|Ladybirds Conquer Weekend Challenge|
|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands senior Rachel Vinson (center) puts up a shot in a recent game while sophomore Hannah Buecker (20) gets in position.|
But now that it is over and the Highlands Ladybirds basketball team (17-7 overall) has two more 9th Region victories in the books, the Ladybirds can move them into the conquered category. Highlands used its quickness in transition following great hustle on defense to pull away from the visiting 13-14 Ryle Lady Raiders, 70-55 after beating Dixie Heights, 62-55 on Friday night, also in Fort Thomas. Highlands improved to 10-2 in 9th Region action with the victory.
Both teams try to spread out opponents in the half-court guard-oriented sets, attack the rims at various angles and create open shots all over the hardwood. The two leading scorers on both teams figured to neutralize each other. The Highlands guard duo of senior Jenna Martin (16.5 points per game average entering Friday) and sophomore Zoie Barth (14.8) outscored Ryle's young guard tandem of sophomore Lauren Schwartz (17.7 points per game average prior to Wednesday's loss at Conner) and freshman Maddie Scherr (14.9) by a 46-37 count.
Martin made 10-of-17 shots including 4-of-9 three-point tries on her way to 27 points to go with five steals and five blocks and Barth made 10-of-12 free throws on her way to 19 points to go with eight rebounds, two assists and a steal. But Highlands also saw junior post Brooke Dill hit the double-digit scoring mark hitting 4-of-6 shots on her way to 11 points.
"It was huge because we really learned to play as a team," Martin said. "We trust each other and we know that no matter who it is, we know we can score. It's not just Zoie and me."
Barth and Martin made sure Highlands had the much-better assist-to-turnover mark at 13-to-9 compared to 2-to-12 for the visitors. Highlands recorded seven steals and Ryle had five.
Scherr finished with 19 points making 7-of-13 shots and all four free-throw attempts and Schwartz hit 6-of-14 shots on her way to 18 points. Both had six rebounds. But Highlands held Scherr to 10 points after the first quarter. Senior guard Cameron Miller tried to pick up some of the slack with nine points for Ryle. Highlands Head Coach Jaime Walz-Richey especially praised Dill, Lauren Epperson and Taylor Baioni for their efforts defensively.
"It was a great win, especially after the first quarter we had giving up 23 points," Richey said. "I felt our bench was huge. (Schwartz and Scherr) are two Division I college prospects. If you let them take over a game, they can do it. The girls I had guard them did a great job. But it takes more than just those individuals. It takes a team behind them so I felt the other girls stepped up."
Ryle controlled the boards building a 23-14 lead after the first quarter. But Highlands ended up winning that battle, 32-30.
The Lady Raiders built a 29-18 lead in the first half before the Ladybirds made their run. Barth and Martin each hit three-pointers with Martin adding a steal-and-score and Barth a free throw to trim the margin to 29-27 with 1:09 left in the first half. Following a Juliet McGregor score for the Lady Raiders, Martin hit a jumper with 23 seconds left leaving the Ryle lead at 31-29 at halftime.
Highlands came out strong to start the third quarter. Martin hit another three and Barth a free throw to put the Ladybirds up 33-31. The lead went back-and-forth until the Ladybirds finished the quarter with a 5-0 run to go up 45-44. Dill hit a jumper and free throw with Barth making two free throws with 2.2 seconds left in the quarter.
Scherr scored twice to put Ryle up 48-45 to start the fourth quarter. But Highlands came back to go up 50-48 after two Epperson free throws and a three-pointer from sophomore Hannah Buecker from the right wing. Buecker also had a blocked shot later in the quarter.
"We know that if we take a shot and we miss it, we just have to get back on defense and try harder to get a stop so we can score again," Buecker said. "I was pretty happy I got that shot. I was open and I had confidence I could make it."
But after Schwartz hit two free throws to tie the game at 50, Highlands went on a 13-0 run to go up 63-50 with 2:09 left in the game. After a Buecker free throw and Barth jumper, sophomore Chloe Jansen made a key play near the basket recovering a loose ball following a turnover. Martin ultimately found Dill for a lay-up to put Highlands up 55-50.
"We said to them in the fourth quarter, they made some unbelievable hustle plays," Richey said. "That's all up to the girls going after loose balls, going after rebounds."
Ryle cut the lead to 63-54 with 1:11 left in the game. But Highlands finished the game off with a 7-1 run.
Highlands plays host to region favorite Covington Holmes on Monday at 7:45 p.m. in the Coaching vs. Cancer game. Richey will be honored before the game in addition to Highlands basketball Hall of Famers Scott Draud and Coach Ken Shields.