There was little doubt the Highlands Bluebirds boys basketball team came into the 9th Region Tournament playing the best of any team in the tournament with a 14-game winning streak.
Following a 104-62 thrashing of the Ryle Raiders in the quarterfinals in Fort Thomas on Monday, Highlands took care of St. Henry in the semifinals by a 74-68 count Wednesday at Covington Holmes. The Bluebirds needed to extend the streak to 17 straight Friday to make it to the Commonwealth of Kentucky's promised land of Rupp Arena in Lexington.
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Conner scored the game's first four points before Vinson scored five straight to put Highlands up 5-4. The Bluebirds led by three at 9-6 at one point after Herald made a triple from the right wing with 3:45 left in the quarter.
Highlands (26-4 overall) once again saw all five starters score in double figures. Senior point guard and the tournament's most valuable player Sam Vinson again led the way with 21 points to go with eight rebounds, two assists, four blocked shots and two steals.
Junior guard Zach Barth and senior forward Luke Muller found spots on the all-tournament team with 15 and 14 points respectively. Sophomore guard Will Herald and junior forward Oliver Harris followed with 12 and 10 respectively.
"We had some good looks in the first half. We didn't knock them down," said Kevin Listerman, Highlands Head Coach. "In the second half, we changed the action a bit. We got it more inside-outside. The ball penetrated the zone a bit more and we got the kick-outs. We caught it in rhythm and knocked shots down. Our team is sharing the ball well. I couldn't be more proud of them."
Barth, Muller and Herald made four three-pointers each. The other two starters made one each. But the Bluebirds have scored multiple ways this year. Conner mostly played man-to-man defense, but did switch to a 1-2-2 zone at one point in the game.
"It says a lot about how we can adjust to defenses, how versatile we are and how we work on all parts of the game," Harris said. "We just went to a different offense (against the zone), swung the ball and made some shots."
Playing in a state tournament will be nothing new for Muller. He helped guide the Highlands boys golf team to two region championships in three seasons. The Bluebirds finished sixth at state this past fall.
Highlands used a six-man rotation in the game. Highlands junior Leyton Read came off the bench to give the Bluebirds quality minutes. He scored five points including one three.
Highlands won the regular season meeting against Conner on Feb. 6 at Russell Bridges Gym. The Bluebirds rallied from a double-digit deficit to win 78-75.
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