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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Highlands handles Holmes, 76-60

Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

The Highlands Bluebirds girls basketball team recorded another sound 9th Region home win Thursday.

The Bluebirds (18-7) tallied 28 points in the second quarter to pull away from the visiting Covington Holmes Lady Bulldogs (11-12) on their way to a 76-60 victory. They moved to 11-2 in region play as a result of their 12th win in the last 15 games.

The Twin Towers led the way for Highlands scoring about 53 percent of the points. Leah Schaefer made 9-of-21 shots and 6-of-10 free throws on her way to 24 points to go with eight rebounds, three assists, a blocked shot and steal. Jesse “Dirt” Daley followed with 16 points making 6-of-10 shots and 4-of-5 free throws. Daley also had seven rebounds, two assists and a steal.

Highlands put together its usual balanced scoring. Sophomore Alex Combs followed the Twin Towers with 12 points making 4-of-9 shots including 2-of-6 from three-point range. Senior Emilie Parton made 3-of-5 shots from three-point range for nine points.

The Bluebirds put together another efficient shooting night. They made 27-of-57 shots for 47 percent and 15-of-21 free throws for 71 percent. Highlands also hit half of its 14 shots from downtown. Brianna Adler and McKenzie Leigh also made three-pointers for the Bluebirds.
Holmes made 18-of-46 shots for 39 percent including 4-of-11 three-pointers for 36 percent. The Lady Bulldogs did make it to the free-throw line more making 20-of-30 attempts for 67 percent.

Tamra Holder and Deja Turner led Holmes with 13 points respectively and Jynea Harris followed with 10. The Lady Bulldogs saw nine players score.

Overall, Highlands committed 25 fouls to 16 for Holmes. Two players fouled out for the Lady Bulldogs and three finished with four for the Bluebirds.

Highlands dominated inside. The Bluebirds outscored the Lady Bulldogs, 24-14 in the paint. They also had 1.24 points per possession to .96 for Holmes.

The Bluebirds return home Monday against Woodford County (14-11). Game time is 6:30 p.m.  

Blind draws need to be eliminated

G. Michael Graham

I, G. Michael Graham, have covered high school sports now for 15 years in five different states.

There are things in each state that make you scratch your head. But in Kentucky, the idea of blind draws for district tournaments in any sport ranks at the top of the list.

For years, the districts that comprised of Highlands, Newport Central Catholic, Newport, Dayton and Bellevue High Schools have done that in basketball, baseball, volleyball and softball and I think it’s absolutely ridiculous. In fact, in some cases, it’s been a travesty like this year. Blind draws need to be done away with and never even thought about again.

In other states like Tennessee, Texas and Alabama, the district teams played each other and received seeds in the district tournament. There were no questions asked about this.

The volleyball teams broke this trend in the fall. The five schools faced each other and received seeds in the tournament. NewCath took the top seed and Highlands took the second seed. Highlands ended up beating NewCath for the 36th District championship.

Both teams lost in the first round of the 9th Region Tournament. But the bottom line is they were the district’s two best teams and rightfully represented the 36th in the regional tournament.

The five schools voted 3-2 for seeds in the basketball tournament next year at the annual meeting Monday. The ones who voted for the seeds were Highlands, NewCath and Newport. But unfortunately, they’re a year too late at least on the girls’ side.

Both basketball teams at Highlands and NewCath drew each other to play in the semifinals at Highlands on Feb. 19. Then on the other side of the bracket, the Dayton and Bellevue teams face off Monday before the winners meet the Newport teams on Wednesday.

The Highlands and NewCath girls teams rank in the top five in the 9th Region and one will not even play in the region tournament. Just think, the likes of Nikki Kiernan and Alexus Mayes of NewCath or the Highlands Twin Towers of Jesse “Dirt” Daley and Leah Schaefer and teammates like Brianna Adler and company will not set foot on the Bank of Kentucky Center Floor to play in the regional tournament this year. It’s pathetic.

Highlands and NewCath manhandled Newport earlier in the season. They’ve not faced Dayton or Bellevue. Dayton, Bellevue and Newport have played schools their size for the most part in both boys and girls basketball.

This is not the first time that has happened. Back in 2010, the Highlands and NewCath girls met in the semifinals. Highlands had a nice 19-8 record and NewCath was 21-2. The Thoroughbreds won 55-47 after edging Highlands, 35-33 in the regular season. NewCath, led by Courtney Sandfoss, went on to win its second of four straight district championship under Ron Dawn. On the other hand, Highlands, led by seniors Katie Allen, Hope Cutter and Bekah Towles, did not get to advance to the regional tournament for the only time since Jaime Walz-Richey has been head coach. Highlands eliminated NewCath in 2008 in the first round of the tournament.

On the boys side, NewCath has demonstrated it is the best team in the 36th with a sparkling 23-2 mark while Highlands has struggled. The Thoroughbreds beat Newport twice and also handled Bellevue and Highlands. Highlands lost to NewCath and Newport but beat Bellevue handily in the second game of the season. Dayton is struggling at 2-16 so you’d have to assume that Newport and Highlands are the second and third seeds respectively if seeds were handed out.

The Highlands and Newport rematch could have gone either way. But again, we’ll never know because of the blind draw unless both advance to the title game.

