Story Matters

Story Matters

THE Official HHS Football Site

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Outworking the Competition

G. Michael Graham Photo. Highlands Co-Head Football Coach Brian Weinrich guides the players in a recent offseason workout. The Bluebirds expect to have about 100 players on the sidelines this fall.

Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

The Highlands Bluebirds football tradition of outworking opponents in the offseason seems to be continuing this winter.

About a month after winning their state-record sixth consecutive state championship, the returning players hit the conditioning and weight lifting regime hard. The players work out on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

If opposing players, coaches and fans were astonished at the number of players on the Blue and White sideline last year, this will really blow them away. It’s a reason the Bluebirds tend to be deeper than most of their opponents and are currently tied with Honolulu Iolani (Hawaii) High School for the most consecutive state championships in the country.

“We have had about 80 guys show up each day,” said Dale Mueller, Highlands co-head coach. “During the winter, the 20 basketball players and one swimmer that will play football didn’t attend so we expect about 100 guys on the team next year.”

The Bluebirds dressed 91 players on varsity last year. They faced some opponents that had about 30 to 40 players on the sidelines.

“When you have as many people that we have that come out for weight and conditioning, it creates more depth on the team,” said Kyle Thurston, Highlands rising senior offensive lineman. “Everybody wants to play. We all try as hard as we can to get on the field.”

There were many times that Highlands faced better players in practice. But they still made sure they dominated the opponents. They knew they would not play if they did not play hard.

“When you have numbers like that, you just have more chances of developing more quality athletes,” said Brian Weinrich, Highlands co-head coach. “It’s a good problem right now because of the space. We’re trying to find places to put everybody. We’re pretty creative in the things we do.”

A typical day starts with stretching, lifting weights then doing different workouts on a daily basis. Weinrich said the emphasis is to work different muscles and develop the total body. Weinrich also said the staff wants to find workouts that challenge the bodies and minds of the players. This includes position work.

“It’s definitely all worth it,” said Seth Hope, Highlands rising senior defensive lineman. “Even though it’s really tough, I like doing it, especially after we win all these games and have all these rings. It doesn’t matter what we’re doing. We’re all friends.”

The Bluebirds pride themselves on having players go just one way. They often wore down opponents doing that. They get to spend extra work on that one position as opposed to splitting up the week with both positions.

“We were talking in the weight room as coaches that we almost feel bad because we don’t have to be in their face,” Weinrich said. “We can walk around and talk to the guys. They’re so self-motivated right now that it’s almost scary. With that, we can find time to have some fun. We’re going to get better at the end of the day.”

The Bluebirds know they have to keep the motivation level high because every team is gunning for them. But Highlands has withstood pretty much every challenge going 87-3 in the last six years.

“You have to do everything hard. You can’t hold back on anything,” Thurston said. “Even if the people you face are small, you still have to go 100 percent. We just want to win every game by as much as we can and not hold back on anything.”

Mueller said the one loss last year 38-24 to Cincinnati Elder made the Bluebirds stronger. The defensive line is trying to better prepare for huge offensive lines.

“Last year, I was at 230 pounds and was the biggest guy on the field on the defense,” Hope said. “Some of those guys were pushing 350. Right after that loss, we started lifting every day before every practice to get bigger and stronger to compete at the next level. That’s the only thing that held us back. We’re going to make that extra push to get to the top on the national stage.”

In other news, Highlands recently had a big-name visitor on campus. Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer came to Fort Thomas. The Buckeyes are recruiting Hope.

“I’m real close to making my dreams happen,” Hope said. “I always wanted to play (NCAA) Division I college football. We’ll see what kind of opportunities come at the end of next year.”

The regular season starts in August. Highlands will face six different opponents this year. More details will come when the schedule is finalized.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Holmes, Bolden hand NewCath premature loss

G. Michael Graham Photo. The Newport Central Catholic students showed up in full force in Tuesday's 9th Region quarterfinal game against the Holmes Bulldogs. The Bulldogs won 55-50 to end the Thoroughbreds season.

Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS – It marked a tough end to a great season.

Arguably the two best teams in the 9th Region drew each other in the region quarterfinals and things turned the other direction. The Covington Holmes Bulldogs defeated the Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds 55-50 win Tuesday at Northern Kentucky University’s Bank of Kentucky Center in front of a nice crowd.

Holmes improved to 29-2 to move onto the regional semifinals. NewCath (30-3) saw its 18-game winning streak snapped including an 88-85 double-overtime win at Holmes on Feb. 8.

NewCath had not been shooting well entering the tournament and it hurt in the loss. The Thoroughbreds made just 18-of-48 shots for 38 percent including five three-pointers and 9-of-12 free throws for 75 percent.

