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Thursday, September 2, 2021

Highlands Edges Newport Central Catholic, 4-3

Bluebirds Win 11th Straight Against Thoroughbreds

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands junior forward Anna Melson (3) waits to take a penalty kick in the second half. Melson hit it in the 4-3 win over Newport Central Catholic.

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The Highlands Bluebirds girls soccer team (4-1) had control for all but the game's first 10 minutes and the game's final 10 minutes.

But in the rivalry game at Morscher Field in Silver Grove, the host Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds (5-3-1) did not give up despite trailing 4-1 with 9:58 left in the game. The Thoroughbreds scored twice and drew a penalty kick with 1:07 left in the game looking to tie the game and potentially send it to overtime.

"At that point, I was thinking if can just get to the end of the game so we can have a moment to relax, get everyone fired back up to go into overtime," said Chris Norris, Highlands Head Coach. "As I was telling the girls, sometimes I'd rather be lucky than good. That way you get to go home on time."

But senior Ella Meyer's second penalty kick in less than a minute hit the left post and bounced the opposite direction away from the white line. Highlands held on for the 4-3 victory.

"Part of what we were able to do was get everyone into the game and get at least 10 minutes a half," Norris said. "I thought that was good that they got that experience. I think NCC just straight up outplayed us in the last 10 minutes of the game. They just had that hunger. When you take some of the starters off and you start filling some of those holes, some of the girls that don't get enough playing, they're just not quite sure where they're supposed to go, what they're supposed to do. The communication drops a little bit. The composure drops. The confidence drops. Once all those things start falling down, NCC is just too good a team to not counter on those mistakes. We'll go back to the drawing board and get back working on some fitness again and making sure everybody knows the roles and that when they get five to 10 minutes, they know have to go as hard as they can and we have someone else that can come back in with some fresh legs."

18 N. Fort Thomas Ave. 

Highlands has won 11 straight against Newport Central Catholic. The last time NewCath beat Highlands came by a 2-1 score in the 36th District title game at Tower Park on Oct. 15, 2015.

Both teams had an even 17 shots. NewCath had 11 on goal to 10 for Highlands. But the Thoroughbreds had four corner kicks and just five fouls to 11 fouls and three corner kicks for the Bluebirds. Both teams drew two offsides calls.

Highlands senior goalkeeper Hailey Parks recorded eight saves playing the entire game. Freshman goalkeeper Kaitlyn Haigis made six for NewCath.

The Thoroughbreds led 1-0 for a good part of the first half. Junior forward Karly Enginger shot one from the right of the goal that Parks just could not grip squirting over the line for the goal just five minutes, 09 seconds into the game. That marked Enginger's seventh goal of the season.

But Highlands tied the game with 14:21 left in the first half. Freshman forward Claire Cavacini scored her third goal of the season and senior forward Chloe Bramble netted her second assist on the grass field.

"We're very spoiled in that we have a turf field (at Tower Park) and that we play a lot of our games there," Norris said. "I think this gets us back to our roots a little bit for what soccer was meant to be played on, especially in the hills of Kentucky. I wouldn't rate this field as fantastic. But it's probably the best look I've seen in years. It definitely slowed us down. So many of our passes weren't connecting because they were just too weak. I don't think we adjusted well to that."

Parks recorded a huge save with 35:35 left in the second half. Then with 32:10 left, Highlands junior forward Anna Melson drew a penalty in the attacking box and hit the penalty kick to put the Bluebirds up for good at 2-1. That is Melson's first goal of the season.

"I would just say especially when it's a PK, just stay composed," Melson said. "You have a side to stick to. Don't change it and be confident."

The Bluebirds tried to pull away. Senior forward Faith Broering found sophomore forward Laney Smith in the middle for the score with 27:21 left to give Highlands a 3-1 lead.

That dynamic scoring duo followed up with 9:58 left to put Highlands up 4-1. But Broering scored her fourth goal of the season and Smith had her first assist. Smith also has four goals and a team-high nine points.

NewCath trimmed the margin to 4-2 with 6:58 left in the game. Junior midfielder Kiley Murphy scored her first goal of the season before Meyer hit a penalty kick for her fourth goal of the season with 1:41 remaining.

"I don't think we adjusted to the officials very well," Norris said. "They were calling things very tight and we're a physical team. We kept playing with our hands up on peoples' backs. You take all those things into consideration and we just did not play smart. We were able to outscore them. Sometimes, that's what soccer is."

The Highlands defensive backfield came into the year with little varsity experience outside senior Jade Rehberger. The Bluebirds have taken some lumps in the last few games.

"We're working a lot on balls out of the air, overlapping and trying to get our outside backs involved with the play," said Kate Fausz, Highlands freshman defender. "(Highlands sophomore midfielder) Ava Meyer and I, one of our greatest assets is being able to have great services on the ball, staying low to the ground and getting good tackles. We've been trying to work really well defensively shifting as a unit. Jade has been a great mentor in helping all of us out."

Highlands also won the junior varsity contest by a 5-2 score. The Bluebirds scored four times in the second half after trailing 2-1 at halftime.

The Bluebirds play another county rivalry game Saturday in Alexandria against the Campbell County Camels (7-2). Game time is 4 p.m.

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