For years, Dayton, Bellevue and Newport probably voted for the blind draw so that one of them could advance to the regional tournament every so often. They’ve had problems competing with Highlands and NewCath historically. The advantage to Highlands and NewCath is they don’t have to play those district opponents and can fill their schedules with more competitive games.

Granted, the Newport boys have been competitive in recent seasons. The Wildcats had a chance to tie the Thoroughbreds in the All “A” 9th Region title game with 10 seconds left but traveled and NewCath iced the game with free throws.

But this goes back to what guest columnist Will Chambers talked about a few weeks ago. That’s a state of mediocrity. Why only send one of two best teams to the region tournament?

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association is partly to blame for a lack of consistency in all sports when it comes to district seeding. The KHSAA requires all district opponents play each other in football then have playoff seeds. That’s not the case with the other sports.

My thoughts on this subject are simple. If you don’t want to be humiliated in the district tournaments, then drop out. Pendleton County has done this for the next two seasons in Class 4A, District 7 football. Better yet, you can get together with other schools and lobby the KHSAA for classes.

But blind draws need to be eliminated. I don’t like mediocrity and unfairness and I know others feel the same way. There is no way the two best teams in the district should have to face off to make the region tournament and there’s no way the best team in a five-team district should have to face the second or third-best teams to make region.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Hoops Roundup: HHS boys, girls, NCC boys post victories

Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

The Highlands Bluebirds basketball team rallied from 12 down to win in the Queen City on Tuesday.

Highlands (9-13) knocked off the host Cincinnati Schroder Jaguars (2-11), 42-41. The Bluebirds did not lead until 20 seconds remained in the game.

Jake Gronotte led the Bluebirds with 10 points. Teammate Luke Turner followed with eight.

The Jaguars saw two players reach double-figures. Ditalion Battle led the way with 14 and Kenny Duke had 11.

The Bluebirds do not play again until Friday. They travel across the Licking River to face the undefeated Covington Holmes Bulldogs (23-0). Game time is 7:30 p.m.

Highlands girls 78, Beechwood 39:

The Bluebirds (17-7) put out their highest point total of the year in the home win over the Lady Tigers (7-14). They also improved to 4-0 when scoring 71 or more points in a contest.

Highlands jumped out to a 20-9 lead after the first quarter and exploded for 29 in the second quarter to go up 49-18. The largest lead for the Bluebirds was 75-35 in the fourth quarter.

The Bluebirds shot an astounding 31-of-47 for 66 percent for the game, including 9-of-19 from three-point land for 47 percent and 20-of-27 for 74 percent in the first half. Highlands also made 7-of-9 free throws for 78 percent.

The Lady Tigers made 15-of-42 shots for 35 percent, including 5-of-19 from downtown for 26 percent. They also made all four free-throw attempts.

Highlands dominated the rebounding battle, 32-12. McKenzie Leigh led Highlands with 11 rebounds.

Jesse “Dirt” Daley led Highlands with 22 points making 11-of-12 shots and four rebounds. Alex Combs followed her with 14 points making 4-of-5 three-point shots. The Bluebirds outscored the Lady Tigers, 28-10 in the paint.

Vanessa Fisse followed with nine points and Brianna Adler made two three-pointers on her way to eight. Adler tied Leah Schaefer with a team-high four assists.

Beechwood put two players in double-figures. They were Allison Johnson with 12 and Olivia Stokes with 11.

Highlands returns home Thursday against Covington Holmes (11-11). Game time is 7:30 p.m.

Newport Central Catholic boys 55, North College Hill (Oh.) 51:

The Thoroughbreds crossed the river Tuesday and downed the former Ohio state power for their 11th consecutive win two days after winning the All “A” State Tournament.

NewCath (23-2) placed three players in double-figures led by Nick Seibert with 15. Drew had 13 points and seven rebounds with Jake Schulte scoring 10 points and grabbing eight rebounds.

The Thoroughbreds made six three-pointers and 9-of-13 free throws for 69 percent. Michael Bueter hit two on his way to eight points with Zach Pangallo, Seibert, Jake Haas and Ben Weyer making one each.

The Trojans saw three players score 10 each. They were Jujuan Linzy, Michael Shaw and Kendall Green. Green added a three-pointer.

North College Hill made five triples and 6-of-9 free throws for 67 percent. Green made one of those three-pointers.

NewCath hits the road again Friday at Bishop Brossart (19-4) for a 7:30 p.m. contest.

36th District Pairings Set:

The 36th District Basketball Tournament blind draw took place at noon Tuesday.

The tournaments to be held at Highlands came out identical. The Highlands and Newport Central Catholic basketball teams face off in the semifinals on Feb. 19. The girls teams play at 6 p.m. and the boys take the floor at 7:45 p.m. On the other side, the Dayton and Bellevue squads face each other on Feb. 18 and those winners take on the Newport teams on Feb. 20. The boys championship game is Feb. 21 at 7 p.m. and the girls championship is Feb. 22 at the same time.

Monday, January 28, 2013

NewCath girls fall short in bid for All "A" title

Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

FRANKFORT – The Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds girls basketball team hoped to redeem itself after missing a golden opportunity a year ago.

NewCath lost 38-36 in overtime to Walton-Verona in the All “A” Championship game at the Frankfort Convention Center last year and blitzed its first three opponents to earn that shot. But after shooting well the first three games, NewCath couldn’t shoot consistently and fell 52-42 to the Owensboro Catholic Lady Aces on Sunday.