“They were sagging and leaving us open from 15 feet (out),” said Grant Brannen, NewCath head coach. “We weren’t knocking down shots. Knocking down shots in the end is different than knocking down shots in the first 30 minutes.”

Holmes did not shoot much better making just 16-of-44 shots for 36 percent. But the Bulldogs did make 19-of-30 free-throw tries for 63 percent.

Sophomore James “Beetle” Bolden spearheaded the Bulldog charge with 22 points. He made two three-pointers and 6-of-7 free throws.

“It was a total team effort,” said Jason Booher, Holmes head coach. “Our defense was outstanding. Like I told the guys, it wasn’t going to be another 88-85 double-overtime game. I knew it would be in the 30s, 40s, maybe the 50s. But these guys scrapped and clawed every defensive possession.”

Bolden scored 11 points in that third quarter when Holmes pulled away. The Bulldogs turned a 24-23 advantage into a 35-25 lead with an 11-2 run. Bolden had six points and two assists during the run. The Bulldogs ran their transition offense well during that run.

Sophomore Drew McDonald kept NewCath in the game with 13 of his team-high 19 points in the third quarter. The Thoroughbreds used a 7-0 run to cut the margin to 35-32 in the third before Bolden hit a jumper with three seconds left to make it 37-32 Holmes entering the fourth quarter.

“We knew we had to play really well to beat them,” said Nick Seibert, NewCath forward. “They’re a very good team and we just didn’t execute on our plays. I’m proud of all my teammates and will miss all of them.”

The only other double-digit scorer for either team was NewCath guard Michael Bueter with 12 points. Bueter’s hit three three-pointers in the final two minutes of the game including one at the buzzer. Bueter, Jake Schulte and Bolden all had to sit a good portion of the second half with foul trouble.

The rebounding against a smaller team really hurt NewCath. The Thoroughbreds won that battle just 34-33. Chris Englemon led everyone with 14 rebounds for Holmes.

“If we don’t outrebound or be right there with them, we have no chance to win the game,” Booher said. “They get a lot of scoring on offensive putbacks with those two trees (Schulte and McDonald) in there.”

Both teams recorded 10 offensive rebounds each. McDonald had 11 to record a double-double for NewCath and Schulte had nine.

“We did a good job of limiting them to one shot the first time,” Brannen said. “We were unable to do that this time.”

NewCath did have more assists and blocks than Holmes with 13 and four respectively. Zach Pangallo led NewCath with five assists and Jake Schulte led the Thoroughbreds with two rejections. McDonald added four assists and a block.

Holmes had seven assists and no blocks. Bolden led the Bulldogs with five assists.

The game stayed close in the first half with the foul trouble. It was tied at 10 at halftime and McDonald scored to give the Thoroughbreds a 19-18 halftime advantage.

McDonald scored again to give NewCath a 21-18 lead with 6:29 left in the third quarter. But Bolden scored two buckets in a 6-0 Holmes run to put the Bulldogs up 24-21 with five minutes left.

Both teams struggled in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter. Bolden hit two free throws to put Holmes up 44-35 with 2:08 remaining.

NewCath did cut the lead to four with less than a minute to go with a three-pointer at 51-47. But Holmes made 4-of-8 free throws to pull away.

The Thoroughbreds graduate Bueter, Seibert, Brennan Devoto, Colin Dupont and Jake Haas. They still won the All “A” State Tournament, the Ashland Invitational and fifth consecutive 36th District title.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Highlands girls, NCC boys hoops teams open 9th Region Tourney against Holmes

G. Michael Graham Photos. Above, Highlands post Jesse "Dirt" Daley (24) and Vanessa Fisse (15) get down in defensive position in a recent game against Simon Kenton. Below, Newport Central Catholic guard Zach Pangallo (11) brings the ball up-court in the All "A" State Tournament while Jake Schulte (33) gets in position. Both teams drew Covington Holmes to open the 9th Region Tournament.

Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

COVINGTON – The 9th Region basketball draw worked out well for one 36th District champion and not so well for the other in terms of overall matchups.

Both the Highlands Bluebirds girls (24-7) and Newport Central Catholic boys (28-2) basketball teams drew the respective teams from Covington Holmes in Saturday’s draw held at Covington Holmes. The tournament will again be held at Northern Kentucky University’s Bank of Kentucky Center.

The blind draw pitted the four district champions against the four district runners-up in the first round. District opponents went to different sides of the bracket.

Both Holmes teams finished as 35th District runners-up. The injury-riddled Lady Bulldogs (13-17) lost to Notre Dame, 58-37 and the Bulldogs fell 73-72 to the Covington Catholic Colonels when Colonel junior Nick Ruthsatz hit a half-court three-pointer as time expired.

Highlands handled visiting Holmes, 76-60 on Jan. 31 during its eight-game winning streak. The Bluebirds have won 13 of their last 14 contests on their way to their first district championship since back-to-back titles in 2007 and 2008. The teams meet at 8 p.m. Friday.

