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Friday, March 12, 2021

Highlands Downs Walton-Verona to Conclude Regular Season

Bluebirds Enter Postseason on 12-Game Winning Streak

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands senior Bryson Cody (31) waits on a free-throw attempt during a recent game.

There is no doubt the Highlands Bluebirds boys basketball team (21-4 overall) is playing great basketball entering the season.

The Bluebirds concluded the regular season with another convincing 80-59 win over the host Walton-Verona Bearcats (14-13) on Thursday. Highlands enters the postseason on a 12-game winning streak.

The teams had not played since a 70-62 Bearcat win in overtime in Walton on Dec. 15, 2016. The teams played each other the first four seasons after Kevin Listerman took over as head coach of the Bluebirds in 2013 with the Bearcats winning all four meetings. Highlands last beat Walton-Verona, 53-30 in Fort Thomas on Jan. 12, 2012.

"I thought we played pretty good defense," Listerman said. "Our pressure for us created both turnovers and pressure for us early. We're a group where when we see the ball go in the basket, it usually goes through in bunches. We've been on a pretty good role lately. The kids are playing with a lot of confidence, freedom and a lot of energy. We've talked about playing with purpose and energy and they've really done a great job of that."

The Bluebirds made 30-of-54 shots for 56 percent including 10-of-22 from three-point range for 46 percent and 10-of-12 free throws for 83 percent. Highlands also had 34 rebounds, 19 assists, three steals and eight turnovers.

"Rotating people in and out and changing some personnel really helps keep fresh legs in there ultimately allowing us to push the pace with teams," said Bryson Cody, Highlands senior forward. "That's what we do best."

Highlands senior forward Luke Muller led the way with 20 points as eight different player scored with four in double figures. Muller also had six rebounds and two assists.

Senior point guard Sam Vinson, who is the Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches 9th Region Player of the Year and a Mr. Kentucky Basketball candidate, scored 19 points to go with eight assists, two steals, six rebounds and two blocked shots.

Sophomore guard Will Herald followed with 13 points and junior guard Zach Barth scored 12. Barth also had six assists. Junior forward Oliver Harris had a team-high eight rebounds.

Walton-Verona made 24-of-60 shots for 40 percent including 7-of-23 from three-point range for 30 percent and 5-of-9 free throws for 56 percent. The Bearcats also had 25 rebounds, one assist, three steals and seven turnovers.

The Bearcats saw three players score in double figures. Junior guards Cameron Christy and Brant Smithers scored 16 each with freshman Julian Dixon scoring 10.

Highlands played 25 of the 30 games allowed during the regular season. Some teams did not even play that many games as a result of Coronavirus 2019 precautions.

"The credit goes to our kids and parents. They gave up a lot in order for us to stay healthy and play basketball games," Listerman said. "We talked about making great choices off the floor. Our janitors have done a good job converting our gym into a cafeteria and back to a gym."

Highlands plays either Dayton or Bellevue on Tuesday in the 36th District semifinals at Dayton. Game time is 6 p.m.

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