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Friday, February 28, 2020

Highlands Wins District Title in Convincing Fashion

Bluebirds Bring Home Elusive District Champiuonship

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands sophomore guard Zach Barth (10) and sophomore forward Oliver Harris (13) run at Newport senior guard DaeShawn White (0) in the first half of the 36th District championship Friday. Highlands pulled away for a 75-49 victory for the first district championship for the program since 2008.
If they starred in a move, it would probably be titled, "Left Behind No Longer."

The Highlands Bluebirds boys basketball team (26-3 overall) had been the only one of seven 36th District teams at the school that had not won a district championship in the last several years. That ended Friday with a convincing 75-49 victory over the host Newport Wildcats (15-14).

That ended a run of 12 seasons without a district championship for Highlands. The Bluebirds last won it by a 75-37 score over Bellevue in Fort Thomas on March 1, 2008.

Highlands did it the same way it has been winning all season. That's with solid defense and balanced offense.

"We talked about this week playing fast and being focused," said Kevin Listerman, Highlands Head Coach. "I thought we had a pretty good practice (Thursday). At shoot-around, they were pretty locked in. When you have guys that step up and make shots early in a game like this, it certainly lets you dictate the tempo."

Newport hurt Newport Central Catholic in the district semifinals with solid rebounding that led to some run-outs. Highlands won the rebounding battle, 40-38 and outscored the Wildcats, 31-13 in points off turnovers. Senior forward Jack Delagrange had seven rebounds to go with six points, two steals and a blocked shot.

"We all had tasks boxing out," said Luke Muller, Highlands junior forward. "They are super athletic. That's how they get second-chance points and that's how they get leads. We had to avoid that. Jack Delagrage and (junior) Bryson Cody were there to box out and we cleaned up the glass so they did their jobs and helped us through the end of the game."

Junior point guard Sam Vinson again led the way with 23 points making three triples to go with seven rebounds, five assists, two blocked shots and eight steals for the Bluebirds. Vinson added an emphatic dunk late in the game.

Highlands saw three others reach double figures. Senior guard Hunter Ahlfeld scored 14 points to go with two rebounds, two assists and two steals. Sophomore guard Zach Barth scored 13 points on three triples to go with three rebounds and an assist and Muller scored 12 points to go with six rebounds, one assist and one blocked shot.

The Bluebirds made 26-of-60 shots for 43 percent including 9-of-21 from three-point range for 43 percent and 14-of-23 free throws for 61 percent. Highlands also had 13 fouls, 15 assists, 15 turnovers, four blocked shots and 14 steals.

Highlands outscored Newport, 20-6 off the bench. Sophomore post Oliver Harris scored six points and dished off six assists for the Bluebirds. The teams had 15 second-chance points each.

"It's very important for everyone to know his role and play it to to the best of his ability in order for the team to have the most amount of success it can," Harris said. "When they have to respect the inside game, it opens up shots for the three-point shooters on the arc and opens up lanes for people attacking the basket from the outside."

The Bluebirds led from start to finish. They were up 19-11 after the first quarter, 40-21 at halftime and 55-40 entering the fourth quarter.

Newport made 20-of-59 shots for 34 percent including 3-of-18 three-point tries for 17 percent and 6-of-9 free throws for 67 percent. The Wildcats also had 19 fouls, 10 assists, 22 turnovers, two blocked shots and nine steals.

Senior guard DaeShawn White scored 19 points and had six rebounds. Senior forward Kaleal Davis scored 12 points and had seven rebounds with junior guard KeAndre Nelson scoring 10.

Muller, Ahlfeld and Vinson made the all-tournament team. But Vinson gave his tournament most valuable player plaque to injured senior teammate Jacob Brass. Brass went out for the season on Jan. 14 in the 97-79 win over Covington Holmes.

"I'm really happy for this team. All these guys worked really hard in the off-season when people aren't even watching," Brass said. "Now they just get the chance to show it. I'm really happy to watch it and be a part of it. I'm glad they include me. Since I can't play on the court, I'm just trying to encourage as much as I can."

This is the seventh season as head coach for Listerman. The Bluebirds made the region tournament his first season and went back last year after missing out the previous four seasons.

"I want all the guys who played for me to know they're a part of this," Listerman said. "The process just takes a little while sometimes. I'm so proud of all the kids that have been in our program. This means a lot."

Newport had won the last two district championships including a 64-61 decision over Highlands last year at Newport Central Catholic. The Wildcats have not missed the 9th Region Tournament since 2014.

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