On the other side, NewCath ventured across the Licking River to face then-25-0 Holmes and outlasted the Bulldogs, 88-85 in double overtime on Feb. 8. The Thoroughbreds have won 18 in a row. The teams meet Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

The Lady Bulldogs have won just two of their last eight contests. Head coach Scott Calcaterra said nine of his 19 players in the program have suffered injuries this year, including two injuries. Senior Tamra Holder went down against Holy Cross in the 35th Semifinals. Teammates Amanda Johnson and Deja Turner have also sat out with injuries at times this year. But Highlands will prepare for them as if Holder is going to play.

“You always want to prepare for the best they’re going to offer,” said Jaime Walz-Richey, Highlands head coach. “Turner is an outstanding guard that can really shoot the moment she comes into the gym so we have to be aware of her. We just have to be ready to go on Friday.”

Calcaterra knows he will have “a lot of sleepless nights” preparing Holmes for the deepest team in the region. The Senior Twin Towers in Jesse “Dirt” Daley and Leah Schaefer lead the way along with Brianna Adler. But other players like Ava Abner, Vanessa Fisse, Emilie Parton, Haley Coffey, Alex Combs, Lydia Graves and McKenzie Leigh have found ways to contribute this year.

Calcaterra jokingly said he may try to play stall ball the way Highlands did against Notre Dame last year in the first round of the tournament in a 13-8 defeat. But he admitted the players would not have the patience for that.

“We’ll watch a lot of game film from the time we played,” Calcaterra said. “I’ll have to really sit down and try to figure out a strategy. We’re hoping we can build off last year with the experience of getting to the regional tournament and play with a little bit of confidence. It’s going to boil down to playing better defense for us.”

NewCath has been receiving teams’ best shots and expects nothing different in the tournament with Holmes. The Thoroughbreds have made the last two regional championships before losing close games to Boone County last year and Dixie Heights two years ago.

NewCath is the favorite because of its size. The All “A” State Champions start 6-foot-5-inch Nick Seibert, 6-6 Drew McDonald and 6-8 Jake Schulte and bring 6-4 Ben Weyer off the bench. But guards Micheael Bueter, Zach Pangallo, Colin Dupont and Brennan Devoto need to hit crucial outside shots to keep teams from collapsing on the tall players.

“We’re going to have to play to our identity like we have been all year,” said Grant Brannen, NewCath head coach. “We haven’t been shooting well lately and we’ll have to guard well. To win it, we’ll have to go through three really tough teams.”

Holmes (28-2) will counter with its quickness led by sophomore James Bolden. The Thoroughbreds need to keep Bolden out of the middle. He likes to drive and either shoot or dish off to wide-open teammates when opponents slide into the lane to teammates like Daquan Palmer and Rashawn Coston.

“You’re talking about two Top 10 teams in the state,” Brannen said. “It wasn’t the ideal draw. But you’re eventually going to have to face (the Bulldogs) anyway. It is a tough draw, but you have to go with it. That’s the great thing about the season. You never know what’s going to happen.”

Not only did Highlands avoid favorite Notre Dame (23-5) in the first two round of the tournament, the Bluebirds also managed to avoid a possible second-round matchup with the Boone County Lady Rebels (17-11). Boone County and veteran head coach Nell Fookes have won three of the last four region crowns and five of the previous nine. 

Highlands did manage to knock off Boone County twice, including a 61-35 domination in Florence on Jan. 16. But teams still know they’re up against a veteran head coach in Fookes, who knows how to pull off magic in the postseason. In a down year after the graduation of current Florida Gator Sydney Moss, Boone County still won the 33rd District as a four seed.

Highlands finished 14-2 in region play, including 8-1 against the rest of the field. The two losses came to Notre Dame, 63-48 on Jan. 8 and Newport Central Catholic, 56-54 on Jan. 4. Notre Dame finished undefeated in region play at 13-0. The Pandas have won 12 in a row. The Bluebirds avenged the loss to NewCath in the 36th Semifinals, 48-40.

A win over Holmes pits the Bluebirds against either Dixie Heights (16-15) or Ryle (11-18). Highlands beat both teams by a combined 64 points during the regular season. Former Highlands and Xavier standout Tara Boothe-Smith coached Dixie Heights to its first 34th District title since 2008 in her second year as head coach after serving as an assistant at Highlands.

“It’s really exciting for me and the kids on the team,” Smith said. “They’ve worked their butts off to have that opportunity.”

Smith would not look beyond Ryle. But a second-round matchup would match the top two career scoring leaders in Highlands girls hoops history against each other for the third time. That semifinal game takes place Sunday at 1:30 p.m. The championship game is Monday at 7 p.m.