This marked the second consecutive runner-up finish after winning the tournament in 2010. NewCath has advanced to at least the semifinals five straight years losing in those games in 2009 and 2011. The Thoroughbreds also finished runner-up in 2001 and 2007.

“I really think Owensboro Catholic got up to play good defense,” said George Stoll, NewCath head coach. “They’ve given up some points so far this tournament. We missed some good looks. But at the same time, they did a great job. They have some length, size and strength. You have to tip your hat off to them.”

Owensboro Catholic won its second title in three years. The Lady Aces knocked off Monroe County, 65-60 in the title game in 2011. But standout forward and Duke University signee Rebecca Greenwell missed last season with a torn Anterior Cruicated Ligamant injury.

NewCath made just 16-of-49 shots for 33 percent, including 3-of-19 from three-point range for 16 percent. But Owensboro Catholic’s size had something to do with that. Greenwell stands 6-foot-1-inches and guarded Thoroughbred standout guard Nikki Kiernan in the second half and limited Kiernan to two points after Kiernan scored 13 in the first half.

“In the first half, I don’t think I did a good job of guarding her,” Greenwell said. “In the second half, I came out and tried to faceguard her more and front her because she would get me down low far under the basket and post me up. That’s how she was getting all her points. I was in foul trouble. I feel like I did better on her in the second half.”

Kiernan still grabbed nine rebounds falling just on shy of her 14th double-double of the year. She also had two blocks and a steal.

“It’s very disappointing,” Kiernan said. “But we can’t hang our heads. We have to keep working harder.”

The other NewCath starters tried to make up offensively. Stephanie Lewis and Alexus Mayes scored eight points respectively. Lewis made two three-pointers and Michaela Ware hit the other on her way to seven points.

Owensboro Catholic played a man-to-man defense. NewCath has seen plenty of zones attempting to take away Mayes and Kiernan down low. The Thoroughbreds hit eight three-pointers in the semifinal win over Bishop Brossart on Saturday.

“I told our girls if they’re going to beat us, they’re going to beat us from behind the arc,” said Ray Zuberer, Owensboro Catholic head coach. “I still want to get a hand up. I felt like (Saturday), (Bishop Brossart) was just letting them shoot. I don’t believe in that. Odds are someone can hit open shots.”

Lewis also took on the difficult task of defending Greenwell. Greenwell finished with a double-double of 17 points and 15 rebounds making two three-pointers. Stoll said Lewis did a good job against her.

“(Lewis) made (Greenwell) give it up a lot,” Stoll said. “Before she even shot it, (Lewis) had her hand up. We held her to 17 points and we weren’t even in a box-and-one (defense). She’s seen a box-and-one this entire tournament. We played a straight man against them.”

But Owensboro Catholic did create problems with its penetration. Post Kaylyn Pearson led the Lady Aces with 18 points and grabbed six rebounds.

Owensboro Catholic won the rebounding battle, 37-23. That included 11-7 on the offensive glass. The Lady Aces outscored the Thoroughbreds, 7-2 on second-chance points.

The Lady Aces made 19-of-40 shots for 48 percent. They also made 12-of-19 free throws for 63 percent.

NewCath tried to catch up with its patented on-ball pressure defense. The Lady Aces had 15 turovers to 11 for the Thoroughbreds. Both teams picked off seven passes. Mayes had three steals to lead NewCath as the Thoroughbreds outscored the Lady Aces, 13-9 off turnovers. Owensboro Catholic used some full-court pressure, but it did not bother NewCath.

Kiernan scored two quick buckets and Mayes added another to give NewCath a 6-0 lead out of the gate. The Thoroughbreds led most of the first quarter until a Pearson score gave Owensboro Catholic the lead at 9-8.

Kiernan then tied the game at 13 with two free throws with seven minutes left in the second. But Greenwell made a three-pointer to give Owensboro Catholic the lead for good.

Owensboro Catholic led 28-26 at halftime and 41-35 entering the fourth quarter. NewCath cut the margin to six twice in the fourth quarter, but came no closer.

NewCath will be heavily favored to return for another title shot next year. The Thoroughbreds graduate just Jillian Hoover in the spring. Hoover unfortunately has not played this season because she tore her Anterior Cruciated Ligament in the fall.

“It’s been really hard for me, but I’m proud of how the girls have played,” Hoover said. “It’s good that they’ve made it this far when no one thought they could.”

NewCath does not play again until Friday. The Thoroughbreds play host to Simon Kenton (19-4). Game time is 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

NewCath boys run away for All "A" State Title

Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

FRANKFORT – It came down to a battle of size against speed and whichever basketball team controlled the tempo to its liking would most likely come out victorious.

That turned out to be the Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds in the All “A” Boys State Championship on Sunday at the Frankfort Convention Center. They slowed the tempo down, pounded the ball inside to their tall posts and ran away for a 75-54 win over the Bardstown Tigers for their second state championship. The other title came in 2000.

The Thoroughbreds have won 10 in a row to move to 22-2 since dropping consecutive games to defending state champion Louisville Trinity and Covington Catholic. They had lost in their four previous appearances in the state semifinals, including 2011.

“I told the guys this morning that we have to play to our identity,” said Grant Brannen, NewCath head coach. “We have to move the ball around and execute our plays. Those kids did it to perfection. They came ready.”

The Tigers (19-6) also came into the game with hopes of winning their second title, but had to settle for runner-up honors to another 9th Region opponent. They lost 52-51 on a last-second shot to Covington Holy Cross last year.

