|Highlands Moves District Win Streak to 21 Straight|
|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands sophomore Maggie Hinegardner puts up a shot in a recent game.|
But such streaks can't be taken for granted. The Highlands Bluebirds girls basketball team ran its 36th District win streak in seed games and tournament action to 21 in a row with a 54-37 victory over the host Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds (5-8) on Saturday. Highlands is 3-0 in district action and NewCath fell to 2-1.
The last defeat to a district opponent came at NewCath, 55-45 on Feb. 27, 2014 in the district championship. Highlands has beaten NewCath six straight times since then and won the last three district championships.
"After Thursday's game against Walton, we had a heart-to-heart," said Jaime Walz-Richey, Highlands Head Coach. "We said, 'Hey. We have to be ready to go right off the bat. We did that (Saturday). I thought that was great. We didn't let their runs affect us. We kept on playing hard and doing what we wanted to do offensively and defensively."
Highlands did it with balanced scoring. Junior Zoie Barth again led the way with 14 points on 4-of-10 shooting including a triple and 5-of-7 free throws to go with five rebounds, four assists and four steals.
But Richey commended other players for stepping forward as Barth picked up her second foul with 2:48 left in the first quarter and had to sit part of the first half. Freshman Rory O'Hara followed with 12 points making 5-of-10 shots to go with five rebounds.
The Bluebirds did a good job working the ball in and out with nine assists compared to one for NewCath. That let juniors Ashley Hayes and Chloe Jansen score 11 points each. Hayes hit two three-pointers and Jansen added three assists and three steals.
Highlands made 19-of-39 shots for 49 percent including 4-of-10 from three-point range for 40 percent. The Bluebirds also made 12-of-21 free throws for 57 percent.
"The key was being able to work the (ball) inside and outside," Hayes said. "We couldn't just jack up a bunch of three's. We really had to get the ball to the posts so (O'Hara) could go one-on-one with the other players."
Defensively, the Bluebirds limited the Thoroughbreds to 13-of-42 shooting for 31 percent including 2-of-14 for 14 percent from three-point range. NewCath did make 9-of-10 free throws for 90 percent.
Highlands held Thoroughbred senior guard Lexy Breen to just three points on a three-pointer. Breen had six rebounds and a steal, but picked up her fourth foul just 1:29 into the second half.
"Whenever the other team's best player gets in foul trouble, it's always an advantage to us," Richey said. "It's just like Zoie picking up her second in the first. That was an advantage to NC and that allowed them to stay in the ballgame. Foul trouble stinks. Thankfully, Zoie was able to withstand her foul trouble and be able to play a complete game."
NewCath did not see anyone reach double digits. Senior guard Alexis Pangallo came the closest with nine points. Highlands once again did a solid job trapping to contain all over the court.
"We stress defense so much in practice and watching film," Richey said. "We know defense is going to win championships. The girls are learning to play together. They're communicating a lot better. It's great to see considering we have one senior. The rest are underclassmen. We're just trying to get better each and every day. I felt when the girls came out, we got better after this game."
Highlands won the rebounding battle, 28-23. The Bluebirds also had 10 steals off 15 NewCath turnovers while yielding four steals on 10 turnovers against an opponent known for solid on-ball pressure.
"We worked on that," Jansen said. "We knew (the on-ball pressure defense) was coming. We're building off that. We have ball handlers at every position so everyone can handle the ball during the game if needed to."
Highlands scored the game's first six points and never looked back. The Bluebirds led 13-8 after one and 25-18 at halftime. Barth hit three free throws to give the Bluebirds that halftime lead.
The Bluebirds started to put some distance with the hosts in the third quarter. They extended the lead to double digits three times and entered the fourth quarter up 42-30.
The largest lead came with 3:58 remaining in the game at 17 points. Barth hit a free throw to make it 47-30 Bluebirds.
Highlands also won the junior varsity game, 38-34. Freshman Emma Riccobene had a huge block with less than 10 seconds left and sophomore Meghan Walz made 1-of-2 free throws to preserve the Bluebird win.
Sophomore Piper Macke led Highlands with 11 points. Macke is still waiting to be ruled eligible to play varsity basketball after transferring from Covington Holy Cross. Starting Nov. 18, 2016, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association voted to allow student-athletes declared ineligible as a result of provisions in Bylaws 6, 7 and 8 as applicable to the varsity level only.
But Macke said her teammates have been very welcoming. As a freshman at Holy Cross last year, Macke earned Junior Varsity Most Valuable Player honors.
"I couldn't have asked for a better team and coaches to come back home to," Macke said. "They've been great. If I was in a bad situation, I'd be able to reach out to any single one of those girls."
Highlands travels to Cooper (7-10) on Tuesday. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
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