On the other side, the Thoroughbreds finished 18-1 in region play. Their lone loss came 50-48 to Covington Catholic on The Hill on Jan. 10.

If NewCath survives the battle against Holmes, the Thoroughbreds will face either Cooper (23-5) or St. Henry (10-15) in the semifinals at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. The title game is 6 p.m. Sunday.

The Thoroughbreds did manage to avoid facing two of the best players in the region in the first two rounds. Dixie Heights (17-13) features junior 2,000-point career scorer Brandon Hatton and Covington Catholic (25-6) features Ruthsatz.

Both teams will be playing on a large floor. The teams will see a lot of space behind the baskets unlike normal high school gyms.

“It shouldn’t bother shooters because all shooters have one spot they look at when they shoot,” Richey said. “They may need to make some adjustments in warm-ups. But after that, they should be good to go.”

Both teams are looking for their first region crowns in quite some time. Highlands last won the region in 2001 and NewCath last won the title in 2000.


36th Girls Championship: Highlands runs away from Newport, 66-27

Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

When teams come in heavily favored, they tend to look at opponents and think, “Oh. They’re no good. We can take the night off.”

The Highlands Bluebirds girls coaching staff made sure the hosts (24-7) washed away any traces of that mentality quickly in the 36th District Championship game here Friday. Head Coach Jaime Walz-Richey and staff benched the starters with 5:20 left in the first quarter and just a 2-0 lead on two Jesse “Dirt” Daley free throws.

The Bluebirds responded well. The reserved used a 7-0 run to put Highlands up 15-7 after the first quarter and cruised to a 66-27 win over the Newport Lady Wildcats (18-12) for its first district championship since consecutive titles in 2007 and 2008. The Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds won the previous four titles.

“We told them we have to be prepared from here on out,” Richey said. “We can’t have mental lapses like we did. We didn’t have energy to begin the game. That’s why I benched them and brought my subs in.”

Vanessa Fisse scored seven of her 12 points in the first quarter for Highlands. The Bluebirds led just 8-7. But Fisse started the 7-0 run with a three-pointer and jumper on the left side. McKenzie Leigh finished it with a lay-up.

“We just had to show (Newport) respect and play against them the way we did against NewCath,” said Emilie Parton, Highlands senior. “That’s how we knew we were going to win. We had to step it up and play good defense or we were going to see the bench like (the starters) were.”

The Bluebirds had too much depth for the Lady Wildcats. They saw 10 different players score to just four for the visitors. Tournament Most Valuable Player Brianna Adler led Highlands making five three-pointers on her way to 15 points and Leah Schaefer followed with 10. Schaefer and Fisse also made the All-Tournament team with NewCath forward Stephanie Lewis.

Schaefer let out a scream after the game. In addition to winning their first district title while in high school, the Bluebirds also ended an eight-game losing streak to the rival Thoroughbreds in the semifinals Tuesday as a result of the blind draw.

“I’m so excited,” Schaefer said. “I’m not sure why we started off slow. The subs picked it up and did really well for us. We have a really deep bench and everyone on this team can play so if someone is having a bad game, someone else can go in and pick up where we left off.”

Highlands made 24-of-49 shots for 49 percent, including eight three-pointers. The Bluebirds also did well from the free-throw line again making 10-of-12 attempts for 83 percent.

Newport made just 10-of-43 shots for 23 percent including three triples and 4-of-6 free throws for 67 percent. Kylie Orr led the Lady Wildcats with 11 points.

The Bluebirds pressured the Lady Wildcats all over the court forcing 23 turnovers on 20 steals while committing 11 on nine Newport steals. Fisse led Highlands with four thefts with Schaefer and Lydia Graves recording three each.

“We knew we could go deep in our bench this game,” Richey said. “We wanted to use that to our advantage to get all the girls experience in the district tournament. At one time, I had all my freshmen along with Alex (Combs) and Lydia (Graves) out there. Usually when they’re in, Haley (Coffey) and Brianna are out.”

The Bluebirds did a great job balancing between going for steals and committing fouls. They committed just eight to nine for Newport. Only one Highlands player finished with more than one foul.

“You have to pretty much be in help side or denying the ball,” Adler said. “When you’re in help defense, you have to run and get it and try not to slap (opponents). We got in foul trouble once before and it wasn’t very pretty. So we tried to get in help side and get the pass.”

The Bluebirds also did a better job distributing the ball then the Lady Wildcats and controlling the paint. Highlands had 15 assists to seven for Newport. Adler led Highlands with four assists.

The Bluebirds also turned away six Newport shots to three blocks for the Lady Wildcats. Leigh led Highlands with three blocks.

Highlands put the game away with a 12-0 run to start the second quarter. Adler made two three-pointers and Schaefer scored three buckets during that run that gave the Bluebirds a 27-7 advantage with 4:35 left in the half.