“They used their mismatches and we should have used ours and capitalized on them as well,” said James Brewer, Bardstown head coach. “That’s a good team. My guys played hard from day one until now. I’m very proud of them. It just wasn’t God’s will for us to come out victorious.”

NewCath again had balanced scoring as four of the five starters reached double-figures. It started in the paint with Drew McDonald. The tournament’s Most Valuable Player tore Bardstown up in the interior for a double-double of 21 points and 11 rebounds. McDonald made 8-of-13 shots and 5-of-6 free-throw attempts. He added four assists and two blocked shots.

“Our size just killed them,” McDonald said. “They couldn’t guard Jake and me down low, and we took advantage of it. I have two years (of high school) left and I’m looking forward to them. But I’m definitely going to enjoy this.”

Senior guard Michael Bueter matched McDonald’s efforts with 21 points and four assists. He made 5-of-8 shots including 2-of-4 from downtown and 9-of-11 free-throw attempts.

Bueter and Jake Schulte joined McDonald on the All-Tournament Team. Schulte had 12 points making 6-of-8 shots and nabbing eight rebounds to go with two blocked shots.

Nick Seibert and Zach Pangallo also had good games for the Thoroughbreds. Seibert finished with 11 points making 3-of-6 shots and all five free-throw attempts and added three steals.

Pangallo directed the offense against Bardstown’s 2-2-1 press. He finished with eight points making the other 2-of-4 NewCath three-point shots.

“We saw the scouting report and saw the middle was wide open so we wanted to get the ball to the middle,” Pangallo said. “We do our best to stay calm and get the ball up the court as fast as we can. We don’t try to rush things because we don’t want any dumb turnovers.”

Seibert again drew a tough defensive task against Bardstown guard Devonte Grundy. Seibert used his 6-foot-5-inch frame to limit Grundy to 14 points and 12 rebounds. Grundy made just 5-of-20 shots, including one three-pointer and all three free-throw attempts.

“We know that defense wins games,” Seibert said. “My job is to make guys go to the basket. I have two tall bigs that are going to help me at all times. We just played hard. That’s what got the job done.”

Elijay Cowherd came off the bench and led Bardstown with 21 points on 3-of-5 from three-point range. He added three assists.

But the Thoroughbreds held Marcus Cosby to seven points. Cosby made just 2-of-6 shots including 1-of-4 from three-point range.

Bardstown won the rebounding battle, 35-26 including 21-6 on the offensive glass. But the Tigers still did not shoot better than the Thoroughbreds and outscored NewCath just 16-11 on second-chance points.

NewCath again shot an astounding 25-of-42 from the field for 60 percent and made 21-of-25 free throws for 84 percent. Bardstown made just 19-of-60 shots for 32 percent and 11-of-12 free throws for 92 percent.

The Thoroughbreds put the game away with an 18-0 run in the second half. That ballooned their 38-37 lead with 3:25 left in the third to 56-37 with 6:31 left in the game. McDonald scored seven during that run.

“Getting that double-digit lead was huge,” Brannen said. “We went on a nice run and were able to put it away.”

The Tigers cut the margin to 11 once after that when Cosby scored on a three-point play. That made the score 60-49 in favor of NewCath with 4:14 remaining in the game.

McDonald had given NewCath the lead for good at 35-33 with 6:06 remaining in the third. Schulte assisted on the play.

NewCath finished the first half with a 5-0 run to go up 31-26 at halftime. Schulte scored on an offensive putback and Pangallo made a triple.

There were 10 lead changes prior to that point. Bardstown’s largest lead was one point on three separate occasions.

The Thoroughbreds return to action Tuesday. They cross the Ohio River to face North College Hill at 7:30 p.m.

NewCath boys break through in All "A" Semifinals

G. Michael Graham Photo. Newport Central Catholic point guard Michael Bueter dribbles against Knott County Central's Camron Justice (5) while Evan Hall (24) gets into position. Bueter scored 21 points to go along with two assists and three steals as the Thoroughbreds beat the Patriots, 49-44 to advance to their first All "A" State Championship game since winning it all in 2000.

Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

FRANKFORT – The Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds boys basketball team wanted nothing more than to end the unwanted streak Saturday.

The Thoroughbreds came into the All “A” State Tournament with an 0-4 mark in semifinal contests since winning the championship in 2000. The tournament favorites had to knock off the 14th Region champion Knott County Central Patriots from the mountains of eastern Kentucky to do that.

NewCath held off a KCC rally in the fourth quarter to accomplish the feat, 49-44. The Thoroughbreds (21-2) have won nine in a row. The Patriots (20-4) had won 9-of-10 contests coming into the game. The Thoroughbreds had lost in the semifinals in 2011, 2006, 2005 and 2004 and are 18-9 in the tournament all-time.

“That’s a testimony to our kids,” said Grant Brannen, NewCath head coach. “We’re really proud of them. We’ve had a tough road. We had to play four games from our (9th) region to get here. We had to win seven in a row to get here. We have to win two more than in the NCAA Tournament. But we have one more to go and these kids know that. It will be a tough one with Bardstown.”

The Thoroughbreds face the 19-5 Bardstown Tigers at 2:30 p.m. back at the Frankfort Convention Center for the title. The 5th Region champion Tigers beat Bishop Brossart, 58-50 in the other semifinal contest.

