By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
The Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds girls basketball team tends to find itself at the All “A” State Tournament on a yearly basis.
This group did not want to end that run. So the host Thoroughbreds used their trademark stingy defense to keep the string alive for their seventh consecutive 9th Region All “A” crown with a convincing 49-34 win over the St. Henry Lady Crusaders on Saturday.
The last time NewCath did not win the crown was 2006 when Covington Holy Cross won it. St. Henry has not won the title since 1996.
The Thoroughbreds put constant pressure on the Lady Crusaders. St. Henry committed 20 turnovers to just eight for NewCath. The Thoroughbreds (13-4) recorded 10 steals to just two for the Lady Crusaders (8-9). Michaela Ware led NewCath with three steals with teammates MiKayla Seibert and Loren Zimmerman recording two each.
“(Ball pressure) is what we wanted to do coming into the game,” said George Stoll, NewCath head coach. “We wanted to get some easy lay-ups if we could. We didn’t get as many as we like. But we got enough to get by so we’ll take it.”
NewCath standout junior forward Nikki Kiernan once again dominated the paint. She recorded another double-double with 24 points and 13 rebounds to with two blocked shots, an assist and steal. Kiernan earned Tournament Most Valuable Player honors as a result.
“You just have to keep your ground and not go for ball fakes,” Kiernan said of controlling the paint. “I just go straight up (defensively). I try to watch (the opponent’s) stomach.”
The Thoroughbreds did record 13 more shots than the Lady Crusaders as a result of the turnovers. They made 21-of-55 shots for 38 percent and held St. Henry to 29 percent shooting (12-of-42).
But NewCath still had a hard time making outside shots. Kiernan made all three Thoroughbred three-pointers. Ware was the only other NewCath player to reach double-digits with 10 points.
“That’s part of having one of the best players in the region on the team,” Stoll said. “She has to step up when we need her. We needed her down the stretch. She was able to step up and make some shots down the stretch. But we need to have other players step up too.”
NewCath also hit just 4-of-12 free throws for 33 percent compared to 9-of-14 for 64 percent for St. Henry. Kiernan said the team needs to concentrate better in practice to hit them better.
Defensively, NewCath focused on guard Kelly Coburn and 6-foot-1-inch post Savannah Neace. Coburn had five and Neace finished with two. Trisha Marks picked up the slack some scoring 12 for the Lady Crusaders. Stephanie Lewis guarded Coburn most of the game with Kiernan and Alexus Mayes guarding Neace.
“It was a matter of stopping some of their back-door (cuts),” Stoll said. “We actually didn’t do a very good job of that at all. But a win is a win and we’ll take it.”
Jordan Miller hit a three-point play on a back-door cut to open the game for St. Henry. But Lewis hit a jumper with 4:20 left in the first to give the Thoroughbreds the lead for good.
NewCath outscored St. Henry, 10-2 in the second quarter to go up 19-11 at halftime. The Thoroughbreds increased the lead to double-figures in the third quarter after Kiernan’s first three-pointer.
The Thoroughbreds pulled away in the fourth quarter. But the lead did not feel safe until Kiernan nailed her other two three-pointers in the fourth quarter to put NewCath up 40-21 with five minutes remaining.
A Lewis jumper gave the Thoroughbreds their biggest lead at 42-21 just 35 second after that. That let NewCath put in the reserves for the game’s final two minutes.
NewCath placed three players on the all-tournament team. Lewis and Ware joined Kiernan on the squad.
NewCath travels to Dixie Heights (8-10) on Tuesday. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
NCC boys 68, Campbell County 64
The Thoroughbreds snapped their two-game skid against a rival with a deceiving record Saturday.
Campbell County (7-10) took the court with Nate McGovney and Corey Holbrook in the starting lineup together for just the second game this year. McGovney tore his left Anterior Cruciated Ligament over the summer and did not return until Jan. 5 in a loss to Bishop Brossart. Holbrook received two technical fouls in that game and had to sit out the last two games.
“This is a little bit of (McGovney and Holbrook’s) coming out party,” said Grant Brannen, NewCath head coach. “Campbell County is a 10th Region contender. I told the guys we didn’t have much game tape on them because those two haven’t played together much. We knew it would be a tough one.”
Holbrook and NewCath sophomore post Drew McDonald scored 27 points each to lead their teams. Holbrook made 11-of-11 free-throw attempts and McDonald added 13 rebounds for a double-double.
The Thoroughbreds (13-2) made enough free throws to hold off the Camels. They hit 18-of-35 for 51 percent compared to 15-of-17 for 88 percent for Campbell County.
Both teams shot 50 percent from the field. NewCath made 23-of-46 shots including four three-pointers and Campbell County made 21-of-42 including seven three-pointers.
The Thoroughbreds also needed help from the reserves as the starters struggled with foul trouble. After McDonald, Michael Bueter added 13 points and Colin Dupont scored eight off the bench.
NewCath played without senior forward Nick Seibert and Brennan Devoto started in his place. Seibert sprained his left ankle in the loss to Covington Catholic on Thursday and said he could be out for four weeks. He came out on crutches.
“It was good to have people step up,” Dupont said. “It’s going to be tough with Nick Seibert being out. But I felt like we did well. We all have to take a role and do our best. We hope to jell together and play well.”
The Camels also had scoring balance. McGovney scored 12 points and Deandre Jackson finished with 11.
The teams combined for 48 fouls. Campbell County saw two players foul out and NewCath had three starters finish with four each.
NewCath took the lead for good with an 8-0 run early in the third quarter. Campbell County cut the margin to three twice in the fourth, but came no closer.
The Thoroughbreds open the All “A” 9th Region tournament at Dayton on Monday. They take on the Villa Madonna Lightning at 6 p.m.