Highlands led 35-14 before another 7-0 run expanded the lead to 42-14 at halftime. Adler made another three-pointer with Graves recording a steal and coast-to coast score and Coffey making two free throws.

The Bluebirds used another 9-0 run to go up 51-16 with 5:40 remaining in the third quarter and enforce the running clock. Schafer scored two buckets to lead the run.

Highlands finished that quarter with another 7-0 run to go up 63-20 entering the fourth quarter. Combs scored her four points during that Bluebird run.

The biggest lead of the game for Highlands came at 43 points with 7:36 left in the game. Graves gave the Bluebirds that lead with a free throw.

Highlands will be going for its first regional title since 2001 starting early next week at the Bank of Kentucky Center at Northern Kentucky University. The Bluebirds won three consecutive regional titles when Richey played in 1994, 1995 and 1996. Highlands finished state runner-up during Richey’s sophomore season in 1994.

Friday, February 22, 2013

36th Boys Final: NCC captures fifth consecutive crown

Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

The Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds boys basketball team knows it will have to withstand the best shots from opponents to reach more goals.

But the Thoroughbreds are just fine with that. Battle-tested NewCath has withstood tough challenges all season on its way to Ashland Invitational Tournament and All “A” State Tournament championships. Add a fifth consecutive 36th District Championship to the impressive year with Thursday’s 50-42 win over the Newport Wildcats at Highlands.

“It’s never easy, especially against a Newport team that’s really good and well-coached,” said Grant Brannen, NewCath head coach. “We came and missed some shots. They missed some shots. But in the end, it was a nice win. We’ve built our season with championships. But our toughest road is ahead of us for sure.”

NewCath won its 18th consecutive game with its third win over the Wildcats (20-10) to move to 30-2 on the season. The Thoroughbreds also beat the in-town rivals, 80-51 on The Hill on Jan. 2 before beating them again, 61-54 just 17 days later to capture the All “A” 9th Region title at Bellevue.

“I like it like that because no game is going to be easy,” said Nick Seibert, NewCath senior. “We come in the mindset that we’re going to win every game. We come in and work as hard as we can knowing (opponents) are not going to lay down.”

NewCath also had to beat Highlands a second time on Tuesday to make the district championship. But while the first win meant the Thoroughbreds won’t see the Bluebirds again this season, they could again face the Wildcats in the 9th Region championship game at Northern Kentucky University.

NewCath did a good job in the half-court game on both ends. Offensively, the Thoroughbreds worked the ball inside to its tall players and Newport had no answer for 6-foot-6-inch Tournament Most Valuable Player Drew McDonald. McDonald dominated the Wildcats for 22 points making 10-of-18 field-goal attempts to go with six rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots.

“Drew has been a force all year,” Brannen said. “He didn’t have a very good first quarter. I was wondering if he could walk and chew gum at the same time so I asked him. But in the second quarter, he came through and played really well the rest of the game.”

The Thoroughbreds received their usual balance. Zach Pangallo, Michael Bueter and Seibert scored eight each to follow McDonald. Bueter and Seibert also made the All-Tournament team along with Highlands senior Luke Turner.

NewCath made 20-of-50 shots for 40 percent with no three-pointers and 10-of-14 free throws for 71 percent. Seibert led the Thoroughbreds making 4-of-6 free throws with Pangallo, Bueter and McDonald all making both free-throw attempts.

Defensively, NewCath played a 1-3-1 trapping zone using its size to make things difficult for the Newport guards. The Wildcats turned the ball over 11 times to nine for the Thoroughbreds.

NewCath contained the Newport brother guard tandem of JaSean and JaQuan Short. The duo combined for just nine points after scoring 31 in the All “A” 9th Region title game.

“We wanted to keep pressure on (the Short brothers) and not let them get open shots,” Seibert said. “We knew we could force turnovers with our length and that’s what we did.”

Their teammates tried to pick up the slack. Marquis Commodore led the Wildcats making 4-of-4 free-throw tries for 12 points with Cody Pearson and Aroyal Wright scoring eight each.

The Wildcats hit 17-of-49 shots for 35 percent with three-pointers from JaSean Short and Ethan Snapp. They also made 6-of-8 free-throw tries for 75 percent.

The teams made things difficult near the basket. NewCath rejected eight shots led by four from Jake Schulte and Newport turned away seven led by Commodore with three.

Both teams recorded 33 rebounds. Commodore led Newport with 15 for a double-double and Schulte grabbed 13 for the victors.

The squads battled to an 8-8 tie after the first quarter. Newport led 14-10 early in the second before McDonald scored twice to give NewCath a 16-14 lead with 3:58 remaining.