Brannen wanted to see NewCath make more three-pointers because teams would eventually start to sag down against the Thoroughbred big men in 6-foot-8-inch Jake Schulte, 6-5 Nick Seibert and 6-6 Drew McDonald so NewCath needed to hit more outside shots. Senior guard Michael Bueter answered the call making 3-of-6 three-pointers and 4-of-6 free throws on his way to a game-high 21 points.

“It’s great to see NCC represented well down here,” Bueter said. “My role is to knock down shots and get these big boys open. Once I do that, it’s a little easier for them to go to work. I feed off them well because they draw so much attention. As a leader, I have to get everyone ready to go.”

KCC ran a 2-2-1 zone press trying to catch up. The Thoroughbreds turned the ball over just 10 times and recorded nine assists to 16 turnovers and eight assists for the Patriots. Zach Pangallo led NewCath with six assists.

NewCath made 20-of-43 shots overall for 47 percent, including 4-of-13 from three-point range. Pangallo made the other one for the Thoroughbreds after they made just two triples combined in the wins over Somerset and Louisville Holy Cross in the first two games of the tournament.

The Patriots doubled and tripled the NewCath posts every time they touched the ball. Only Schulte came away with double-figures with 12 points and eight rebounds. Schulte hit all six shots and blocked a shot.

“It was really frustrating,” McDonald said. “They really packed it in. They saw the first two games where they pounded it down low to myself and Jake and we scored. But Mike and Zach hit some big threes to open things up for us down low.”

But each player that came in still did little things to help the Thoroughbreds to the victory. NewCath held KCC to 38 percent (15-of-40) shooting from the field, including 4-of-16 from three-point range for 25 percent.

Schulte drew the tough assignment of defending Patriot post Evan Hall. Hall scored just one point on a free throw after torching Owen County for 22 points in the quarterfinals.

“Our goal was to front him,” Schulte said. “We also had good help-side defense. That’s what won us the game.”

Guard Camron Justice led the Patriots with 20 points making all seven free throws. Teammate Chance Cornett followed with 12 points and nine rebounds.

Free-throw shooting made the came close at the end. The Thoroughbreds made just 5-of-11 for 46 percent compared to 10-of-13 for 77 percent for the Patriots. But Bueter made 4-of-6 free throws in the game’s final 1:25 to seal the win for the Thoroughbreds.

NewCath fell behind 5-2 to start the game. But Buter made two three-pointers to give the Thoroughbreds the lead for good at 8-7 with 2:45 remaining in the quarter. Pangallo followed with a three-pointer and Schulte and Bueter added buckets to cap a 7-0 NewCath run to give the Thoroughbreds a 15-7 lead after the first quarter.

Both teams struggled offensively in the second quarter. Schulte hit a lay-up with 6:54 left in the quarter for NewCath’s lone score. But the Patriots managed just six points in that quarter as the Thoroughbreds led 17-13 at halftime. McDonald and Bueter picked up two fouls in the first half and had to sit some.

“The goal for the second quarter was not to necessarily push up the lead, but sustain it,”Brannen said. “I told them at halftime we pushed basketball back 50 years. It was real entertaining to watch there in the second quarter.”

The Thoroughbreds pulled away in the third quarter with a 14-1 run to go up 31-14 with 2:34 left in the stanza. Bueter scored off a couple steals during that run for NewCath. The Thoroughbreds led 33-23 entering the fourth quarter.

Both teams will be aiming for their second state championship. Bardstown won it in 2006 and lost on a last-second shot to Covington Holy Cross, 52-51 last year.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Montgomery County snaps Highlands girls winning streak; boys fall to Conner

Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

The Highlands Bluebirds basketball team saw its five-game winning streak snapped by the Montgomery County Lady Indians, 63-52 Saturday in Fort Thomas.

Highlands had fallen behind and rallied in its two recent wins over Conner and Covington Holy Cross. But that did not happen in this game. The Bluebirds trailed 19-11 after the first quarter and 34-25 at halftime.

Montgomery County (19-5) also came into the game on a five-game winning streak. The Lady Indians have won the 10th Region seven of the previous eight seasons.

Highlands (16-7) did cut the margin to 47-40 entering the fourth quarter, but could pull off the win. Montgomery County’s biggest lead was 14 at 41-27 to start the third quarter.

Both teams saw three players score in double-figures. Jesse “Dirt” Daley led Highlands with 19 points making 7-of-11 shots and 5-of-6 free-throw attempts. Fellow Twin Tower Leah Schaefer scored 11 points making 5-of-6 free throws and Haley Coffey made 2-of-4 three-point shots for 10 points. Daley added nine rebounds.

Macie Spence, a 6-foot-3-inch center, led the Lady Indians with 18 points making 9-of-12 shots and eight rebounds. Teammates Erica Rogers and Olivia Colliver followed with 14 and 13 respectively. Colliver made all four three-point attempts and Rogers finished 2-of-7 on three-point attempts.

Montgomery County turned the ball over 12 times to eight for Highlands. The Bluebirds recorded 11 steals to five for the Lady Indians. Schaefer and Brianna Adler led Highlands with three thefts each.

But the Lady Indians shot better despite taking 15 fewer shots. They hit 24-of-45 shots for 53 percent, including 6-of-11 from long-distance for 55 percent and 9-of-11 free throws for 82 percent.

