|Bluebirds End 16-Game Losing Streak to Thoroughbreds|
|PHOTO: G. Michael Graham. Highlands junior Jacob Brass gets in defensive position in the 70-61 win over Newport Central Catholic on Tuesday.|
The Highlands Bluebirds boys basketball team (12-9 overall) entered the annual 36th District match-up against the Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds (9-10) having lost 16 in a row in the series. But Highlands used a strong third quarter to pull away for a 70-61 victory and put a resounding end to it.
The last time the Bluebirds had beaten the Thoroughbreds came on Jan. 9, 2010 by a 58-44 score on the Hill when the current seniors were in the third grade. Highlands senior Ryan Leigh recalled that game watching his cousin, then-junior Jack Stewart, lead the Bluebirds to victory. Highlands moved to 2-1 in district play. A win over Bellevue on Saturday clinches no less than a second seed in the district tournament.
That is the fourth losing streak of eight or more games against region opponents the Bluebirds have broken this season. Highlands snapped eight-game losing streaks against Covington Catholic and Dixie Heights in addition to snapping a 17-game losing streak against Covington Holmes.
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Leigh did his part to help end the streak scoring 18 points. Leigh also had three rebounds and a steal.
Both teams saw three players score in double figures. Sisson again proved to be a huge difference in the game dominating the paint once again. Sisson recorded another double-double making 8-of-10 shots on his way to 23 points and 15 rebounds. He also had an assist, one steal and one blocked shot. Sisson also drew 13 fouls.
"We knew we had Ben to drop it off to," Leigh said. "We know when we drive, we're going to draw the defenders and we can just give it to Ben. It's the same on defense. If our man beats us, instead of having to foul, we know that Ben is there protecting the rim. He can block the shot. Having him on offense and defense is very helpful."
Senior Alex Starkey added 15 points. Starkey also had two assists and seven rebounds. Senior Nate Roberts had six points, eight rebounds, six assists and blocked two shots. The fifth Highlands starter in junior Jacob Brass had five points and three assists.
"It's (about) understanding what they can and can not do," said Kevin Listerman, Highlands Head Coach. "I think at times earlier this year, we were pressing trying to do a little bit too much. Now we're relaxed understanding what each guy can do. The guys are looking for the opportunity to set somebody else up. If we have a shooter open, (they're) getting it to him. If we feed the post, (they're) looking for the guy cutting. It's fun to see it happen."
Newport Central Catholic spread the floor offensively and attacked off the dribble. Junior Eli Howard finished with 24 points making three three-pointers before fouling out. Junior Evan Mullikin added 14 points and freshman guard Ross Pangallo scored 10.
Highlands wound up winning the rebounding battle, 45-30. The Thoroughbreds committed 31 fouls to 25 for the Bluebirds. Four NewCath players fouled out while three finished with four for Highlands.
"We really emphasized being able to stop their penetration and rebound," Listerman said. "Really, that's where the second half changed. We did a much better job of limiting Eli Howard. He had a fantastic game. The kid played his guts out. They struggled to score. We took control of the glass. Then on offense, we were patient and found the open man. We really established a presence both inside and outside there in the second half."
The Bluebirds made 23-of-47 shots for 49 percent including 3-of-11 from three-point range for 27 percent. The Thoroughbreds hit 21-of-53 shots for 40 percent including 6-of-17 from three-point range for 35 percent.
The one thing that kept the game in single digits late was the free-throw line. Highlands made just 21-of-40 for 53 percent and NewCath made 13-of-23 for 57 percent.
"It's kind of one of those things right now. We're struggling," Listerman said. "But it's not like we don't work on it. It's a matter of confidence. You build confidence by seeing the ball go through the basket and doing it in crunch time. We started to do it a little bit better (Tuesday) and hopefully, we do better the next game. It happens. It's one of those things that there's not a whole lot you can do about it but keep practicing."
The Thoroughbreds started the game up 7-2 before Sisson and Leigh had consecutive three-point plays to go up 8-7. The Bluebirds built a 15-9 lead and held on for a 15-14 advantage entering the second quarter.
The last lead NewCath held came with 3:35 left in the second quarter when Pangallo made a triple. The Thoroughbreds led 25-24 before the Bluebirds used a 10-0 run to go up 34-25 with 1:04 left in the half. Highlands led 34-31 at halftime.
But NewCath came out in a 2-3 zone to start the second half and Leigh made a triple from the left wing to put Highlands up 37-31. Starkey hit one minutes later to put the Bluebirds up 42-34.
Highlands used a 13-2 run to go up 50-36 with 1:36 left in the third quarter. Sisson laid one in going coast-to-coast to put the Bluebirds up 52-36 entering the third quarter.
The Bluebirds went up by as many as 15 in the fourth quarter at 64-49 following a Sisson slam with 3:20 left in the game. NewCath cut the margin to 66-59 with 58.7 seconds left in the game. But Highlands made 4-of-6 free throws down the stretch to put the game away.
The Bellevue game starts at 2:30 p.m. Bellevue is 6-14 overall.