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Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Highlands Basketball Teams Advance to District Title Game

9th Region Player of Year Focused on Helping Bluebirds Go on Deep Postseason Run

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands senior point guard Sam Vinson (right) makes a move in a recent game. He recently won a second straight 9th Region Player of the Year award and is a recipient for Kentucky Mr. Basketball.


Sam Vinson
admits it is an honor earning consecutive 9th Region Player of the Year honors.

Vinson won the Kentucky Basketball Coaches Association Player of the Year award this year, which only goes to seniors. He won the 9th Region Coaches Player of the Year award last year. It is awarded long after the season is over.

But the 6-foot-5-inch senior point guard and Northern Kentucky University commit is focused on helping the Highlands Bluebirds boys basketball team go on another long postseason run. The Bluebirds started the postseason with an 89-24 win over the Bellevue Tigers on Tuesday at Dayton.

"That feels great. But we're not done yet," Vinson said. "It doesn't really mean anything to me until we put a ring on our fingers. It's all about playing as a team right now and making a run at Rupp Arena."

Vinson made four free throws on his way to four points. He also had four rebounds, one blocked shot, two assists and a steal. But the Bluebirds led 33-6 after the first quarter so the reserves saw a lot of playing time.


"You don't get to those type of honors without having a successful team,"
 said Kevin Listerman, Highlands Head Coach. "The two are intricately connected. The best thing about Sam is he is such a great teammate. He's more about winning and having his teammates have success than he is concerned about his own. That's what makes it real easy to root for a kid like Sam and vote for him to be totally honest."

Highlands had beaten Bellevue, 104-42 on Jan. 28. That is one of two times the Bluebirds hit the century mark this year. But Vinson and company know teams improve in between meetings. Highlands has won 13 in a row.

"It's another game. You have to go out there and give it your all," Vinson said. "You have to play as a team and do your stuff. We took care of business."

Vinson has had a number of slam dunks this year. That is one of many ways the Bluebirds have had to bring their own intensity this year with limits in the number of fans this season as a result of Coronavirus 2019 precautions.

"Our bench has been great. the reactions, the energy the bench gives us has been phenomenal this year," Vinson said. "When a dunk, it just bring energy to the team as a whole. We get some momentum from it."

Highlands made 34-of-59 shots for 57 percent including 13-of-29 three-point tries for 45 percent and all eight free throws. The Bluebirds also had 42 rebounds, six blocked shots, 17 assists, eight steals and seven fouls.

Senior forward Luke Muller led the way with 25 points. Sophomore guard Will Herald scored 14 points with senior forward Bryson Cody scoring 12 and junior guard Zach Barth scoring nine to go with five assists.

"We talk a lot about playing to our standard and our potential regardless of who's on the other side and we talk a lot about respecting our opponents," Listerman said. "The best way to respect your opponent is to play hard and to give your best effort. We felt like we did that."

No one scored more than four points for Bellevue. The Tigers made 10-of-52 shots for 19 percent including 2-of-18 from three-point range for 11 percent and 2-of-4 free throws for 50 percent. Bellevue also had 16 rebounds.

The Bluebirds will face either Newport or Newport Central Catholic on Thursday in the 36th District championship game. Game time is 7 p.m. at Dayton.

Highlands won the district championship last year for the first time since 2008 by a 75-49 count over host Newport. The Bluebirds then drove to the 9th Region championship before falling 59-54 to Covington Catholic.

Basketball, Girls:
Highlands 75, Newport 15:

The top-seeded Bluebirds (18-6) led 30-3 after one and 55-7 at halftime cruising to a win over the Ladycats (8-8).

Highlands made 23 two-pointers, seven triples and 8-of-16 free throws for 50 percent. Senior forward Kelsey Listerman led the way with 27 points with senior forward Rory O'Hara and junior center CC Shick scoring 10 points each.

Eight Bluebirds scored. Senior guard Kate Vaught and junior guard Meg Gessner scored nine points each.

"I just think we played really good team basketball," Vaught said. "A lot of people had a lot of points. But a lot of people had a lot of assists, too. It's really just about finding the open girl and taking good shots, but also setting up good shots for your teammates."

Newport made just one two-pointer and one triple. The Ladycats hit 10-of-14 free throws for 71 percent. Freshman center DeAyjah White led Newport with seven points.

Highlands plays either Newport Central Catholic or Bellevue on Friday in the district title game back at Dayton. Game time is 7 p.m.

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