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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Highlands seeks continuous improvement

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands junior post Kyle Finfrock (25) pulls down a rebound in Tuesday's game at Newport Central Catholic. Finfrock's emergence in the post has helped Highlands go 3-1 in recent games.
It is that time of year coaches hope things come together.

That is especially the case with the Highlands Bluebirds basketball team. Prior to the 70-48 loss to Newport Central Catholic, the Bluebirds (5-10 overall, 1-2 36th District) had won three in a row following a seven-game losing streak.

Third-year Highlands Head Coach Kevin Listerman said the Bluebirds have cut down on their turnovers and have shot the ball better. Highlands entered Tuesday's game with a shooting percentage of 41.1 percent making 281-of-683 shots including 64-of-211 three-point tries for 30 percent. Highlands has made 138-of-248 free throws for 56 percent.

"Our kids continue to plug away and fight," Listerman said. "We're chipping away trying to knock down that wall. We're pretty close to breaking through. I think we're going to be a tough team the rest of the way."

Highlands put away Boone County and Pendleton County during the winning streak. The Bluebirds lost tight games to Newport and Campbell County during the losing streak.

Newport Central Catholic did apply a lot of pressure at half-court. Highlands handled it at times, but did allow some open-court lay-ups off it. On the other hand, the Bluebirds  missed some lay-ups that could have changed the complexion of the game.

"We had that team bonding night," said Jared Dougherty, Highlands senior forward. "That kind of helped us because we're trying to bring all the younger guys together. We have five seniors, but we don't have a true point guard. It's hard to play with older guys. It's clicking. We're finally starting to get there."

Highlands had two players averaging double figures entering Tuesday's game. They were senior guard Mitch Cain at 13.9 points per game and junior post Kyle Finfrock at 10.6. Finfrock and senior Bo Hebel have given Highlands a presence on both ends in the paint. Highlands outrebounded NewCath, 34-32.

"Kyle does a great job of being unselfish in there and playing within himself," Listerman said. "Our guys look for him and we look for him to be more mobile. Bo Hebel has done a great job in there. Our fives have really played well. That's part of the reason we've played well."

Highlands likes to play four out and one inside the paint. When posts draw double teams, that adds another element to a team's offense. Finfrock scored eight points in the win and Luke LaFrange led Highlands with nine points on three three-pointers.

"We knew we needed to win down low," Finfrock said. "If we do well, we can open space up in the perimeter."

Highlands knows what is at stake in the next game Friday at Bellevue. The Bluebirds want to play in 2-3 seed game in the 36th District Tournament semifinals and not the 4-5 contest. Highlands lost to Bellevue for the first time in a while last year and drew the fourth seed. The Bluebirds beat Dayton in the 4-5 game before losing to Newport Central Catholic in the district semifinals. NewCath has won seven straight district tournaments.

"It's the biggest game because it's the next game," Listerman said. "The kids understand that. We talk about how important the four district games are. We've played three of them and we have to get the fourth one. Coach (Jim) Hicks does a great job there with his kids. They'll be ready to go. We have to answer the bell on Friday night."

Bellevue enters the game with an 11-9 record coming off a 61-49 district loss to Newport. Junior Jason Craig leads the Tigers averaging 7.4 points per game. Game time Friday is 7:30 p.m. in Bellevue.

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