On the other side, Highlands made 18-of-60 shots for 30 percent including 5-of-25 from downtown for 20 percent. The Bluebirds also hit 11-of-14 free throws for 79 percent.

The Bluebirds play host to Beechwood (7-12) on Tuesday. Game time is 7:30 p.m. in Fort Thomas.

Conner boys 54, Highlands 40:

The Bluebirds hoped for consecutive wins for consecutive wins for the first time since beating Middlesboro to finish off the Pikeville Invitational Tournament and Villa Madonna.

That did not happen as the Cougars (9-10) built an 11-point 25-14 advantage and held on for the win in Fort Thomas on Saturday. Conner also led 36-25 entering the fourth quarter.

Samuel Hemmerich kept hitting big shots to keep Highlands in catch-up mode. He finished with 18 points on four three-pointers and Brady Padgett followed with 11 for the Cougars. Teammate Andrew Way added nine points on three three-pointers.

Junior Nick True led the Bluebirds finishing with a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds. Luke Turner followed with 10 points for the hosts.

Highlands (8-13) hits the road for four straight road games Tuesday. The Bluebirds travel to Cincinnati Schroder for a 7:30 p.m. contest.


NewCath girls thrash Brossart, 63-37 in All "A" Semifinals

G. Michael Graham Photo. The Newport Central Catholic girls basketball players, coaches and trainer watch with joy as the Thoroughbreds pulled away from Bishop Brossart in the second half of Saturday's 63-37 win in the All "A" Semifinals. NewCath faces Owensboro Catholic for the state championship Sunday at 12:30 p.m.

Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

FRANKFORT – Opposing girls basketball teams have tried it all year long.

They pack the middle against junior standout Nikki Kiernan and force the Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds to beat them from outside. It did not work early in the season because NewCath hit shots from outside.

But it began to work some once the Thoroughbreds stopped hitting from there consistently. NewCath still found other ways to win for the most part.

However, the Thoroughbreds knew they’d eventually hit from the outside again. They may have just found their shooting touch in Saturday’s win over the rival Bishop Brossart Lady Mustangs, 63-37 in the All “A” State Semifinals at the Frankfort Convention Center. NewCath also beat Bishop Brossart, 65-55 on Dec. 17.

NewCath faces 2011 champion Owensboro Catholic (15-5) of the 3rd Region at 12:30 p.m. Sunday for the title. The Lady Aces beat Gallatin County, 73-60 in the other semifinal.

NewCath (19-4) made 8-of-30 three-pointers – four in each half – for 27 percent as Bishop Brossart (18-5) came out in mixture of zones to pack things in against Kiernan and Alexus Mayes. Ansley Davenport led the way in that department making 3-of-7 shots from outside with Michaela Ware, Stephanie Lewis, Kiernan, Chelsea Schack and Sarah Neace making one each.

“What can be tough is when (opponents) are not playing far off from you, you shoot, miss and it gets to your head,” said George Stoll, NewCath head coach. “That’s what we talked about before during one of the timeouts. We told them to think about how many three-pointers they’ve shot from the wing in their lives. We had to step in there, shoot it with confidence and they’re going to go in.”

Mayes scored 15 of her team-high 17 points in the second half as NewCath pulled away. Lewis added 14 and Davenport had nine as the Thoroughbreds saw nine different players score.

“Once we got the three-pointers going, we felt more confident to take more shots,” Davenport said. “I always try to find different spots and try to get my feet set.”

The Lady Mustangs held Kiernan to eight points – all in the second half – after she torched them for a triple-double of 19 points, 12 rebounds, and 12 blocks in the December meeting. Kiernan still dominated the glass with 19 rebounds and rejected six shots.

“It was very frustrating because it makes it harder for us to score,” Kiernan said. “Luckily, they laid off our teammates and we had enough teammates come in and make up for them doubling and tripling (myself and Mayes).”

That marked Kiernan’s lone triple-double of the season. She has 12 double-doubles.

NewCath outrebounded Bishop Brossart, 47-37. That included 13-8 on the offensive glass. The Thoroughbreds outscored the Lady Mustangs, 18-0 in second-chance points. Mayes and Lewis nabbed eight rebounds each. Lewis had most of those points off five offensive rebounds.

“They were worried about (Mayes and Kiernan) so I just took advantage of it,” Lewis said. “I went and got the ball then tried to put it back up hoping it would go in.”

The Thoroughbreds hit 21-of-57 shots for 37 percent and made 13-of-21 free throws for 62 percent. They also committed just seven fouls.

On the other side, the Lady Mustangs made 15-of-55 shots for 27 percent including 4-of-14 from three-point land and 3-of-9 free throws for 33 percent. Bishop Brossart committed 17 fouls.

“Offense is the fun part, but defense is what wins games,” Mayes said. “We worry more about defense. If we do well on defense, our offense comes to us naturally.”

Both teams took good care of the basketball. NewCath had six turnovers and three steals to eight turnovers and four steals for Bishop Brossart. The Lady Mustangs did try to speed the game up with full-court pressure later in the game.

The Thoroughbreds dished out 11 assists to seven for the Lady Mustangs. Ware had five for NewCath.

“They do a great job with the man-to-man press,” Stoll said. “I told them before the game the key is to make sure they take care of the basketball. It’s not just one person. It’s everyone. We did a great job of that in the second half.”

