|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. The Highlands softball team celebrates its second straight district championship Thursday. The Ladybirds beat Newport Central Catholic, 5-0 scoring four unearned runs in the win.|
The Highlands baseball and softball teams combined to shut out Newport Central Catholic by a combined 13-0 to claim the crowns. The baseball team (29-6 overall) pulled away from the Thoroughbreds (14-19) late in Bellevue in the 8-0 win to claim its fourth straight district championship. A few miles south in Winkler Field, Highlands (22-8) played error-free defense and took advantage of five NewCath (20-10) errors to claim its second straight crown in the 5-0 victory.
District champions face runner-up squads in the first round of the region tournament. In baseball, Highlands will face either Covington Catholic, St. Henry or Boone County next while NewCath will take on either Beechwood, Dixie Heights or Ryle. In softball, Highlands will face Ryle, Dixie Heights or Beechwood. NewCath will take on Conner, Notre Dame or St. Henry.
In the baseball title game, Highlands scored twice in the first inning. But the Bluebirds did not score again until the fifth inning. They scored three in the fifth and three more in the sixth.
"We talk about it all year long," said Jeremy Baioni, Highlands Head Coach. "It's not necessarily how many hits you get, it's when you get them. Defensively, if we play well, our pitchers for the most part are keeping us in the game. They're keeping the ball down and giving our guys chances to make some plays. We made plays behind them (Wednesday) and (Thursday)."
Highlands outhit NewCath, 9-3. But the Thoroughbreds made the Bluebirds earn the hits as only one went for extra-bases when Alex Veneman tripled in the sixth inning. Veneman, Luke Hennigan, D.J. Mills and Jake Whitford had two hits each to lead the Bluebirds. Mills batted in three with Whitford brining in two and scoring twice. Veneman and Todd Ramey also scored twice. Ramey scored twice and pinch-runner Trey Bowden scored another run off his three walks.
Mitch Jones (6-2) picked up the win pitching four innings. Ethan Doty threw the next two striking out six Thoroughbreds and Jacob Noe pitched the seventh. The trio combined to strike out 10 and walk three.
Highlands has tied a state record with five straight shutouts. The Bluebirds have allowed just one run in their last seven games. That came on May 9 in an 11-1 win over St. Henry. They've won nine in a row.
NewCath had one big scoring threat in the fourth inning. The Thoroughbreds loaded the bases with one out. But Jones struck out Leo Barth looking and coaxed Nate Enslen into grounding out back to the mound.
In the softball title game, Highlands scored three times in the second inning to build a 4-0 advantage and never looked back. The big play of the second came when Whitney Quillen and Haley Coffey scored on an error off the bat of Bailey Spencer. Highlands scored four unearned runs in the win.
"They're ready to make a run," said Rob Coffey, Highlands Head Coach. "In the last 15-17 games, they've really locked down on defense. That's our thing. We've locked down the lineup. Ever since then, everyone's come around and knows their role. It's been tremendous."
Spencer pitched another gem on the mound for Highlands. She struck out five and allowed just four hits. NewCath sophomore pitcher Haley Meyers also had five strikeouts.
The Ladybirds recorded eight hits. Shelby Graybill led the way going 2-for-5 with a double. Spencer and Rachel Gabbard had one run batted in each.
The 9th Region tournaments begin Monday. The baseball tournament will again be at University of Cincinnati Medical Center Park and the softball tournament will take place at Northern Kentucky University. The drawings for the tournaments take place Saturday morning.
Track and Field:
The Highlands Ladybirds won the Class AA, Region 4 track and field championship at Scott on Saturday with 175 points. They beat runner-up Lexington Catholic by 11 points.
The Bluebirds finished third with 121 points. Covington Catholic won the boys side with 136 edging out Lexington Catholic by a point.
The Ladybirds saw senior Hannah Schenk score a lot of points. She won the triple jump in 34 feet, 4 inches and placed second in the long jump (16 feet, 10 inches), high jump (4 feet, 10 inches) and took third in the 300-meter hurdles in 50.4 seconds. Senior Peyton Bankemper won the 300 hurdles in 49.82 seconds.
Rosmanie Long won the 200 dash in 26.59 seconds and Sophie Steppe won the 400 dash in a minute and 19 seconds. The other individual to capture gold was Mikayla Reichert in the discus in 117 feet, 9 inches. Highlands also saw the 400 meter relay team win in 51.93 seconds.
On the boys side, Alex Veneman and Ethan Shuley won several events. Veneman won the 200 dash in 22.26 seconds and the 400 in 49.74. He finished second in the 100 in 11.07 seconds. Sophomore Jared Pulsfort finished second in the 400 in 50.84 seconds.
Shuley captured the mile run in 4:33.59 and the two-mile in 9:48.74. Mearns finished second in the mile in 4:35.39 and the two-mile in 10:06.55.
Laskey falls in semifinals:
Highlands senior Hannah Laskey lost in the singles semifinals of the state tournament after finishing runner-up last year. Lexington Sayre senior Madeline Rolph beat her, 6-1, 6-2.