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Saturday, January 20, 2018

Bluebirds Shock State's Second-Ranked Squad

Highlands Grinds Out Overtime Victory over Lady Camels

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands junior Zoie Barth scored 28 points to lead Highlands to a monumental 53-52 overtime win over second-ranked Campbell County on Saturday.
PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, The Highlands bench celebrates after pulling off the win. From left, the team members are Piper Macke, Ashley Hayes, Hanna Buecker, Maggie Hinegardner, Audrey Graves, Meghan Walz, Emma Riccobene and Emma Mallery.
The hosts knew if they had any rust from not playing for nine days, they had to shake it off quickly in order to pull off the win Saturday in Fort Thomas.

In came the 19-1 Campbell County Lady Camels ranked second in the Commonwealth of Kentucky in the latest Associated Press poll released Tuesday. The only loss for Campbell County and fourth-year Head Coach Beau Menefee, a 1991 Highlands graduate, entering Saturday came 74-71 to the top-ranked and defending state champion Mercer County Titans (18-2), ranked 22nd in the lastest USA Today Super 25 girls basketball poll. That game took place in the Queen of the Commonwealth Tournament at Bullitt East on Dec. 21.

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Mercer County's two losses came to two Tennessee squads in Murfreesboro Riverdale and Hamilton Heights Christian Academy out of Chattanooga, also ranked in the Super 25 poll. Fifth-ranked Riverdale has won Tennessee's largest Class AAA two years in a row and had a 53-game winning streak snapped on Dec. 21 in the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix (Arizona) by a 64-50 count to the nation's top-ranked Bishop Mitty out of San Jose (California).

Campbell County came into the game on a nine-game winning streak and owned a perfect 6-0 marked against 9th Region competition with wins over three teams Highlands lost to in Cooper, Conner and Ryle. The Lady Camels had outscored their 20 opponents, 1,473-919 for an average margin of victory of nearly 28 points including wins over fourth-ranked Elizabethtown, seventh-ranked Male, eighth-ranked South Warren and defending Ohio Division I state champion Mount Notre Dame (15-3).

But Highlands (13-6 overall) did not worry about any of that. The Bluebirds played like anything but a team with rust and pulled off a 53-52 victory when junior Zoie Barth made two free throws with 2.8 seconds left in overtime. Barth drove to the rim and drew the foul after Highlands called a timeout with five seconds left in overtime. Junior Ashley Hayes grabbed an offensive rebound to give the Bluebirds another chance following a miss.

"This victory was all on (the players)," said Jaime Walz-Richey, Highlands Head Coach. "They followed our scouting report defensively and offensively. They're the ones that executed it. They made the stops defensively when we needed and got rebounds when we needed."

Barth finished with 28 points making 7-of-15 shots and 13-of-17 free throws constantly attacking the basket. Barth also had nine rebounds, one assist and one steal.

"Campbell County plays really good and aggressive defense," Barth said. "They're on you really close so we knew we had to spread them out, be mentally tough and be willing to take it to the basket and finish going into the game. We talked about how we have to be aggressive and not think about it because once you get scared, you're not as strong with the ball and you're worrying about too many things."

Highlands saw eight different players score. Hayes followed Barth with eight points on two three-pointers.

Campbell County had three players averaging in double figures entering the game in senior guard Taylor Clos at 22.4 points per game, senior forward Mackenzie Schwarber (16.7) and senior guard Lexie Stapleton (15.6). Highlands held the trio under their averages with 11, 11 and 10 respectively in its 2-3 zone. Sophomore guard Mallory Holbrook equaled Clos and Schwarber with 11 points making three triples.

"It was extremely important for us to communicate because we obviously needed to guard certain players more than others," said Olivia Gessner, Highlands junior guard. "So we left certain people open because we knew we wanted them to shoot (as opposed) to others with higher (shooting) percentages. We needed to communicate on who's open and rotate around."

Campbell County wound up making 20-of-56 shots for 36 percent including 7-of-30 three-pointers for 23 percent and won the rebounding battle, 37-30. Highlands hit 14-of-41 shots for 34 percent including 3-of-12 from three-point land for 25 percent.

