|G. Michael Graham Photo. Newport Central Catholic center Drew McDonald goes up for a shot in Wednesday's 9th Region quarterfinal game against St. Henry. The Thoroughbreds battle Covington Catholic in the semifinals at Noon on Sunday.|
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
Entering the weekend, all four Highlands and Newport Central Catholic basketball teams remain alive in the 9th Region Tournament.
The tournament continues Friday through Monday at the Bank of Kentucky Center on the campus of Northern Kentucky University. The Highlands Ladybirds along with the NewCath teams have already advanced to the region semifinals.
On Monday, the Ladybirds took care of St. Henry by a count of 67-52. This marked the first time Highlands has advanced past the region quarterfinals in consecutive years since 2001 and 2002.
Highlands (23-7) has a big hurdle to climb over if it is to make consecutive appearances in the region title game since those two years. The Ladybirds need to end a six-game losing streak to the rival Notre Dame Pandas (21-8) including a 63-44 defeat in last year’s region title game. Highlands has not beaten Notre Dame since a 66-43 win in Fort Thomas on Jan. 4, 2010. Game time is Saturday at 6 p.m.
The Ladybirds could use the balance they had in the win over St. Henry. They placed four players in double-digits. McKenzie Leigh led the way with 21 points. Brianna Adler, Alex Combs and Lydia Graves followed with 17, 13 and 10 respectively.
Notre Dame came to Fort Thomas and beat Highlands, 67-59 without Louisiana State University volleyball commit Elly Ogle on Jan. 10. Ogle had 11 points in Notre Dame’s 58-40 semifinal win over Boone County on Monday. Teammates Paige Kellam and Carlee Clemons led the way with 19 and 12 respectively. Kellam scored 17 in the win at Highlands.
“We have to take care of the ball, rebound and plays smarter than we did (Monday),” said Jaime Walz-Richey, Highlands Head Coach. “(Notre Dame first-year Head Coach) Wyatt (Faust) is a great coach. He is going to try to come up with a good game plans against us.”
Free-throw shooting has been a major strength for the Ladybirds. They are shooting near 70 percent for the season having made 454-of-651 attempts.
The second game features another rematch of the Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds (27-4) and Covington Holy Cross Lady Indians (21-7). It takes place at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
NewCath has to beat Holy Cross a third time to advance to the region title game for the first time since winning it in 2011. The Thoroughbreds downed the Lady Indians, 39-37 on Jan. 17 in the All “A” 9th Region semifinals when Michaela Ware hit a lay-up in the final seconds. NewCath dominated the Feb. 8 meeting on The Hill by a 62-43 count.
The Thoroughbreds are led by senior Nikki Kiernan. She entered postseason play averaging 16.2 points and 9.8 rebounds a game. Kiernan had 22 points and 13 rebounds in NewCath’s 65-55 win over Conner on Tuesday. Kiernan has scored 1,806 points in her career.
All five starters scored at least seven points in the win for the Thoroughbreds. They may need that balance against Holy Cross.
“It is very difficult to beat a team three times,” said George Stoll, NewCath Head Coach. “We have our work cut out for us. We have to come ready to play. If we come out like we did (Monday), we’re going home with a loss.”
The Lady Indians are led by 6-foot-1-inch junior twins Ally and Cessie Mayhaus. Ally Mayhaus had 13 points in Holy Cross’ 41-28 win over Dixie Heights on Tuesday. Teammate Dajah McClendon followed with 12.
The Highlands Bluebirds (9-14) take on Covington Holmes (26-5) on Friday in the region quarterfinals. Game time is 8 p.m.
Highlands has gone 9-8 since an 0-6 start to the season. The main goal for the Bluebirds entering the season was to get here. But a quarterfinal win would add another building block to the rebuilding process.
The Bluebirds had balanced scoring in the 36th District semifinal win over Newport with four players reaching double figures. Parker Harris led the way with his first of two double-doubles in the tournament. Justin Weyer, Brendan Buten and Drew Houliston helped out making outside shots.
Holmes is led by point guard James “Beetle” Bolden. The Bulldogs beat the Bluebirds just 63-52 on Feb. 7 in Fort Thomas.
NewCath (29-3) hopes to equal last year’s win total and advance to the region title game. But the Thoroughbreds have to get past Covington Catholic (26-2) to do that Sunday at Noon.
That will not be easy. Point guard Nick Ruthsatz leads the Colonel attack and his teammates feed off him. CovCath likes to attack opponents off the dribble.
“(Ruthsatz) is as good of a point guard as there is,” said Ron Dawn, NewCath Head Coach. “Then they have a ton of shooters. I don’t know who you help off of. It is going to be a battle. That’s for sure.”
But during their 22-game winning streak, no one has been able to slow down the inside-outside game for the Thoroughbreds. Ben Weyer, Drew McDonald and Jake Schulte give many people fits with their size standing at 6-foot-5-inches and taller.
“Ruthsatz makes them go,” McDonald said. “We’re just going to have to stop penetration and get hands up on shots. He is going to get his points. We can’t let others go for 20 or more.”
But then you add Zack Pangallo and Mac Franzen along with brothers Grant and Tanner Moeves and that makes NewCath even tougher to defend because all three can light it up from outside. Weyer and McDonald are not afraid to pop out and hit outside shots as well.
The title game occurs Monday at 7 p.m. NewCath is seeking its first region crown since 2000 and Highlands its first title since 2001.