Brossart led early in the contest, 7-2. But Davenport hit her first three-pointer to cut the margin to 7-5 and the NewCath confidence grew from there. Lewis hit her lone triple with 1:01 left in the quarter to give the Thoroughbreds a 10-7 advantage.

NewCath doubled Bishop Brossart in the second quarter to go up 24-14 at halftime. Lewis scored six in that quarter including an offensive putback with 44 seconds left.

“When you have the talent inside with Mayes and Kiernan, you have to pick your poison of what you’re going to do,” said Josh Feldmann, Bishop Brossart head coach. “We tried to take those two away. Our main thing is we couldn’t put the ball in the hole. If we’d have made some shot early, we could have stayed with what we were doing and put some pressure on them.”

The Thoroughbreds kept expanding the lead in the second half. They led 43-25 entering the fourth quarter.

NewCath is making its third appearance in the All “A” title game in five seasons. The Thoroughbreds won it in 2010 and fell in overtime to Walton-Verona in the title game last year.

Friday, January 25, 2013

NewCath advances to sixth All "A" Semifinals since 2000

G. Michael Graham Photo. Newport Central Catholic guard Brennan Devoto (23) gets in defensive position in Friday's 60-46 All "A" State Quarterfinal win over Louisville Holy Cross.

Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

FRANKFORT – Many expected the Newport Central Thoroughbreds boys basketball team to use its size to run away with this All “A” State Quarterfinal contest.

The Thoroughbreds (20-2) did that en route to their eighth straight victory. But it took some time in a 60-46 victory over the 6th Region champion Louisville Holy Cross Cougars (6-16) on Friday at the Frankfort Convention Center.

Holy Cross started off the season losing its first 14 games. But things turned around in the All “A” 6th Region Tournament. The Cougars lost five of those contests by five or fewer points.

NewCath used that size to make 27-of-49 shots for 55 percent. That included 15-of-24 in the first half for 63 percent. Holy Cross made 17-of-44 shots for 39 percent, including 8-of-20 in the first half for 40 percent.

The Thoroughbreds also won the rebounding battle, 33-23 including 23-16 on the defensive glass. They also rejected six shots to two for the Cougars.

Drew McDonald and Jake Schulte did most of the damage for NewCath. McDonald had 17 points and seven rebounds and Schulte had a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds to go with three blocks.

“Our game plan was to make them play up and down,” said Mike Durham, Holy Cross head coach. “We didn’t turn them over as well. But they got the ball inside. Our biggest kid is 6-foot-2. It’s hard to defend that. They probably had 15 pounds per kid on us, too.”

But NewCath did not shoot the ball well from outside making just 2-of-9 shots for 22 percent. Michael Bueter hit both of them on his way to 12 points. NewCath also made just 4-of-12 free-throw attempts for 33 percent compared to 9-of-12 for 75 percent for the Cougars.

“Teams are going to pinch in and we’re eventually going to have to knock down some outside shots if we’re to keep winning,” said Grant Brannen, NewCath head coach. “We’ve only made two three-pointers this whole tournament so far. I think the rest of our opponents have a decent amount of size so they’ll try to match up with our bigs.”

NewCath ventured down the road to battle arch-rival Highlands on Tuesday. The Thoroughbreds pounded the Bluebirds, 59-22 before beating Somerset, 47-33 to open the tournament Thursday.

“Playing Highlands right before we came down here was big,” Schulte said. “It was a great game for us to get our mindset ready for this. We wanted to show who’s number one in the (36th) District.”

Guards Dominique Mack and Jack Schmitt kept Holy Cross in the game in the first quarter. Mack finished with 18 points and Jake Schmitt made two three pointers on his way to 13 points.

Mack had 11 points at halftime. Holy Cross made 3-of-11 three-point attempts for 27 percent.

“You had to stay down on (Mack),” said Nick Seibert, NewCath forward. “He was strong like Coach (Brannen) said. You had to move your feet and make him shoot it over you.”

Holy Cross led most of the first quarter. Schulte had an offensive putback with 1:18 left in the quarter to give the Thoroughbreds their first lead at 12-11. After Bueter scored, Schmitt hit a triple with two seconds left to tie the game at 14 after the first quarter.

But the Thoroughbreds took the lead for good with a 10-0 run to start the second quarter. McDonald scored twice and Schulte added two more buckets during that run that gave NewCath a 24-14 lead with 6:14 left in the first half.

The Thoroughbreds led by as many as 13 three times in the second quarter. They led 30-17 after a Bueter score and took a 34-21 advantage into halftime after Zach Pangallo hit Seibert for an alley-oop lay-up with three seconds left.

“You have to give them credit,” Brannen said. “(Schmitt) hit two big threes there to start (the first quarter) off. Obviously, Mack is a strong guard. We’ve been having our issues with strong guards this year. Luckily, in the second quarter, we executed our game plan and got it inside. That made a difference.”

Holy Cross did trim the margin to nine once at 34-25. But NewCath continued to dominate inside and expanded the margin to as many as 23 points in the third quarter. Ben Weyer gave the Thoroughbreds that advantage of 53-32 with an offensive putback with 1:23 left in the quarter.

NewCath held that lead going into the fourth quarter and that gave some reserves playing time. Holy Cross won the final stanza, 14-7 to make the score more respectable.

The Thoroughbreds face the 14th Region champion Knott County Central Patriots (20-3) on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. back at the Frankfort Convention Center. Knott County Central held off 8th Region champion Owen County, 57-49 to punch its ticket to the semifinals.


