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Sunday, February 2, 2020

Highlands Loses Battle of 9th Region Top Squads

Bluebirds Hang Tough with Colonels into Second Half

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands junior Luke Muller (middle) sets up for a free throw in the game at Covington Catholic on Saturday.
For as far as the Highlands Bluebirds boys basketball team has come this season, things did not go well in a crucial 9th Region battle Saturday at Park Hills.

Highlands (19-2 overall), ranked ninth in the latest Associated Press poll, saw how well it matched up against the region favorite and sixth-ranked Covington Catholic Colonels (20-4). The Colonels started off hot and never trailed pulling away in the third quarter for a 65-39 victory.

CovCath started the season 1-3, but has since won 19 of its last 20 games including a 17-game winning streak. The only loss to a Kentucky team came Dec. 4 to open the season in a 59-58 defeat at Lexington Catholic. Two other losses came to Greater Catholic League opponents Cincinnati (Ohio) La Salle and St. Xavier.

CovCath plays disciplined basketball making opponents work for things defensively and taking great shots offensively. The Colonels have held six opponents below 40 points this season.

"We had some opportunities we didn't finish," said Kevin Listerman, Highlands Head Coach. "They made a couple more plays and were able to stretch the lead. When you have the lead and you miss a couple of (short shots), you can absorb it. When you're trying to play catch-up, you have to make all those plays. I thought our kids battled. I thought our kids made a lot of plays. We threw punches back and forth for a long period of time. Once they get the lead in the fourth quarter, they're awfully difficult to come back on."

Junior point guard Sam Vinson came into the game averaging 24.6 points per game. The Colonels doubled him at various spots on the floor unlike what other opponents have been able to do this year and made him give up the ball and force some turnovers. Vinson finished with seven points.

Highlands junior forward Luke Muller kept the Bluebirds in the game scoring 15 points. Muller made four three-pointers and 3-of-4 free throws to go with five rebounds.

The Bluebirds made just 12-of-39 shots for 31 percent including 5-of-12 from three-point range for 42 percent and 10-of-14 free throws for 71 percent. Highlands also had 22 rebounds, 16 fouls, nine assists, 11 turnovers, two blocked shots and two steals.

"All the time we put into practice and honestly, it's watching film and playing the schedule we do," said Scott Ruthsatz, CovCath Head Coach. "When we lost on Tuesday, it was because of our defensive letdowns in the second half. So what'd we do? We spent two and a half hours in the classroom watching the film. They have to see it. Once they see it themselves, then they understand. You can take the next step in making sure the scouting report that our assistant coaches do are spot on and put together a pretty good game plan."

Senior guard Grant Diskin and senior center Neil Green average 16.8 and 13 points per game to lead the Colonels. They again scored in double figures with 25 and 17 points respectively. Diskin made two three-pointers to start the game finishing with four to go with seven rebounds and four assists. He also made 7-of-8 free throws.

"One answer is to go find players, which is what they do," Listerman said of preparing for the Colonels. "It is what it is. You have to adjust. We just keep competing. We can do a couple other things maybe a little bit defensively. We just have to finish plays. That's part of the game. When you make shots, you look good. When you don't make shots, it's kind of a struggle. They have good athletes and they're strong. They're are some things we can improve upon. We'll get back to work next week."

CovCath hit 23-of-40 shots for 58 percent including 5-of-11 three-point tries for 46 percent and 14-of-17 free throws for 82 percent. The Colonels also had 27 rebounds, 18 fouls, 21 assists, 10 turnovers, three blocked shots and eight steals.

The Colonels led 20-9 after the first quarter and 38-26 at halftime. They led 51-32 entering the fourth quarter.

Highlands takes on Cincinnati (Ohio) Anderson on Tuesday. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

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