second-chance points. The Bluebirds made 23-of-59 shots for 39 percent including 4-of-18 from three-point range with Beechwood making 21-of-46 shots for 46 percent including 4-of-13 from downtown for 31 percent.
Highlands saw senior forward Owen Alcorn hit a number of jumpers in the first half on his way to 21 points and nine rebounds making 9-of-18 shots to go with two blocked shots. Junior guard Ben Toebbe came in averaging 19.1 points and finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double to go with three assists and senior guard Cole Hicks had 10 points.
"Owen Alcorn was the king (Friday)," Listerman said. "He's a different type of five (center) who can step out and shoot the three. We knew it going in. We did not do a good job of guarding him in the first half in particular from behind the arc. We did a nice job on the Toebbe kid, but then we let another guy Cole Hicks have a really good night getting in double figures. We talked to our guys about the importance of being able to defend, especially guys off the bounce in the postseason so we're going to make a real concerted effort over the next three days in practice to try to correct that as best as we can."
Eighth-grade guard Scotty Draud came in and scored six points for Beechwood. He is the son of former Highlands standout Scott Draud.
Beechwood built the lead to 31-18 in the first half before Highlands finished the half with a 9-0 run to cut it to 31-27 at halftime.
Highlands trailed 45-37 after three. But after a Greene score, Finfrock hit two tough shots on Alcorn getting him in foul trouble to trim the lead to 45-43. But Beechwood responded with six straight.
Traylor hit a three-pointer to cut the lead to 53-50 with 2:50 left in the game. Following an exchange of scores, Beechwood milked some of the clock before scoring.
The Tigers led 59-52 before Greene converted a three-point play with 27.3 seconds left to make it 59-55 Tigers. Beechwood then made four free throws to finish the game.
Highlands earned the second seed in the 36th District Tournament at Dayton. The Bluebirds take on Newport (14-15) at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in a battle to go to the 9th Region Tournament.