NewCath girls advance to All "A" Semifinals

G. Michael Graham Photo. Newport Central Catholic junior standout Nikki Kiernan (24) prepares to shoot a free throw in Friday's 55-35 win over Webster County in the All "A" State Quarterfinals. Kiernan had another double-double of 31 points, 15 rebounds, six blocked shots, a steal and assist in the victory.

Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

FRANKFORT – On paper, the Webster County Lady Trojans basketball team figured to challenge Newport Central Catholic’s run of four consecutive trips to the All “A” State Semifinals.

But the Thoroughbreds jumped on the Lady Trojans from the beginning and made sure that did not happen. NewCath pounded the ball inside to standout Nikki Kiernan and she scored the game’s first seven points as the Thoroughbreds cruised to a 55-35 victory Friday.

Kiernan once again controlled the paint with another double-double of 31 points and 15 rebounds against Webster County’s man-to-man defense. She added five blocked shots, an assist and steal in the win. Kiernan made 10-of-15 shots from the field and 11-of-16 free-throw attempts.

“We run four out and one in the middle and it gives her some space to work,” said George Stoll, NewCath head coach. “That’s where our offense starts. It’s not very often that we have a distinct height advantage against a good team, but (Friday) we did. We thought they’d play a little more zone, but they didn’t end up playing it too much. We kept on getting the ball (inside).”

The Thoroughbreds (17-4) have won seven straight since dropping a 63-41 decision to Louisville Sacred Heart at home on Jan. 5. They handed the Lady Trojans their worst loss of the season. Second Region champion Webster County had lost just twice this season to the same opponent in Henderson County by a combined seven points.

“I’ve been saying for several weeks now that we’re about the worst 17-2 team in the state,” said Parker McCalister, Webster County head coach. “We just have not played the level of competition we need to play to get better. Nothing against the teams in our region, but the level of competition in the 2nd Region is not even close to what it is in Lexington, Louisville and Northern Kentucky. But I knew that coming in.”

Kiernan did not receive a lot of double and triple-teams down low like she’s seen throughout the season. She often caught the ball in the paint made and move and scored.

“It was exciting because there wasn’t a lot of pressure so I could pretty much do whatever I want,” Kiernan said. “That surprised me a lot.”

Kiernan scored 20 points in the first half as NewCath built a 28-13 advantage. She made 10-of-13 shots for 77 percent and grabbed nine rebounds in that half.

“We faced (Owesboro Catholic standout and Duke Signee) Rebecca Greenwell in the preseason,” McCalister said. “I told the team (Kiernan) will be as good of a high school basketball player as Greenwell is. She’s pretty amazing. She’ll be a tremendous college player.”

Overall, NewCath made 17-of-38 shots for 45 percent, including 12-of-25 in the first half for 48 percent and 2-of-7 overall from three-point range. NewCath shot better from the free-throw line making 19-of-29 shots for 66 percent.

Stephanie Lewis followed Kiernan with seven points and Alexus Mayes had six. Lewis and MiKayla Seibert hit one three-pointer each for NewCath.

“We were second-guessing our shots. We were going for the second ones instead of taking the first ones,” Mayes said. “We need to pay better attention to defenses. If they come out with their hands down, we need to shoot it. If they have their hands up, we need to drive past them and we’ll have our shots right there.”

Mayes, Lewis and Michaela Ware had two assists each for the Thoroughbreds. Webster County tried full-court pressure in the first half but backed off when NewCath burned the pressure for easy scores.

The Thoroughbreds again played solid defense holding the Lady Trojans to 19 percent (11-of-59) from the field and 0-for-6 from three-point range. That included 3-of-25 from the field for 12 percent in the first half.

NewCath held Webster County junior standout guard Mariah Herrera to a team-high 11 points. Herrera likes to score in transition. No one else had more than five points for the Lady Trojans.

“We did an outstanding job against (Herrera),” Stoll said. “I don’t think she had any lay-ups against us in transition. We also did a great job with our half-court defense. We made them set up in the half-court (offense).”

The Thoroughbreds also won the rebounding battle, 42-31. After Kiernan, Mayes had six rebounds and Lewis had five.

NewCath led 19-6 after the first quarter. The Lady Trojans did not make their first field goal until 3:31 remained in the first quarter when Herrera made a lay-up.

“I was most disappointed at the heart and effort of our kids in the first half,” McCalister said. “It’s okay to lose, but it’s not okay to just quit. They didn’t try very hard so that’s pretty disappointing.”

Webster County cut the margin to 10 once in the third quarter with 3:28 left at 31-21, but came no closer. NewCath’s largest lead was 51-28 with 3:07 left in the game.

The Thoroughbreds face arch-rival and 10th Region champion Bishop Brossart (18-4) at 10 a.m. Saturday. NewCath beat the Lady Mustangs, 65-55 on Dec. 17. Brossart edged Frankfort, 41-40 in the first game Friday.

“Everyone knows Brossart is a big rival for us,” Stoll said. “We’re right next to each other. Most of the girls face each other growing up in grade school. We know each other very well. It’s going to come down to whoever wants it more that day. We just have to be ready to play.”

NewCath beat Brossart, 63-41 in the semifinals last year before dropping a 38-36 overtime decision to Walton-Verona in the title game. NewCath won the tournament in 2010.