After the Wildcats tied the game at 16, the Thoroughbreds finished the quarter with an 8-0 run to go up 24-16 for good. McDonald hit a jumper in the center to finish off that scoring.

NewCath built the lead to double-digits in the third quarter. The Thoroughbreds led 38-26 entering the fourth quarter. They led by 14 by a 38-24 score at one point after Bueter hit two free throws after Wright received a technical foul coming up-court and McDonald hit a jumper.

The Thoroughbreds increased the lead to 14 twice in the fourth before the Wildcats used a 6-0 run to cut the margin to eight. Newport cut the margin to 44-37 with 1:36 remaining before the Thoroughbreds made six consecutive free throws to ice the game.

Thoroughbred reserves Ben Weyer, Colin Dupont and Brennan Devoto came in contributed some to give the starters relief. Weyer said the upperclassmen are doing a great job being examples to younger players.

“We’re definitely one big family,” Weyer said. “I’m starting to realize that. Everyone just works really hard.”

NewCath will not know its first-round opponent until the 9th Region draw takes place at Holmes at 9 a.m. Saturday. The Thoroughbreds take on the losing team from either the 33rd, 34th or 35th District championship games to be played Friday.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

36th Boys Semifinals: NCC holds off Highlands, 48-37


G. Michael Graham Photo. Newport Central Catholic guard Brennan Devoto (23) passes to Zach Pangallo (11) while Highlands' Drew Houliston (25) defends in Tuesday's game. The Thoroughbreds won 48-37 to advance to Thursday's 36th District championship game against either Bellevue or Newport at 7 p.m.

Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

Many felt the 9th Region preseason favorites would again run away with this boys basketball contest.

But the hosts did not let their season end without a fight staying in the game until the end. The Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds built a lead behind Michael Bueter’s shooting and held off the host Highlands Bluebirds, 47-38 in the 36th District Semifinals on Tuesday.

NewCath won its 17th straight overall to move to 29-2 and Highlands’ finished the season at 12-16 for a two-game improvement over last year. The Thoroughbreds have won seven in a row in the series including a 59-22 victory in Fort Thomas on Jan. 22.

“That’s a hostile environment,” said Grant Brannen, NewCath head coach. “I told everyone and nobody believed me. It was going to be a tough one. We knew Highlands had a bad game that last time.”

The Bluebirds came into the game playing their best basketball of the season. They finished the regular season with three consecutive wins.

“It was late in the year,” said Mike Flynn, Highlands head coach of the team coming together. “But it’s never too late. Our guys showed tremendous character. (NewCath) is a better basketball team obviously. I thought we outfought them and outworked them.”

NewCath will shoot for its fifth consecutive district championship Thursday at 7 p.m. back at Highlands. The Thoroughbreds face either Newport (19-9) for the third time this year or Bellevue (14-15) for the second time this year. NewCath beat Newport in a regular-season matchup before downing both teams in the All “A” 9th Region Tournament.

“That was a very ugly win,” said Jake Schulte, NewCath post. “We knew they’d come out with nothing to lose. We’re happy we’re back in region this year. Our main goal has been to get to Rupp (Arena for the state tournament) ever since losing in the regional finals last year.”

Michael Bueter’s outside shooting in the first half turned out to be the difference in the game. He made four three-pointers all in that half to lead the Thoroughbreds with 17 points.

“It was huge,” Bueter said. “(Highlands) was packing it in to make it tough to get the ball inside to our bigs. We needed someone to knock down outside shots to get them open. That’s what I was doing.”

Bueter made three triples in a row to give NewCath the lead for good with an 11-0 run to start the second quarter. Nick Seibert started the run with an offensive putback. The Thoroughbreds led 18-9 with 4:12 left in the second quarter.

Late in the game, NewCath made its free throws to pull away. The Thoroughbreds hit 12-of-15 for the game for 80 percent, including 6-of-9 for 67 percent in the fourth quarter.

Drew McDonald made 9-of-10 free throws to lead NewCath on his way to 13 points. The other three starters in Seibert, Jake Schulte and Zach Pangallo scored six points each to round out the Thoroughbred scoring. McDonald also grabbed 14 rebounds for a double-double.

“Give Highlands credit,” Brannen said. “Coach Flynn had a great game plan and took away all our stuff. We missed our first six shots. I don’t care what people say. You have to knock down the outside shot if they’re going to leave you wide open.”

The Bluebirds saw three players reach double-digits. Drew Houliston and Luke Turner led the way with 12 each and Bailey Witte scored 10. Highlands made 4-of-7 free throws for 57 percent.

“We knew Turner and Houliston were the two guys who could shoot,” Brannen said. “They hit some timely three’s.”

Both teams shot just 31 percent from the field. NewCath made 16-of-51 shots including four three-pointers and Highlands made 15-of-49 with five three-pointers. Houliston and Turner made two each and Witte made the other.

