By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
NEWPORT – Both boys basketball teams showed why they could be tough to deal with in the 9th Region Tournament.
The Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds used their size and depth to dominate teams all season and that didn’t change Friday. They won their sixth consecutive 36th District championship, 65-36 over the rival Highlands Bluebirds on The Hill.
NewCath (28-3) won its 21st in a row in the process and owns a record of 6-0 against the regional field. The Thoroughbreds won the regular-season contest, 56-28 on Jan. 28, also on The Hill.
“I didn’t feel like we executed well,” said Ron Dawn, NewCath Head Coach. “I think that was part of it. We wanted to get to next week. It’s something we’ve been shooting for. We hope to be ready to go.”
Despite the score, Highlands (9-14) battled NewCath hard and made sure the starters stayed in the game until midway through the third quarter. The Bluebirds will be making a return to the region tournament after a one-year absence and own two wins over tournament qualifiers Conner and Ryle, both from the 33rd District.
“I’m so proud of our kids,” said Kevin Listerman, Highlands Head Coach. “We’re undersized and NewCath is such a good ballclub. They really had a hard time shaking us.”
NewCath won the rebounding battle, 37-21 and placed three players in double figures. Drew McDonald led the Thoroughbreds with 16 points and a blocked shot. Fellow post Ben Weyer followed with 15 points and Tanner Moeves contributed 13. Weyer and Moeves made the all-tournament team.
Senior Jake Schulte won Tournament Most Valuable Player honors for the Thoroughbreds. He had 11 rebounds to go with seven points, five assists, two steals and five blocked shots.
Brendan Buten and Parker Harris made the all-tournament team for Highlands. Harris recorded another double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
NewCath made 29-of-53 shots for 55 percent and 2-of-4 free throws for 50 percent. Highlands made 13-of-44 shots for 30 percent and all six free-throw attempts.
The Bluebirds spaced out the floor attempting to drive to the hole. They had some success with it until the Thoroughbreds switched to a zone defense in the second half. While many post players struggle with smaller players pulling them out of the paint and driving by them, that generally has not been an issue with Schulte, McDonald and Weyer.
“We have a great defense all the way around,” Schulte said. “We have help everywhere. It gives us some comfort in case someone gets by us.”
The Thoroughbreds held Buten, Drew Houliston and Mitch Cain to a combined 10 points after all three scored in double-figures along with Harris in the district semifinal win over Newport. Brandon Hergott followed Harris with eight points for the Bluebirds.
“Once we started doubling (Buten) and went to a 1-3-1 (defense) in the fourth quarter, that was really big,” Moeves said. “That stopped their penetration and got us some big stops ultimately putting the game out of reach.”
NewCath distributed the ball better with 15 assists to seven for Highlands. Zack Pangallo followed Schulte with four assists and Houliston led the Bluebirds with four assists.
The Thoroughbreds scored the game’s first four points and never looked back. NewCath led 9-7 before finishing the quarter on a 10-2 run to go up 19-9 after the first quarter.
NewCath extended its lead to 19 in the second quarter. The Thoroughbreds used an 11-0 run to go up 30-11. Moeves finished the run with a triple and hit another toward the end of the half to make the halftime score of 37-18 NewCath.
The Thoroughbreds increased the margin to 20 points several times in the third quarter. But Highlands did use a 5-0 run to trim it to 43-28 with 4:10 left in the quarter. Harris made two free throws and Buten made a three-pointer. The Thoroughbreds led 50-32 entering the fourth quarter.
NewCath started the final stanza with an 8-0 run and outscored the visitors, 15-4. The only field goal of the quarter for the Bluebirds came with 4:40 remaining when Harris scored.
The 9th Region Tournament starts Wednesday with the drawing taking place Sunday. The Bank of Kentucky Center on the Northern Kentucky University campus is once again playing host to it.