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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Ladybirds Move On

Highlands turns attention to Beechwood

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands sophomore Ashley Hayes grabs a rebound in a game earlier this year against Dayton.
It had not even been 24 hours since the lopsided defeat, but the Blue and White seemed as determined as ever to improve before the regular season concludes Friday at the end of Tuesday's practice.

Many teams fall apart after a loss like Highlands suffered in a 73-30 defeat to the Simon Kenton Lady Pioneers in Fort Thomas on Monday. That marked the biggest defeat since Jaime Walz-Richey became the head coach of the Ladybirds basketball team in 2002. The previous high had been a 42-point loss, 71-29 to Notre Dame in Park Hills on Feb, 24, 2005.

"Every day is a new day so when it comes to practice, you have to just forget about what happened (Monday) or what happened at school," said Taylor Baioni, Highlands senior guard. "You have to move on and have a good practice so we can all get better for the next game. We learned a lot from the Simon Kenton game on what we have to improve on. That's what we're going to be focused on these next couple (days) going into the postseason."

But aside from the fact that Highlands would not have to face Simon Kenton of the 8th Region again until the state semifinals, the Ladybirds have had a good season on the whole. At 19-8 overall, Highlands stands one victory away from its fifth straight season of 20 or more victories. 

The Ladybirds also won all four 36th District seed games for the fourth straight year to clinch the top seed in the district tournament at Dayton next week. They have huge wins over Mason County, previously undefeated Nelson County and ended a 30-game Holmes winning streak against teams from Boone, Kenton and Campbell Counties. Highlands is still expected to contend for the 9th Region championship with Holmes and Cooper.

Richey said Highlands focused on themselves Tuesday and Wednesday. Richey said they needed to improve in rebounding and transition defense after the loss to Simon Kenton. Simon Kenton hurt Highlands with both Monday. The tallest two Ladybirds are senior forwards Lauren Epperson and Rachel Vinson at 5-feet-8-inches. Simon Kenton has 10 players at that height and taller.

The Ladybirds began focusing on the next opponent in the Beechwood Lady Tigers (9-14) on Wednesday. Beechwood has lost six of its last seven games. The game starts at 6 p.m. as part of a girl-boy doubleheader. Highlands will transition into the favorite role in that game and in the 36th District semifinals Tuesday at Dayton against either Newport (9-18) or Bellevue (15-14). But that role does not concern Richey.

"We have a great group of girls. They've been through this process," Richey said. "They know the coaches aren't going to overlook anybody. They know they can't either so a lot of credit goes to the girls in their mindset in knowing what we have to do to take care of business."

Beechwood has two double-digit scorers in seniors Ali Johnson and Kimi Stokes at 20.3 and 14.1 points per game respectively. Beechwood has made 395-of-1,045 shots for 38 percent including 101-of-302 three-point tries for 33 percent. The Lady Tigers have made 235-of-337 free throws for 70 percent. They've been outscored 1,243-1,129 on the season for an average of about 54-49 and have 692 rebounds on the season. Stokes averages 3.6 rebounds to lead Beechwood.

"She's an unbelievable player," Richey said of Johnson. "We have to know where she is at all times. They have one of the Stokes girls that's having a great season too. We just have to come out and play our game. It's Senior Night so we'll celebrate our six seniors so we're excited about that."

Highlands has outscored the opposition, 1,603-1,301 for an average of about 59-48. The Ladybirds have made 556-of-1,316 shots for 42 percent including 182-of-510 three-point tries for 36 percent and 309-of-445 free throws for 69 percent. Highlands also has 699 team rebounds on the season.

Senior Jenna Martin and sophomore Zoie Barth continue to pace Highlands averaging 16.9 and 14.2 points per game. Barth also averages 4.3 rebounds per game. The Ladybirds have seen Vinson step forward on defense with Epperson, Baioni, Emma Little, junior Brooke Dill and sophomores Hannah Buecker and Chloe Jansen putting up big numbers offensively at times this year.

"They've been really good examples," Highlands sophomore Ashley Hayes said of the varsity players. "They work really hard and make sure we do what we're supposed to do. Like in practice when we're doing drills, Zoie and Jenna go really hard and they pick up the rest of the team."

Highlands has had its share of injuries this year. But while senior Macy Gabbard and sophomore Morgan Coffey are out for the season, Epperson will return Friday after missing the last two games.

The Ladybirds will be looking to win their fourth district championship in the last five years next week. They outscored the four district opponents by 139 points in seed play for an average of 34.75 points per game.

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