|Highlands Girls Face Conner for Tournament Championship|
|PHOTO: G. Michael Graham. Highlands senior guard Zoie Barth (10) puts up a floater against Owensboro Catholic in the LaRosa's Holiday Classic semifinals on Friday.|
The Bluebirds found themselves tied 29-29 with the Owensboro Catholic Lady Aces (8-4) in the semifinals of the winner's bracket entering the fourth quarter. But Highlands took the lead for good with five minutes left at 34-31 when senior Hanna Buecker made a three-pointer and won the final quarter 12-4 on its way to a 41-33 victory.
"We were down, but we found a way," said Jaime Walz-Richey, Highlands Head Coach. "We got some defensive stops and made some shots when we had to. We talked at halftime about knowing where their shooters are and making sure we rebounded. We made some adjustments on defense. I'm very proud of the girls for coming out in the second half and defending like we did."
Highlands finds itself back in the tournament championship against the host Conner Lady Cougars (12-1) for the second straight season at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. Conner won all three meetings against the Bluebirds last season including a 54-46 win in the region quarterfinals.
Highlands senior Zoie Barth again led the way with 16 points making two three-pointers and all four free throws in the game's final eight seconds. Barth also had five rebounds, one assist, one blocked shot and one steal.
The Bluebirds again spread the floor when they took the lead. With 2:32 left in the game, Highlands sophomore Rory O'Hara made a clutch basket to put Highlands up 36-31. O'Hara finished with eight points.
"Playing smart is really the key, especially when we're up," O'Hara said. "When we have the lead, we only want to take open shots because in the end, that's what is going to help us win. We all help each other out."
Defensively, Highlands contained Owensboro Catholic senior guard MacKenzie Keelin. Keelin averages about 15 points per game. But the Bluebirds held her to two points and one rebound.
Senior forward Sarah Clemens led the Lady Aces with 11 points. Junior forward Hannah McKay followed with eight.
The Bluebirds won the rebounding battle, 23-17. Buecker also had five rebounds.
Highlands made 15-of-40 shots for 38 percent including 5-of-16 three-point tries for 31 percent and 6-of-8 free throws for 75 percent. The Bluebirds also had two steals, one blocked shot, seven assists, eight turnovers and nine fouls.
"You need to pay attention to what the coaches are saying and work hard," said Emma Mallery, Highlands sophomore. "Zoie (Barth) and Chloe (Jansen) show us how to be good people. I trust them with everything."
Owensboro Catholic made 14-of-30 shots for 47 percent including 4-of-15 three-point tries for 27 percent and 1-of-2 free throws for 50 percent. The Lady Aces had three steals, five assists, no blocked shots, five assists, 12 turnovers and 11 fouls.
Highlands has won this tournament twice in the last seven years. The most recent championship came during the 2015-16 season.
Highlands 55, White Plains (Alabama) 41:
The Bluebirds (8-3) won their second straight in the Sandestin Beach Blast at Freeport High (Florida) over a team from Alabama. The White Plains Wildcats have an address for Anniston, which is near the Georgia line in eastern Alabama.
This win also marked the 100th victory in Head Coach Kevin Listeman's career. Prior to coming to Highlands, Listerman coached Bellevue to a 17-12 mark in 2002-03 before coaching Boone County to a 26-4 mark the next year. The Rebels won the 33rd District Tournament before losing 56-42 to Covington Catholic in the 9th Region championship in 2004.
"It's very gratifying to see our kids step up. That's kind of the fun in playing in a tournament," Listerman said. "You have to make the adjustments really without a lot of practice time and get a chance to see how we can respond in the heat of the moment and for the most part, our kids rose to the challenge. We controlled the majority of the game."
Highlands built a 26-15 halftime lead and led 39-33 entering the fourth quarter. But the Bluebirds pulled away with a 16-8 fourth quarter.
The Bluebirds saw three players score in double digits. Senior Alex Starkey led the way with 14 points with sophomore Sam Vinson and senior Ryan Leigh following with 11 and 10 respectively. Vinson made 9-of-10 free throws.
"They were playing our offensive tendencies a certain way so we just kind of had to keep swinging the ball and be patient," Starkey said. "You don't really get much film on (tournament opponents). We tried to find some on some of them, but some of them we can't. We just have to do our things on offense and defense as best as possible, just bring energy and we think we'll be fine every single game."
Brody Baker led the Wildcats with 20 points. Jaden Chatman came off the bench to score eight.
Highlands won the rebounding battle, 28-26. Senior Ben Sisson led the Bluebirds with five rebounds and two blocked shots before fouling out.
The Bluebirds made 18-of-38 shots for 47 percent including 3-of-15 for 20 percent from three-point range and 16-of-25 free throws for 64 percent. Highlands also had 14 assists, seven steals, three blocked shots, eight turnovers and 17 fouls. Senior Will Salmon had four assists to lead the Bluebirds.
White Plains made 15-of-41 shots for 37 percent including 3-of-8 three-point tries for 38 percent and 8-of-13 free throws for 62 percent. The Wildcats had eight assists, one steal, one blocked shot, 17 turnovers and 17 fouls.
Highlands takes on the undefeated Lexington (South Carolina) Wildcats (13-0) on Saturday at 6 p.m. The winner takes on either Cookeville (Tennessee) or Knox Central at 7 p.m. Monday in the tournament championship.