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Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Highlands Rolls Past Ryle in Region Quarterfinals

Bluebirds Hit Century Mark for Third Time This Season

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Head Coach Kevin Listerman said hitting the century mark is not the goal.

But it helped the third time the Highlands Bluebirds boys basketball team (24-4 overall) did it came in the 9th Region quarterfinals defeating the Ryle Raiders (9-13), 104-62 Monday. It marked the final appearance at Russell Bridges Gym this year and for the four Highlands seniors in guards Sam Vinson, Daniel Buchanan and forward Luke Muller and Bryson Cody.

"What I'm more interested in is what kind of shots are we taking? What kind of shots are we getting and sharing the basketball," Listerman said. "In transition, we're able to do that a lot easier and our shooters got open. Three of our first four baskets were threes. We were then able to get into our press, set the tempo and control things from the outset."

The win propelled the two-time 36th District champion Bluebirds into the semifinals Wednesday against the two-time All "A" state champion and 34th District runner-up St. Henry Crusaders (18-3) at 6 p.m. at Covington Holmes. St. Henry knocked off three-time defending 9th Region champion Covington Catholic Colonels (24-4) by the identical 61-60 in the quarterfinal match-up at Holmes they did on Feb. 23 at home during the regular season.

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. The Highlands fans and students watched the Bluebirds dominate the final home game of the season by a 104-62 score against the Ryle Raiders.

After the game, the Highlands players waited to hear the result in the locker room and some parents gathered to hear it in the gym. The Highlands starters began to anticipate it when the came out of the game with four minutes left in the third quarter up 82-38.

"We have a lot of guys that can do some things," Listerman said. "It's nice to get the young guys on the floor and get that region tournament experience. It is always good to have that first time not be under a lot of pressure. The kids enjoyed it. Those guys at the end of the bench work as hard as everybody else. They deserve a bit of an award and it was nice to be able to give them that."

St. Henry ended CovCath's run of eight consecutive appearances in the region championship game that began in 2013. The blue Colonels won the region championship five times during that run and won state championships in 2014 and 2018.

Muller and sophomore guard Will Herald made triples in the first minute giving the Bluebirds a 6-0 lead they would not relinquish. Ryle did cut the margin to 11-7 with four minutes, 40 seconds left in the quarter. But the Bluebirds finished the quarter with a 19-6 run to go up 30-13.

Vinson put on a show in the first quarter with four dunks including a backwards jam with 1:47 left in the quarter scoring 10 points. Junior guard Zach Barth scored 11 points in that quarter on three threes including one with two seconds left.

Highlands used an 18-0 run to start the second quarter to go up 48-13 with 5:10 left in the second quarter. Junior forward Cole Kocher started the run with two buckets including an offensive put-back.

"We came out with a lot of energy and when we come out with energy on defense, it translate into our offense being amazing," Kocher said. "It feels good to be playing really well at the end of the season, especially because this is the time to play as best as you can."

The Bluebirds led 64-31 at halftime and 90-43 after three quarters. Highlands junior forward Oliver Harris scored with 5:43 left in the third quarter to put Highlands up 73-38 enforcing the running clock.

Highlands junior forward Austin Duncan scored the 100th point in the fourth quarter. He admitted he did not know that at that moment. But he knew Highlands was close.

"The starters came in and did what they had to do," Duncan said. "We just came in and just tried to continue what they were doing taking good, quality shots. At Highlands, we have a tradition of just being warbirds going out there and always trying to play our best. That's what we did (Monday)."

Barth led Highlands with 20 points as 11 different Bluebirds scored. Barth had four triples to go with three rebounds and seven assists with Muller scoring 17 making four triples. Vinson had 16 points, eight rebounds and five assists.

The other two Highlands starters also scored in double digits. Harris scored 12 and Herald had 11.

Highlands made 42-of-66 shots for 64 percent including 15-of-30 three-point tries for 50 percent and 7-of-9 free throws for 78 percent. The Bluebirds also had 33 rebounds, 27 assists and eight steals.

Junior guard Donovan Robinson made three three-pointers on his way to 17 points to lead the Raiders and landed a spot on the all-region tournament team. Senior guard Tyler Bush and junior forward Nathan Yowan followed with 10 each.

"(Robinson) and (Bush) got to their averages," Listerman said. "But it took them a long time to get there. One of our goals when you're guarding the team's leading scorer is to hold them to one point per shot or less and I think we did that."

Ryle made 23-of-59 shots for 39 percent including 8-of-24 from three-point land for 33 percent and 8-of-10 free throws for 80 percent. The Raiders also had 23 rebounds and three assists.

The capacity at games recently loosened some. But the school organized a watch party for other students and fans on the football field. Some Ryle fans and students joined the Bluebird supporters at David Cecil Memorial Stadium.

Highlands lost 82-80 to St. Henry at Russell Bridges on Jan. 9. The Bluebirds are making their second straight appearance in the 9th Region semifinals. They lost 59-54 to Covington Catholic in the region championship game last year.

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