“As usual, I wish we could have shot better,” Flynn said. “That was our bugaboo all year. But as far as effort is concerned, I could not be happier.”

Highlands won the rebounding battle against the taller Thoroughbreds, 40-33. Nick True led the Bluebirds with 10 rebounds and Schulte followed McDonald with eight.

But NewCath did reject seven shots to one for Highlands and recorded 12 steals on 20 Bluebird turnovers. The Bluebirds had just five steals on 10 NewCath turnovers. Pangallo recorded five steals for the Thoroughbreds with Bueter and McDonald rejecting two shots each. Turner recorded three steals for Highlands.

The Bluebirds led a couple times in the first quarter. Karl Hinkel had a three-point play with 17 seconds left to put Highlands up 9-7 after the first quarter.

Highlands cut the margin to three at 28-25 late in the third after a Houliston three-pointer. But Bueter and Seibert buckets gave NewCath a 32-25 advantage heading into the fourth quarter. The Bluebirds came no closer than seven in the final quarter.

The Bluebirds graduate four seniors. They are Turner, Witte, Hinkel and Jake Gronotte.

36th Girls Semifinals: Highlands hits 23-of-25 free throws to beat NCC

G. Michael Graham Photo. Highlands freshman Brianna Adler (10) prepares to shoot a free throw in Tuesday's 36th District Semifinal contest against Newport Central Catholic. Adler made 10-of-11 free throws on her way to a team-high 12 points. The Bluebirds made 23-of-25 free throws on their way to a 48-40 win and snap the Thoroughbreds eight-game winning streak in the series.

Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

In a game that a blind draw unfortunately meant the end of the season for one of the top five girls basketball teams in the 9th Region for the second time in four years, size won out.

The Highlands Bluebirds (23-7) used it to create turnovers and constantly attack the basket to create things offensively. They ended up making an astounding 23-of-25 free-throw attempts for 92 percent on their way to a 48-40 36th District Semifinal win over the Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds on Tuesday.

“Every one of our starters had started in a district tournament before,” said Jaime Walz-Richey, Highlands head coach. “We thought we had the advantage there. We were more of a veteran team than NC was. That paid off with all the free throws we made.”

Highlands made 13 of those 14 attempts in the fourth quarter after NewCath drew to within two twice. Freshman Brianna Adler made 10-of-11 free throws on her way to a team-high 12 points, including 7-of-8 in the fourth quarter.

Senior Jesse “Dirt” Daley set the tone in the paint for Highlands. She scored 11 points making 3-of-4 free throws. Daley and the other five seniors were freshmen in 2010 when NewCath eliminated Highlands, 55-47 in the 36th Semfinals at Newport High.

“When we were sitting in the locker room after the game my freshman year, we said as a class that we were not going to let our senior year end like that,” Daley said. “That was our goal. We were determined to not let it happen.”

NewCath had won the previous eight meetings dating back to a 54-48 Highlands win on Jan. 9, 2009 in Fort Thomas. The Thoroughbreds (20-10) had won the previous four district championships, including the 9th Region in 2011.

NewCath was not the only one of what many considered the Top 5 teams in the region to lose Tuesday. Boone County beat Conner in overtime and Covington Holmes edged Covington Holy Cross. The only difference is the other three districts received seeds. The teams will be seeded next year as Newport cast the deciding vote.

“It’s ashaim. It’s good for next year, but who knows what’s going to happen the year after that and the year after that,” said George Stoll, NewCath head coach of the blind draw. “It will hopefully be a good thing next year for both of our sake. Plus, we have it on our home floor. It was obviously a big deal (Tuesday) and we hope it’s a big deal for us next year.”

Highlands and NewCath have voted for seeds for years. The volleyball teams received them in the fall and the baseball and softball teams will be seeded in the spring.

“We’re really, really happy,” said Stephanie Lewis, NewCath forward. “It’s just more fair to have seeds. The top two teams should be able to go to region every year.”

Highlands faces the winner of Wednesday’s Bellevue (16-14) and Newport (17-11) game for the district championship Friday at 7 p.m. back home. The Bluebirds did not play Bellevue, but beat Newport, 66-33 in Fort Thomas on Dec. 10. The Bluebirds will be going for the eighth consecutive win and first district championship since winning consecutive crowns in 2007 and 2008.

NewCath will not make the regional tournament for the first time since 2008. Highlands beat NewCath that year, 62-51 when the two drew each other in the opening round of the tournament.

NewCath also shot free throws well, but did not make it to the line near as much as Highlands. The Thoroughbreds hit 8-of-9 attempts.

Junior standout Nikki Kiernan again led the way making all five free throws on her way to a double-double of 13 points and 12 rebounds in addition to blocking three shots despite picking up two fouls in the first half. Alexus Mayes finished with seven points and seven rebounds.

