By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
For the visitors, playing in this game and another is a major accomplishment in the rebuilding process.
On the other side, the hosts came into the season huge favorites to six-peat as district champions and contend for a 9th Region title. The reason is their depth and size.
Like every other region and 36th District opponent, the Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds (27-3) own a huge size advantage on the Highlands Bluebirds (9-13). NewCath’s three players standing at 6-foot-6-inches and above in senior Jake Schulte, junior Drew McDonald and sophomore Ben Weyer make it tough to do things in the paint both offensively and defensively.
“Our thing is we need to play our game,” said Ron Dawn, NewCath Head Coach. “People try to take us out of our game doing different things. We just can’t let that happen. If we stick to our game plan, we do well and we should be in good shape.”
But then you add their outside game and things really become difficult. Zack Pangallo along with brothers Tanner and Grant Moeves have also exploded for big games at different times this season. That potent combination led the Thoroughbreds to their second straight All “A” state title in January.
The big key for NewCath is staying focused. Dawn said that has not been much of an issue this year.
“I think we just know we have to come out ready every game,” Weyer said. “We obviously want to make it to Rupp (Arena for the state tournament). But we don’t want to look past too many games. We don’t want to come out, not play well and end up getting beat. We just prepare the same for every game.”
The Bluebirds found that out the tough way in a 56-28 Thoroughbred win on The Hill on Jan. 28. NewCath saw three players score in double-digits in its eighth straight win in the series. Weyer led the way with 13 points. Tanner Moeves and Schulte followed with 11 and 10 respectively. The Thoroughbreds scored the game’s first 19 points and never looked back.
“They are probably the best frontcourt in the state,” said Parker Harris, Highlands junior post. “They’re huge and have handled some great teams in some tournaments this year. Drew McDonald is tough. For us, we just have to work harder. The details are important. You have to be in the right position and hit first. They’re going to make some shots. They’re going to throw some great punches. We have to throw some back.”
NewCath has won 20 in a row including a huge win at Louisville Trinity last week. On the other side, the Bluebirds have gone 8-7 since an 0-6 start to the season. Highlands made a big stepping stone back toward where it used to be with one of its best games of the season in the district semifinal win over Newport. Harris led the way with a double-double of 22 points and 15 rebounds.
“The pressure is to get to the regional and we’ve done that,” said Kevin Listerman, Highlands Head Coach. “We want to go play well. We played well against Covington Holmes a couple weeks ago. We want to go out there, make it a four-quarter game and see what happens.”
Highlands may need to hit some outside shots to stay within striking distance. The Bluebirds hit seven against Newport on Wednesday in addition to making 26-of-30 free-throw attempts. Brendan Buten, Harris, Mitch Cain and Justin Weyer hit some triples for Highlands in the win.
The Bluebirds have not won a district crown since 2008. Their last region crown came in 2001 and the last region crown for the Thoroughbreds came in 2000. The two programs battled for district and region crowns between 1997 and 2001.