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Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Highlands Falls Short Against Alabama Power

Bluebirds Face CHCA in Second Game of Carespring HOliday Classic

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands senior guard Leyton Read (12) gets in position while Zach Barth (10) dribbles in the Carespring Holiday Classic against Vestavia Hills (Alabama) on Tuesday. Highlands lost 78-74.

The will power of the Highlands Bluebirds boys basketball team (7-4 overall) stood out until the end of this one.

The Bluebirds took on the Vestavia Hills Rebels (11-1) from Alabama's largest Class 7A in the Carespring Holiday Classic at Russell Bridges Gymnasium. The Rebels made more plays down the stretch to hold on for a 78-74 victory.

"(It's about) making the tough plays (down the stretch)," said Kevin Listerman, Highlands Head Coach. "We didn't block out a couple of times and gave up some stick-backs. It's finishing a possession on offense. It's making that one more pass and knocking it down. It's knowing an assignment defensively and making the right rotation. The teams that we're playing right now are very, very good. So when you make those mistakes, they don't miss those opportunities. They make you pay for it. That's going to pay off for us in the long run. You get exposed. You're going to have to learn and adjust and we are. I thought our effort for 32 minutes was probably the best we've had. We just need to make a couple more plays."

Vestavia Hills is a suburb of Alabama's largest city in Birmingham. The lone loss of the year came to the defending Class 7A champion Birmingham Oak Mountain Eagles, 53-50 on Dec. 10.

Rebel junior 6-foot-3-inch shooting guard Win Miller showed why schools such as Auburn, Virginia Tech and the University of Georgia are recruiting him. Miller made 7-of-14 shots including 4-of-5 from three-point range and 13-of-16 free throws on his way to 33 points.

Miller came up huge for the Rebels in the third quarter. Highlands led 47-39. But Miller scored, recorded a steal on the inbounds pass, drew the foul and made two free throws to cut the Highlands lead to 47-43 with 5:30 left in the quarter.

"We had one of those guys (Sam Vinson who is starting at Northern Kentucky University) last year. That's what a Division I recruit does," Listerman said. "He controlled the game. They have some tough seniors. They run their stuff well. That is good for us. We have some good point guards we're going to face the next five, six weeks."

The Rebels had balance with seven different players scoring. Cole Turner scored 13 and Alex Armstrong added 11. Vestavia Hills made 27-of-56 shots for 48 percent including 7-of-21 from three-point range for 33 percent and 17-of-28 free throws for 61 percent. The Rebels had 23 rebounds, five assists, three steals and eight turnovers.

The Bluebirds displayed their usual balance offensively. Senior guards Zach Barth and Leyton Read scored 19 and 18 points respectively to lead the way. Senior forward Oliver Harris scored 15 with junior guard Will Herald scoring nine and sophomore center Brody Benke scoring eight.

Highlands made 31-of-55 shots for 56 percent including 11-of-23 from three-point range for 48 percent and 3-of-6 free throws for 50 percent. The Bluebirds also had 31 rebounds, 15 assists, four steals and 15 turnovers.

The game stayed back-and-forth through the first three quarters. Read hit two triples and Barth had an offensive put-back to give Highlands an 8-3 lead in the first couple minutes of the game.

But Vestavia Hills came back to tie the game. The Bluebirds led 21-20 after one following a Seth Ryan offensive put-back and 36-34 at halftime.

Highlands led by eight twice in the third quarter. But Vestavia Hills fought back and took a 56-55 lead with 1:27 left when Miller made 2-of-3 free throws. The Rebels led 58-57 entering the fourth quarter.

The Rebels built some distance with offensive rebounds leading 69-61 at one point. But Read and Herald made triples to make things interesting. A Read triple with 1:10 left in the game cut the lead to 75-74. But the Rebels made 3-of-4 free throws in the final 36 seconds to pull away.

"We got into foul trouble. We decided to go small and spread out their pressure," Listerman said. "It hurt us on the backboards. It's one of the things we talked about at the timeout. Those are just winning plays that a team like finishes."

Highlands concludes the holiday tournament at 7:45 p.m. on Wednesday. The opponent is Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy.

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