Stephanie Lewis tried to pick up some of the slack. She made two three-pointers on her way to 10 points and Ansley Davenport made the other two NewCath triples.

“We wanted to let them to shoot the three,” Richey said. “We were going to take a chance there. It paid off.”

Highlands outscored NewCath, 15-6 in points off the bench. Vanessa Fisse scored nine points making a three-pointer and all four free throws and Alex Combs scored six.

“We’d really been working on our free throws because those are key in crucial games like this,” Fisse said. “We’ve been consistent the past few games. It was awesome.”

The Bluebirds also won the rebounding battle 34-28. Ava Abner led Highlands with 11 rebounds and Leah Schaefer followed with nine to go with six points.

“We played a 2-3 zone against them the first time,” Richey said. “But we didn’t rebound well. We rebounded pretty well (Tuesday).”

Highlands recorded 14 steals on 15 NewCath turnovers compared to nine steals on 13 turnovers for the Thoroughbreds. All eight players recorded steals for the Bluebirds led by three from Abner and Adler.

NewCath led 8-6 after the first quarter before Highlands took the lead for good at the end of the second. Daley hit a jumper with 30 seconds remaining to give the Bluebirds a 17-15 halftime lead.

The largest lead of the third quarter for Highlands was eight twice. Fisse made a three-pointer with 2:20 left to give the Bluebirds a 29-21 lead before making two free throws to give Highlands a 31-23 lead before Michaela Ware made a jumper to trim the margin to 31-25 entering the fourth quarter.

The Thoroughbreds trimmed the deficit to two three times in the fourth quarter. But the Bluebirds responded with a crucial bucket or free throws every time.

“We couldn’t tie it or take the lead,” Stoll said. “We couldn’t get over that hump. That was the biggest difference.”

Adler made a free throw with 1:15 left in the game to make the score 42-37 Highlands. Adler, Abner and Combs then made two free throws each to put the game away in the final 1:03.

“Our number one priority all year was getting ready for this game,” Combs said. “It means a lot. It pulled us together as a team.”  

NewCath still had a good season despite its youth. The Thoroughbreds bettered last year’s win total by a game and finished All “A” State Runner-Up. They graduate just Jillian Hoover from this year’s team. Hoover unfortunately played just 10 seconds this year and scored a bucket on her senior night because of a torn Anterior Cruciated Ligament.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Highlands, NCC teams meet in 36th Semifinals

Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

This marks the last year of the blind draw in the 36th District basketball tournament at least until the schools vote on it next year.

That’s unless the Kentucky High School Athletic Association steps forward to put an end to that. For those wondering, the baseball and softball teams will be seeded in the spring like the volleyball teams were in the fall.

Like I said a few weeks ago, it is too bad because one of the top five teams in the 9th Region will not be playing in it next week on the girls side. Then on the boys side, the best team faces arguably the third-best team in the district instead of the second and third meeting in the semifinals like it would be if the teams were seeded.


This means that there will be a lot of excitement in the semifinal game Tuesday between Highlands (22-7) and Newport Central Catholic (20-9) as neither team wants its season to end.

Highlands boys downs Beechwood; NCC girls win at buzzer

G. Michael Graham Photo. Highlands' Bailey Witte (12) guards Beechwood's Kyle Fieger (with ball) in Friday's game. The Bluebirds pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 49-38 9th Region victory.
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

The host Highlands Bluebirds boys basketball team wanted to carry some momentum into the postseason.

They continued their late-season surge with a 49-38 9th Region win over the Beechwood Tigers on Friday. Highlands won its final three regular-season contests to enter tournament play 12-15 overall after winning just 10 games all of last season. The Bluebirds moved to 5-10 in region play.

The Bluebirds had to come from behind once again outscoring the Tigers (8-20), 22-6 in the fourth quarter. Highlands hit 8-of-13 free throws for 62 percent in that quarter and 11-of-18 for 61 percent for the game.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Highlands records impressive win to conclude regular season

G. Michael Graham Photo. Highlands seniors Emilie Parton (11) and Ava Abner (22) get in defensive position as Simon Kenton's Kaitlyn Morrison (31) sets up in the corner. Highlands beat Simon Kenton, 55-47 Thursday to finish the regular season 22-7 overall.

Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

If you told head coach Jaime Walz-Richey the Highlands Bluebirds girls basketball team would commit 22 turnovers against the Simon Kenton Lady Pioneers, she said Highlands “would get blown out.”

But instead, the Bluebirds recorded a huge win to finish the regular season, 55-47 on Senior Night on Thursday in Fort Thomas. Highlands concluded the regular season with a six-game winning streak to improve to 22-7 for the most wins since the 2008-09 squad finished 25-6.