|Conner Wins in Double Overtime|
|Highlands senior Meghan Walz (left) makes a move while Conner center Maddie Drummonds (right) defends. Highlands lost 48-44 to Conner in double overtime.|
But in the end, the Conner Lady Cougars (21-11) escaped in double overtime for a 48-44 victory. This marked the latest defeat in either the first or second round of the region tournament at BB&T Arena on the campus of Northern Kentucky University for Highlands. Highlands lost in the first round to the 33rd District runner-up for the third time in four seasons.
"It's a huge credit to the character of these seniors and the character of all the girls I have in this program," said Jaime Walz-Richey, Highlands Head Coach. "We ended up having a great season. This sucks. It absolutely sucks to come every year and lose first or second round. It's nothing we want to do. We push our girls as hard as we can."
Conner puts two solid posts on the floor in seniors Maddie Drummonds and Tyra Murphy. Highlands knew it had to rebound well against the dynamic duo. Drummonds, a Campbellsville University commit, finished with 20 points and eight rebounds and Murphy racked up a double-double of 18 points and 13 rebounds making 10-of-14 free throws.
The Lady Cougars wound up winning the rebounding battle, 40-26 and had 20 second-chance points to five for the Bluebirds. Junior forward Kelsey Listerman led Highlands with nine rebounds.
"That was one of the key things," Richey said. "We knew we needed to dominate the rebounds and free throws and we didn't do that. You're not going to win many games when you can't do those two things."
Despite that, Highlands had its chances. In their final games, Highlands senior guards Maggie Hinegardner and Piper Macke scored 12 and 10 points respectively and junior forward Rory O'Hara had nine. Macke also had three assists, a blocked shot and steal.
Highlands made 17-of-52 shots for 33 percent including 7-of-25 three-point tries for 28 percent and 3-of-5 free throws for 60 percent. The Bluebirds also had 19 fouls, 10 turnovers, 15 assists, two blocked shots and five steals.
Conner hit 15-of-47 shots for 32 percent including 1-of-12 three-point shots for eight percent and 17-of-25 free throws for 68 percent. The Lady Cougars also had 10 fouls, 14 turnovers, two assists, one blocked shot and three steals.
Highlands started the game hot with Hinegardner making two triples to give the Bluebirds an 8-2 lead with 4:55 left in the first quarter. But the Bluebirds did not score again until 3:52 remained in the first half when Listerman hit junior Emma Riccobene for the score. Conner only led 13-10 at that point.
Conner led 15-11 before Highlands finished the half with a 6-0 run to go up 17-15 at halftime. O'Hara hit a jumper in the center and Macke made a three-pointer from the right wing, drew a foul and converted the ensuing free throw for the four-point play with four seconds left.
The defensive struggle continued in the third quarter. Listerman scored with 7:05 left in the quarter to put Highlands up 19-17. But Conner scored seven straight points before Macke made a triple from the right wing to make it 24-22 Conner entering the fourth quarter.
O'Hara tied the game with a jumper in the first minute of the final quarter. Hinegardner then made a three from the right corner to put the Bluebirds up 27-25 before Conner ran off seven straight points to go up 32-27 with 3:48 left in the game.
But after O'Hara made a free throw and jumper with 1:03 remaining, Highlands trimmed the margin to 32-30. Listerman scored after Murphy made a free throw with 31 seconds left.
Following a Conner turnover, Highlands had a chance to take the lead, but the shot in the lane did not go in and Murphy grabbed the rebound. She made both free throws before Hinegardner made her fourth triple to tie the game at 35 with 6.8 seconds remaining.
Highlands did have a chance to win it with 1.9 seconds left when Conner turned the ball over. Macke had a nice look at the rim, but the shot did not go in sending the game to overtime.
The teams traded punches in the first overtime. But with under a minute remaining, senior forward Meghan Walz found Riccobene for the score to give Highlands a 41-39 lead.
But Murphy drove the lane with under 10 seconds remaining, drew the foul and tied the game at 41. That sent the game into a second overtime.
Conner built a 44-41 lead in the second overtime before Macke hit a triple to tie it at 44. But a Murphy offensive rebound put Conner up 46-44 for good with 51.3 seconds left. Senior forward Macey Burcham made two free throws with 12.5 seconds for Conner to make the final score.
Highlands graduates four players in Macke, Hinegardner, Walz and forward Rylee Thomas from this team that won a sixth straight 36th District title and helped the Bluebirds to an eighth straight season of 20-plus wins. Highlands will build around the likes of Listerman, Riccobene and O'Hara next season. Some injured players hope to be back at the start of next season as well.
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