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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Highlands earns 30th victory in 9th quarterfinal win over Boone County

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands junior McKenzie Leigh (31) and Lydia Graves (20) get in defensive position as Boone County's Macey Ford (3) brings the ball upcourt. Highlands won 50-39 to advance to the 9th Region semifinals for the third straight year.

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS – They may have reached an incredible milestone with their 30th victory of the season.

But even that does not matter as much as winning and advancing to the 9th Region semifinals for the third straight year. The 36th District champion Highlands Ladybirds (30-3 overall) pulled away from the Boone County Lady Rebels, 50-39 Monday to do that.

Highlands has won five straight against Boone County (17-14). This win marks the biggest of all of them because the Ladybirds had not beaten the Lady Rebels in the four previous region meetings since Jaime Walz-Richey became the head coach in 2002. The most recent of the four losses came in 2009.

The Ladybirds take on Covington Holy Cross (27-3) on Saturday at 6 p.m. in the first semifinal game. The Lady Indians won the Jan. 24 meeting in Covington, 40-39 in double overtime. Highlands could not capitalize on its opportunities to win in the waning moments of regulation or the overtime frames in that contest. Holy Cross beat St. Henry, 55-33 in the first quarterfinal game Monday.

"We know we have to bring our A game," Richey said. "The mistakes we made (Monday) and against (Newport Central Catholic in the 36th District championship game), we can't make Saturday. We have to be prepared and ready to go."

Highlands won the game with its defense and free-throw shooting. The Ladybirds made just 11-of-35 shots for 31 percent, including 5-of-17 from three-point range.

But they held the Lady Rebels to 13-of-37 from the field for 35 percent, including just 2-of-10 from beyond the arc for 20 percent. Boone County also made just 11-of-15 free throws for 73 percent. Highlands outscored Boone County, 14-2 in the third quarter. The Ladybirds attacked the basket better in that quarter.

Highlands hit its free throws down the stretch to pull away. The Ladybirds made 23-of-27 attempts for 85 percent.

The Ladybirds also won the rebounding battle, 31-22. Lydia Graves led the way with eight rebounds.

Highlands junior Brianna Adler put together another big game with 17 points. She made 2-of-3 triples and 9-of-10 from the free-throw line.

Eighth grader Zoie Barth followed with 10 for Highlands making all six free throws, McKenzie Leigh and Alex Combs added nine each.

"If they sit back in the zone, we try to attack the middle and look for that shot," Barth said. "But then if they collapse on us and guard us, we can kick it out to our shooters. They can't stop us if we penetrate then kick."

Sadie Moore led Boone County with nine points. Maddy McGarr and Sydney Foster followed with eight each.

The Ladybirds led 9-8 after the first quarter. The points came when Graves, Combs and Adler made one three-pointer each.

Highlands looked to pull away in the second quarter. Leigh made a three-point play and Barth hit a jumper to give the Ladybirds an 18-13 lead with 3:41 left in the half.

But Boone County came back and took a 20-18 halftime lead. McGarr hit the go-ahead score with 1:51 left in the half.

"We told them at halftime that defense was going to win the game," Richey said. "We were letting them do some things offensively that we had talked about that we didn't want them to do. In the second half, we made some adjustments. To only give up two points in the third quarter was huge."

The Ladybirds went ahead for good with a 6-0 run. Adler scored four in a row and Barth made two free throws to put Highlands up 24-20 with 4:47 left in the third quarter.

The Ladybirds finished the quarter with an 8-0 run. Adler made a triple and two free throws as Highlands led 32-22 entering the fourth quarter.

Highlands saw its lead reach 13 with 2:29 left in the game. Adler and Combs made two free throws each. The Ladybirds then made six in a row in the final minute to put the game out of reach.

Highlands stands two wins away from its huge goal of its first region championship since 2001. The Ladybirds already accomplished a major one with the district title.

Highlands does not have to worry about postseason nemesis Notre Dame in the tournament this year. The Pandas did not make it out of the 35th District this year after beating the Ladybirds in the tournament the previous three seasons.

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