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Saturday, February 16, 2019

Bluebirds Record Doubleheader Sweep of Beechwood

Bluebird Boys End Three-Game Losing Streak Against Tigers

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands senior Nate Roberts (center) dribbles right as Alex Starkey (32) moves up. Highlands beat Beechwood, 68-58 to conclude the regular season.
For the previous three seasons in this annual doubleheader, the Highlands Bluebirds girls basketball team came away victorious in the first game, but the Highlands boys were not able to complete the sweep of the Beechwood Lady Tiger and Tiger squads.

That changed Friday as both Highlands teams won completing the sweep for the first time since 2015. It marked the end of the regular season for all four teams.

Boys Game:
Highlands 68, Beechwood 58:

The Bluebirds (19-10 overall) won the battle of top five teams in the 9th Region over the Tigers (25-5) by executing down the stretch.

Highlands made 26-of-42 shots for 62 percent including 7-of-13 three-point tries for 54 percent and 9-of-13 free throws for 69 percent. Beechwood hit 21-of-53 shots for 40 percent including 8-of-20 three-point tries for 40 percent and 8-of-10 free throws for 80 percent.

"We've preached about process from day one and this group has really bought into the process to adding to the value of the lives of one another and being part of something special regardless of how many minutes, shots or whatever else," said Kevin Listerman, Highlands Head Coach. "They want to be part of something that hasn't happened around here in a long time and that has taken precedence the last two and half to three weeks. I'm very proud of them with how they've handled things down the stretch."

The Bluebirds dominated the rebounding, 35-14 including 27-12 on the offensive glass. Senior post Ben Sisson led the way there recording a double-double of 22 points and 12 rebounds. Seniors Will Salmon and Nate Roberts followed with six rebounds each. They outscored the Tigers, 8-4 in second-chance points.

"We did a great job on the defensive glass, which was super important," Listerman said. "We didn't give them second chances when we challenged their drives. We did a really good job defensively."

The three main scorers had big games for Highlands. Senior Ryan Leigh made three three-pointers on his way to 20 points and sophomore Sam Vinson scored 12. But others hit key baskets. Senior Jack Hegge hit a crucial three-pointer with 2:38 left in the third quarter to give Highlands the lead for good at 37-35. Sisson also blocked three shots and recorded seven assists.

"Our bench is a huge part of our team," Hegge said. "We just have to keep practicing hard getting ready for (the district tournament). Hitting big shots is key to winning these big games. We can get up early. But the other team will always fight back. We're all just brother and we want the best for everyone. We're going to fight until the end."

Highlands led 31-27 at halftime and 45-41 entering the fourth quarter after Sisson put in an offensive rebound with 18 seconds left. But the Bluebirds saw Vinson and Salmon make three-pointers to stretch the lead to eight. Vinson made another triple from the right corner with 5:18 left in the game to give Highlands a 54-43 lead.

After that point, Beechwood cut the lead to four once. But Highlands hit all but one free throw after that point to pull away.

Tiger sophomore Scotty Draud averages 23.7 points per game. He finished with 17 making 7-of-22 shots and just 1-of-2 free throws. Junior Aidan Bieger added 15 for Beechwood. Roberts, senior Alex Starkey among others guarded Draud, the son of Highlands Hall of Famer Scott Draud. Listerman said the goal with Scotty Draud was to keep him to one point per shot and keep him off the free-throw line. Scotty Draud averaged .77 points per shot in this game.

"I think (Scotty Draud) just uses his body very well," Roberts said. "He's a multi-threat player. He can post you up, shoot a three, pull up and he can beat you off the dribble. We had to sit down (on defense), but we also had to jump (to contain the dribble)."

The one thing that kept the Bluebirds from pulling away sooner was turnovers. Highlands had 20 to go with 13 fouls, four blocked shots, three steals and 18 assists. Beechwood employed a 1-3-1 full-court match-up defense.

Beechwood had 10 assists, 10 steals, one blocked shot, six turnovers and 15 fouls. The Tigers outscored the Bluebirds, 10-0 off turnovers.

The Bluebirds played in front of a great crowd. The hope is that experience helps come the district tournament. The Bluebirds travel to Newport Central Catholic (9-18) for the 36th District semifinals on Tuesday at 6 p.m.

"You hope with a group of (nine) seniors that you've been through enough and they have enough experience to be able to relax," Listerman said. "One of the things that we've been preaching this week is staying in the moment and not worry about stuff that's outside the lines. If we take care of the ball and stay with the process, good things are going to happen. You're not guaranteed anything in the post-season. We want to be playing our best next week and anything further."

Highlands will attempt to qualify for the 9th Region Tournament for the first time since 2014.

Girls Game:
Highlands 82, Beechwood 34:

Highlands (26-4) concluded a solid regular season with a convincing win over the Lady Tigers (6-22).

Highlands led just 17-16 after the first quarter. But the Bluebirds pulled away with a 29-2 second quarter to go up 46-18 at halftime. The 26 wins equals the number of wins the 2013 9th Region runner-up Highlands squad led by seniors Ava Abner, Jesse "Dirt" Daley and Leah Schaefer accomplished.

"This group has put in a lot of effort and time and they've continued to improve," said Jaime Walz-Richey, Highlands Head Coach. "We have some unfinished business that we want to take care of. In between (the first and second) quarters, we had a conversation about how we have to play better defense. From that second quarter on, we really set the tone defensively."

The five seniors in Zoie Barth, Chloe Jansen, Ashley Hayes, Naya Figg and Hanna Buecker started the game on Senior Night. They've helped Highlands to a record of 94-32 in four years of high school with three district championships. Barth joined the rotation as a seventh grader during the 2013-14 season and Figg transferred in from Cincinnati Roger Bacon before this year. Barth is the second-leading career point scorer in school history.

"It's been a big deal to the senior class. It gives us hope for the post-season hopefully making it futher in the region than we have," Hayes said. "It was really special. You got to see the team come together and see what impact the seniors have had on the underclassmen."

Barth led Highlands with 32 points making 13-of-22 shots and all three free throws to go with five rebounds, eight assists and five steals. Jansen had 15 to go with seven assists and three steals and Buecker had 11 to go with three steals.

Highlands made 33-of-65 shots for 51 percent including 10-of-24 three-point tries for 42 percent and 6-of-7 free throws for 86 percent. The Bluebirds also had 31 rebounds, 23 assists, 21 steals, seven fouls and eight turnovers. Neither team blocked any shots.

Beechwood made 15-of-36 shots for 42 percent including 2-of-10 three-point tries for 20 percent and 2-of-5 free throws for 40 percent. The Lady Tigers had 24 rebounds, two steals, no assists, eight fouls and 27 turnovers. Sophomores Carli Arlinghaus and Meredith Ruhland led the Lady Tigers with 10 points each.

The Bluebirds earned the top seed in the 36th District Tournament at Newport Central Catholic on Wednesday and will take on either Bellevue (16-14) or Newport (0-24) in the semifinals at 6 p.m.

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