|Bluebirds End Losing Streak to Jaguars|
|PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands senior Hunter Ahlfeld (14) gets down in defensive position in a recent game.|
Highlands improved to 10-2 in region action and Cooper fell to 7-7. But this victory for the Bluebirds ended a nine-game losing streak against the Jaguars dating back to the lone win in the series for Highlands on Dec. 11, 2008 by an 85-49 count in Union. The Jaguars under the guidance of Head Coach Tim Sullivan had been 4-0 all-time in Fort Thomas entering Tuesday.
The Bluebirds also hit the 22-win total on the season for the first time since the 2005-06 team finished 23-8 winning the 36th District championship before losing 75-57 to Covington Catholic in the 9th Region semifinals. The 2007-08 and 2008-09 Highlands teams won 21 games each.
The win total equals that of the last region championship Highlands team in 2001. That team finished 22-9 losing 56-40 to Newport Central Catholic in the 36th District championship game before winning the 9th Region title for the fourth time in five years and losing 59-45 to Russellville in the first round of the state tournament.
Cooper started the season 0-5, but had won three of its last five games coming into the game. The Jaguars have been to the region tournament seven times in the past eight seasons with six 33rd District championships, one 9th Region crown in 2017 and a state runner-up finish that same season.
"They're a really solid team," said Kevin Listerman, Highlands Head Coach. "They have some pieces. They battled some health issues. Coach Sullivan is a good of a game-planning coach and gets his kids to fight, claw and compete. You're not going to blow them out very often. We controlled for a little over three quarters. Then we just didn't make free throws down the stretch like we normally do that would have protected the lead and kept it at double digits. But give (the Jaguars) credit because they made some shots."
Listerman became head coach in 2013. The Bluebirds have beaten every team in the 9th Region since he took over the program with the exception of Covington Latin and Heritage Academy, whom the Bluebirds have not played.
"I think what we've done so far is pretty amazing," said Evan Rom, Highlands junior guard. "But the season is not over. We're trying to make practice more competitive. After the (65-39) CovCath loss (on Feb. 1), that was an awakening for us. We're taking it one game at a time."
The Bluebirds saw another strong performance from junior point guard Sam Vinson. Vinson made 3-of-5 three-point tries on his way to 27 points to go with eight rebounds, five assists, four blocked shots and three steals.
Senior guard Hunter Ahlfeld had a good game with 13 points. He made two three-pointers and had two assists. Junior forward Bryson Cody had nine points to go with four rebounds and one blocked shot.
Highlands made 23-of-40 shots for 58 percent including 8-of-15 from three-point range for 53 percent and 12-of-20 free throws for 60 percent. The Bluebirds also had 23 rebounds, 13 fouls, 11 assists, five turnovers, six blocked shots and six steals.
Junior guard Gavin Rabe and senior guard Kevin Centers came into the game averaging 15.5 and 10.1 points per game to lead Cooper. Centers scored 18 and Rabe had 15. Their third-leading scorer in junior forward Jacob Deere scored 12.
Cooper made 22-of-47 shots for 47 percent including 9-of-20 from three-point range for 45 percent and 8-of-14 free throws for 57 percent. The Jaguars also had 27 rebounds, 14 fouls, three assists and 10 turnovers.
Highlands faces Lloyd Memorial (13-10) on Friday for Senior Night. Game time is 7:30 p.m.