But in the home opener Monday, the Bluebirds had the chance to show they are ready to compete with the top contenders in the 9th Region when the defending state champion Covington Colonels came to town. In front of a nice crowd, the Bluebirds (3-0 overall) pulled off the huge 57-51 victory. Highlands honored longtime program volunteer Ruth Thornberry, who passed away last spring after a long battle with cancer.
"It was a great night all around," said Kevin Listerman, Highlands Head Coach. "I definitely think we had an angel with us. I don't think that there's any small coincidence that we got this win with a little extra help upstairs."
Covington Catholic (2-1) had won three region championships in the last five years winning state championships in 2014 and last year and lost in the state semifinals in 2015. But the Colonels graduated seven seniors including Aiden Ruthsatz and Jake Walter from last year's team.
Senior post Ben Sisson and forward Ryan Leigh again led the way for the Bluebirds with 18 points each. Sisson made 6-of-8 shots including several key scores down the stretch and Leigh made 4-of-8 three-point tries.
"It starts with the seniors. We have a lot of senior leadership and all the other guys have bought in and followed along and that's what's different from all other teams I've played on," Sisson said. "We are so close-knit. We talk and communicate everything. We know where each other is on the court. We know the plays. These are my brothers. It's amazing."
Sophomore point guard Sam Vinson finished with 10 points making 7-of-8 free throws and dishing off seven assists to aid the Highlands cause. Vinson also led Highlands with six rebounds. But all 11 players who saw action had a hand in the win.
Highlands made 19-of-42 shots for 45 percent including 5-of-15 three-pointers for 33 percent and 14-of-24 free throws for 58 percent. CovCath made 19-of-49 shots for 39 percent and 3-of-18 three-point tries for 17 percent and 10-of-18 free throws for 56 percent.
Senior forward Nick Thelen led CovCath with 13 points and senior forward Tyler Fleek had 10 with junior guard Jack Davin scoring nine. But Highlands made the Colonels work in their pick-and-role offense.
"They have three players over 6-5 so you can't be scared because they will dunk on you," Roberts said. "As their bringing it up, it's easier to try to knock it out of their hands because they're not used to people going up with them so I think it helped with our confidence trying to block shots a lot."
Things did not start off well for Highlands. The Bluebirds fell behind 28-6 to start the game. But they cut the margin to 28-17 at halftime.
"Our kids are super resilient. They just keep fighting," Listerman said. "We talk about competing every day, every possession. Even though we were down big, I felt like we were getting the looks we wanted. We weren't knocking them down. We weren't finishing the plays. A lot of that is our guys playing in this type of atmosphere for the first time."
Highlands plays host to St. Henry (0-2) in region play Friday. Game time is 7:30 p.m.