|Highlands to Face NewCath in 36th Title Game|
|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands junior Zoie Barth (10) goes down the middle against Dayton in the 36th District semifinals Tuesday.|
But the Highlands Bluebirds girls basketball team (23-7 overall) came into the post-season fully aware that upsets do happen. But Highlands made sure that did not happen on its home court scoring 11 points in the final 2:30 of the first quarter and cruising to a sound 69-35 36th District semifinal win over the Dayton Lady Devils (14-17) on Tuesday.
Highlands made it back to the 9th Region Tournament for the eighth straight year and 15th time since Jaime Walz-Richey took over as head coach in 2002. The only time the Bluebirds did not make it past the district semifinals during that time came in 2010 during the days of the blind draw. Highlands has won 23 straight games against district opponents in both the regular season and tournament play.
"We just talked about how it's the post-season," said Jaime Walz-Richey, Highlands Head Coach. "We're all 0-0. Whatever we did in the regular season doesn't mean anything. We have to come out and set the tone right from the bat and I felt we did that for the most part."
On the other side, Dayton has not advanced to the district championship game then on to the region tournament since 2008. The Lady Devils have lost in the district semifinals in each of the past three seasons.
The Bluebirds pressured the Lady Devils all over the court to a tune of 10 steals off 22 Dayton turnovers. Dayton recorded 11 steals off 15 Highlands turnovers.
"We wanted to speed them up," Richey said. "I felt that could be to our advantage. I think it paid off by the amount of steals and the quick points we were able to get."
Highlands saw all 15 players receive at least four minutes, 41 seconds of action. All but three scored. But they contributed at least one rebound or an assist.
The Bluebirds saw junior Zoie Barth again lead the way with 16 points knocking down 5-of-12 three-point tries. She also had four rebounds, two assists, a blocked shot and one steal. Freshman Rory O'Hara followed with 10 points. Junior Hanna Buecker and sophomore Piper Macke followed with eight each.
"We appreciate (the coaches) a lot because they tell us what we need to do to get into the game," said Olivia Gessner, Highlands junior guard. "Before the game, they tell us each individually what we should do. It helps as a team as well. It obviously helped us win (Tuesday)."
Highlands made 26-of-55 shots for 47 percent including 11-of-27 from three-point range against the Dayton zone defenses and 6-of-10 free throws for 60 percent. The Lady Devils made 10-of-38 shots for 26 percent including 3-of-7 three-point tries for 43 percent and 12-of-19 free throws for 63 percent. Junior forward Grace Workman led the Lady Devils with 12 points.
Highlands won the rebounding battle, 32-26 and had 14 assists to two for the visitors. Junior Ashley Hayes led the Bluebirds with five rebounds. Senior Brooke Dill dished out four assists for Highlands.
The Bluebirds struggled in the first five minutes of the game slowly building a 7-0 advantage. But after Johnessah Barbae hit two free throws, Buecker made consecutive triples from the right corner to spark the Highlands run.
Highlands scored 22 straight to go up 29-2 with 5:30 left in the first half. The Bluebirds led 38-11 at halftime. They scored 15 straight in the third quarter to force the running clock and go up 53-14 with 5:31 left in the quarter. The Bluebirds led 58-19 entering the fourth quarter.
"We needed the first (shot) to go in then we just got our rhythm," said Kenzie Nehus, Highlands freshman guard. "We couldn't get them in at the beginning. I think we had in our heads, 'Oh, shoot. We're not making them.' Then once we got our first shot in then our second shot, we were like, 'Okay. We got this. We can shoot."
Highlands faces Newport Central Catholic (11-16) for the district championship Thursday at 7 p.m. The Thoroughbreds beat Newport, 37-35 in the second game Tuesday.
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