Highlands 70 Beechwood 29
Highlands High School put together another great Senior Night on Friday.
The school honored the senior basketball players, cheerleaders and dance team members as part of the doubleheader with Beechwood. The Ladybirds (20-8 overall) put an exclamation point on the night with a convincing 70-29 victory over the Lady Tigers (9-15). The Bluebirds (12-16) then tried to do the same thing but came up short in a 63-55 defeat to the Tigers (15-12).
The six Ladybird seniors are guards Jenna Martin, Taylor Baioni and forwards Lauren Epperson, Macy Gabbard, Rachel Vinson and Emma Little. They scored a combined 35 points in the final regular season this year for Highlands. Martin did her usual thing scoring 14 points on two three-pointers to go with four assists and two steals. Highlands clinched its fifth straight season of 20 or more victories.
Epperson added nine points in her return after missing two games. Epperson added six rebounds, two assists, two blocked shots and a steal. Baioni and Epperson each made a three-pointer with Little leading Highlands with four steals and Vinson recording two blocked shots and an assist.
"We've worked in practice on rebounding and they did that," said Jaime Walz-Richey, Highlands Head Coach. "We were able to get some points in transition, which we haven't been able to do for a while. We did all the little things we needed to do."
Gabbard has been injured since the season-opening loss at Louisville Sacred Heart. But she dressed for the game.
"They asked me if I wanted to go out on the court, but I didn't really feel the need to because it's not really that, that's important," Gabbard said. "It's about being able to be with your team for your last game. I'm trying to help (my teammates) cheering them on."
Sophomore Hannah Buecker led Highlands with 15 points and Zoie Barth scored nine as 10 different Ladybirds scored. The Ladybirds made 25-of-54 shots for 46 percent including 7-of-23 from three-point range and 13-of-18 free throws for 72 percent.
Beechwood runs a lot of its offense through seniors Allison Johnson and Kimi Stokes. Johnson and Stokes came in averaging 20.3 and 14.1 points per game. But Highlands held them to 10 and five points respectively. The Lady Tigers tried to penetrate and spin to the basket. But Highlands trapped successfully to take that away for the most part.
"It's a credit to the players," Richey said. "They came out and executed our game plan. (Johnson) is an unbelievable player. She was just named Player of the Year in the 9th Region so we knew we had to get the ball out of her hands. It took all five of them out on the court to do that."
The Lady Tigers made 12-of-41 shots for 29 percent including 1-of-9 three-point tries for 11 percent and 4-of-6 free throws for 67 percent. Highlands won the rebounding battle, 37-22 and had 11 assists, 17 steals, five blocked shots and just 16 turnovers to one assist, seven steals, one blocked shot and 26 turnovers for the visitors.
"It really paid off getting our shots up and working on rebounding," Vinson said. "We had to use our strengths to our advantage. (Hard trapping) was very critical because if (Stokes and Johnson) were scoring, it would have been a close game. But trapping them and making them pass the ball meant others had to score, which they didn't."
Highlands led 39-17 at halftime. The Ladybirds extended it to 59-22 after three allowing the reserves some playing time. Freshmen Maggie Hinegardner and Meghan Walz saw their first varsity action in the win.
"I was really nervous and the speed of the game was faster than I anticipated," Walz said. "But once I got out there, it was easier to run with it."
Highlands earned the top seed in the 36th District Tournament at Dayton and will face either Newport (10-19) or Bellevue (15-14) in the semifinals on Tuesday. Game time is 6 p.m.
Fort Thomas Matters Sports: Senior Night Split for Highlands