But a huge difference came in the free throws. Campbell County pressed the entire court and committed 26 fouls in the process while Highlands sat back in its 2-3 zone and had just 12 fouls with one player committing three. Schwarber fouled out for the Lady Camels and two others had four. The Bluebirds made 22-of-31 free throws for 71 percent compared to just 5-of-7 for 71 percent for the Lady Camels.

"When we started out at Campbell County four years ago, it was our Super Bowl when we played Highlands," Menefee said. "You could see by the reaction of the Highlands team. We are now their Super Bowl. Things have flipped a little bit. We're in a really good place and we're really proud of what we've done. So for them to be all excited and happy, that's great for them. They just won the biggest game they'll win the whole entire season."

Highlands did not allow any easy lay-ups in the open court off turnovers only committing nine on just four Campbell County steals. On the other side, the Bluebirds had six steals off 13 Campbell County turnovers. Junior guard Chloe Jansen led the Bluebirds with three steals.

"It was huge," Richey said. "You could tell at every situation where we could sub, we were subbing. We were trying to slow it down some so they couldn't get quick, fast-break lay-ups. They're an unbelievable. They can get it out of the net and score in three seconds. We knew we had to get back on defense."

The Bluebirds came into the game healthy for the first time in a few weeks. Junior forward Hanna Buecker returned from injury along with sophomores Meghan Walz and Audrey Graves. Sophomore Maggie Hinegardner was also not available last week.

"I feel like as long as we bring our A game, focus and listen to our coaches, we can succeed pretty well," Buecker said. "It says we have a pretty solid all-around program. Focus is key."

Campbell County led most of the first quarter as Stapleton scored nine points. Barth made a three-pointer to trim the margin to 11-6 before Stapleton scored twice to put the Lady Camels up 15-6 after one.

But Highlands fought back in the second quarter. A 6-0 run following a Barth bucket and two free throws trimmed the Campbell County lead to 20-18 with 2:48 left in the half. But junior center Tamara Wells hit a jumper on the left side before Schwarber and Holbrook made consecutive three-pointers to put the Lady Camels up 28-18. Highlands made it 28-23 at halftime after Buecker made two free throws.

Campbell County went up 35-27 after Clos made two free throws. But Highlands responded with a 5-0 run after senior Brooke Dill recorded a steal and scored with 3:13 left in the third quarter. The Lady Camels led 39-34 entering the fourth quarter.

Neither team led by more than four points in the fourth quarter. But a critical moment came with 3:12 left in the game when Schwarber fouled out on an illegal screen.

"We knew we had to stop the three big ones - 4 (Clos), 5 (Schwarber) and 45 (Stapleton)," Richey said. "We had to know where they were at all times on the court. Taylor (Clos) got in foul trouble in the first half so that limited her playing time. You hate to see people foul out in this type of game. But it happens. Thankfully, we were on the right end."

Freshman post Rory O'Hara tied the game at 44 with two free throws with 2:50 remaining for the Bluebirds. After Holbrook made a three-pointer, Barth hit two free throws and scored in the middle after a Lady Camel turnover to put Highlands up 48-47 with 52 seconds left in the game.

After Close made a move in the paint and missed the shot, Barth drew the foul and made two free throws with 32.8 seconds left. Highlands fouled with 9.6 seconds to go, but Campbell County was not in the bonus yet. But Stapleton drilled a three-pointer from the left wing to send the game into overtime tied at 50.

"We just had a miscommunication," Richey said of that play. "We trapped and we shouldn't have been trapping. We were switching. It happens and thankfully, we were able to come out with a W."

Both teams missed their first shots in overtime before Stapleton made a jumper on the left side with 2:15 left to put Campbell County up 52-50. Barth then made a free throw with 30.3 seconds left in the overtime session before the Lady Camels missed a free throw with 17.8 seconds left setting up the heroics from Hayes and Barth.

Highlands also won the junior varsity contest, 46-41. Sophomore Piper Macke again led the Bluebirds with 27 points making 14-of-15 free throws and sophomore Maggie Hinegardner added nine points.

The Bluebirds face Bishop Brossart (12-7) on Monday. Game time is 7:30 p.m. in Alexandria.

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