By Terry Boehmker
Highlands girls’ basketball coach Jaime Richey has been pushing her players to rebound better for most of the season, and now they know why.
The Bluebirds defeated Newport Central Catholic, 48-40, in a 36th District semifinal game on Tuesday because they grabbed more rebounds and made more free throws than their long-time rivals.
The final stats showed Highlands winning the battle on the boards, 34-21 and outscoring NewCath, 23-8, at the foul line.
“We’ve been working real hard on rebounding,” Richey said. “Just in general, but especially for this game because we knew we had to do it to go to the next round.”
The win guarantees Highlands a berth in next week’s 9th Region Tournament no matter what the Bluebirds do in the 36th District final set for 7 p.m. Friday at Highlands.
But that’s not the only reason the seniors on the Highlands roster were literally jumping for joy as they headed for their locker room after the game.
“We haven’t beaten (NewCath) in all my four years,” said senior center Jesse Daley. “And we beat them at the right time – senior year, in the district. If I was going to pick a day to beat them, it would be this one.”
Daley scored six of her team’s 11 points in the second quarter, including the basket that put Highlands ahead, 17-15, at the halftime break.
The Bluebirds led by as much as eight points in the third quarter. But NewCath cut it to 33-31 early in the fourth quarter when sophomore forward Alexus Mayes was fouled while making a basket and then swished a free throw.
The scored stayed close until Highlands closed it out with an 11-5 run in the final four minutes. The Bluebirds scored all 11 points at the foul line with freshman guard Brianna Adler hitting six of the pressure-packed free throws.
“I have been in that situation before and it’s very intimidating with all the noise and the crowd and everything,” Adler said. “You’ve just got to step up and hit them the best you can.”
Adler finished with a team-high 12 points, followed by Daley with 11. Highlands forward Leah Schafer was held to six points, five below her season average, but the 6-foot-2 senior snagged seven rebounds and blocked four shots.
“It’s been like that the whole year – someone steps up and fills in when we need them,” Richey said. “Leah knew we needed her to rebound and she did it at both ends, which is always great to see in such a big game.”
NewCath junior forward Nicole Kiernan finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks. Her last field goal made it 39-37 with a little over three minutes left in the game, but the Thoroughbreds did not score on five of their last six possessions and Highlands pulled away.
“(Highlands) just made very single free throw and we didn’t make the big shots,” said NewCath coach George Stoll. “That was the single difference in the game.”
HIGHLANDS (23-7): Adler 1 10 12, Fisse 2 4 9, Schaefer 3 0 6, Daley 4 3 11, Combs 2 2 6, Coffey 0 2 2, Abner 0 2 2. Totals: 12 23 48.
NEWCATH (20-10): Lewis 4 0 10, Kiernan 4 5 13, Davenport 2 0 6, Ware 2 0 4, Mayes 2 3 7. Totals: 14 8 40.
3-pointers: H–Fisse. NCC–Lewis 2, Davenport 2.
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