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Saturday, February 3, 2018

Bluebirds Keep Winning Streaks Alive

Highlands Escapes Dixie Heights with Seventh Straight Win

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands sophomore Piper Macke puts up a free throw in a recent junior varsity game. Macke saw her first varsity action in the 54-51 Highlands win at Dixie Heights on Friday after being declared eligible for varsity action Friday afternoon.
The winning streak is still intact for the Highlands Bluebirds girls basketball team.

But it came by nearly the slimmest margin possible. Highlands (18-6 overall) won its seventh in a row with a 54-51 victory over the host Dixie Heights Lady Colonels (17-7) Friday despite not playing its best basketball. The Bluebirds moved to 8-3 in 9th Region play with their 12th straight win in the series against Dixie Heights.

Dixie Heights last beat Highlands, 61-50 in Fort Thomas on Jan. 2, 2007. This game marked the closest the Lady Colonels have come to the Bluebirds during that time. Dixie Heights has not won 17 games in a season since going 20-10 during the 2004-05 season. The Lady Colonels handed Ryle its lone region loss, 75-73 in double overtime on Jan. 5 in Union.

Highlands junior Zoie Barth had another solid game with 21 points making 7-of-14 shots including 4-of-7 from three-point range and 3-of-4 free throws. Barth also had four rebounds, four assists, a blocked shot and six steals playing the entire game. She stepped back and hit the game-winning three-pointer from the right wing with 34 seconds left to lift the Bluebirds to victory.

"We told them to take a good shot," said Jaime Walz-Richey, Highlands Head Coach. "With 50 seconds left, we called a time-out. We said you don't have to force anything. Zoie didn't shoot much there in the second half from the outside so I was happy to see that she was confident enough to shoot it."

Both teams trapped near half-court and near the sidelines trying to force turnovers. The Bluebirds had 20 turnovers and Dixie Heights recorded 11 steals. But when they broke the pressure and pounded it inside to freshman post Rory O'Hara, great things happened. O'Hara finished with 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting to go with four rebounds and a steal.

Dixie Heights has struggled in recent years with teams that employ solid on-ball pressure. Highlands did record 16 steals off 21 Lady Colonel turnovers. But the Bluebirds did not convert on a number of open-court opportunities.

"It's about being able to go up strong and finish the basket," O'Hara said. "(We have to) make sure we focus on finishing and not getting the foul. (It's about) believing in yourself and knowing that you're going to score."

That plus the struggles at the free-throw line kept Highlands from pulling away for the win. The Bluebirds made just 11-of-25 free throws for just 44 percent off 16 Dixie Heights fouls. The Lady Colonels made 13-of-19 free throws for 68 percent off 15 Bluebird fouls.

"It was a great win," Richey said. "We talked about in the locker room we shot uncharacteristic from the free-throw line. But we told them we still found a way to win. So we have to get back in the gym and get our rhythm going with the free throws."

The Bluebirds went nine deep compared to seven for the Lady Colonels. Highlands sophomore guard Piper Macke saw five minutes, 18 seconds of action after becoming eligible for varsity action Friday afternoon. Campbell County Circuit Judge Daniel Zalla declared Macke and her brother Spencer Macke, a junior on the boys basketball team, eligible for varsity play since they transferred from Covington Holy Cross in the off-season. The case notes state a permanent injunction will be issued via a separate order.

"It's a big relief. I was so happy when I saw the news," Piper Macke said. "I really hope that even just getting in for little spurts, I can contribute to the team. It's such a great group of girls and such a great group of coaches. I'm really looking forward to the rest of the season."

Like Highlands, balanced scoring has been the key to Dixie Heights' success. Four of the five starters averaged 8.8 points per game or more entering the week. Another guard in freshman Sydney Lockard averages 7.7 points per game, but did not play Friday.

Senior guard Caroline Buddenburg led Dixie Heights with 17 points making 8-of-12 shots. Junior guard Grace Perry followed with 13 and eighth-grade forward Madelyn Lawson scored 12.

"We needed to know where (sophomore guard Celia) Pelphrey was and Grace Perry. They're really good three-point shooters," Richey said. "They are missing their point guard (Lockard), too so we're lucky to come out with a win."

Highlands made 19-of-43 shots for 44.2 percent including 5-of-14 from three-point range for 35.7 percent. Dixie Heights hit 17-of-38 shots for 44.7 percent including 4-of-11 from three-point range for 36.4 percent. The Bluebirds won the rebounding battle, 26-23.

Highlands fell behind 12-4 early, but battled back to go up 18-17 after the first quarter. The Bluebirds trailed 24-18 to start the second quarter. But junior guard Chloe Jansen recorded a steal and dished off to freshman guard Kenzie Nehus for the lay-up to give the Bluebirds a 27-26 advantage with 2:22 left in the half.

Jansen then hit a lay-up with 1:14 left in the half to tie the game at 29 going into halftime. Jansen finished with four steals and seven points.

Highlands had one lead in the third quarter. It came after Hanna Buecker made a three-pointer with 6:22 left. The Bluebirds led 34-32 at that point before falling behind 41-36 later in the quarter. Barth hit a lay-up to trim the margin to 41-38 with 35.6 seconds left. That was the score entering the fourth quarter.

Dixie Heights led by five early in the fourth quarter. But Highlands chipped away and took the lead shortly after the Lady Colonels received an intentional foul. Two straight O'Hara scored gave Highlands a 50-47 lead with 3:25 remaining.

Buddenburg tied the game at 51 with 56 seconds left. After Barth's game-winning score, Jansen deflected a skip pass before Pelfrey missed a long three-point shot. Highlands then missed two free throws and Perry's desperation shot missed ending the game.

The Highlands Junior Varsity stayed undefeated at 14-0 with a 51-28 win. Piper Macke led the way with 16 points and freshman Emma Riccobene scored 13.

Highlands travels to Holmes (14-6) on Tuesday. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

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