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Conner girls’ basketball team ends holidays on a high note by winning title game in own tournament

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By Terry Boehmker
NKyTribune sports reporter

After winning five of six games in holiday tournaments over the last two weeks, Conner girls’ basketball coach Aaron Stamm likes the road the Cougars are on going into the 2018 portion of their schedule.

“That’s was our goal, to get better at both ends of the floor and do some things we’re going to need to do in January and February,” Stamm said. “I think we accomplished what we tried to do.”

Conner forward Maddie Burcham, center, takes the ball to the basket between two Highlands defenders. (Photo by Bob Jackson)

The Cougars (11-2) ended the successful two-week stretch with a 51-41 win over Highlands (9-5) in the championship final of the LaRosa’s Holiday Classic on Friday afternoon at Conner.

It was a game of runs by both teams. Conner outscored Highlands, 14-4, in the second quarter to take a 30-12 halftime lead. But the Bluebirds opened the third quarter with a 16-0 run and got the margin down to 32-31 on a 3-point goal by junior guard Zoie Barth with 1:45 left in that frame.

The Cougars pulled ahead once again and took a 45-32 lead when junior forward Maddie Burcham made two three throws with 5:39 left in the fourth quarter.

Highlands ran off seven straight points after that, but the home team hit six free throws in the final two minutes to nail down the victory.

“When they went on those runs, it was good that we kept out composure,” said Conner junior guard Courtney Hurst, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player. “We’ve played a lot of close games before so we kind of knew what we were doing.”

Hurst, Burcham and junior guard Savannah Jordan have been playing varsity basketball for Conner since the eighth grade. Their experience gave the home team an edge over Highlands, which has several varsity newcomers in its player rotation.

Conner junior guard Courtney Hurst launches a 3-point shot during her team’s win over Highlands. (Photo by Bob Jackson)

“We played scared in the first half,” said Highlands coach Jaime Walz. “In the first half, we were taking 18-foot jump shots. So at halftime we told them to take the ball to the rim and then we were getting and-ones (free throws after baskets).”

Barth scored 10 of her game-high 14 points during Highlands’ comeback in the third quarter. She was the only double-figure scorer for the Bluebirds, who shot 27.7 percent (15 of 54) from the field and committed 13 turnovers.

Conner shot 32.5 percent (13 of 40) from the field and outscored Highlands, 19-8, at the free throw line. The Cougars’ leading scorers were Hurst with 13 points and Jordan with 10. Burcham finished with nine points and a game-high 10 rebounds.

Conner also got 13 points and eight rebounds off the bench from senior forward Blair Kennedy and junior guard Joy Strange.

“Kennedy is one of those kids who probably could start, but she does so many good things coming off the bench that we don’t get anywhere else,” coach Stamm said. “With Joy Strange, it’s the same thing. You got both of them coming off the bench and it’s like having seven starters.”

Conner will have the best record (11-2) in 9th Region girls’ basketball going into the new year, but Stamm said there’s no clear-cut favorite this early in the season.

“I think we’re in that little pack of teams (that are contenders), but we’re at a point where anybody can beat anybody,” he said. “We’ve still got a long way to go. We have made some good strides these last two weeks. And that was our goal, just to get better.”

HIGHLANDS   8   4   19  10  — 41
CONNER       16  14  10  11  — 51

HIGHLANDS (9-5): Hayes 2 1 6, Barth 5 4 14, Buecker 2 1 5, Dill 1 0 2, Hinegardner 2 0 5, Jansen 2 0 4, O’Hara 1 2 4. Totals: 15 8 41

CONNER (11-2): Hurst 4 2 13, Jordan 3 2 10, Burcham 1 7 9, Kennedy 2 2 7, Drummond 1 0 2, Strange 0 6 6. Mclemore 2 0 4. Totals: 13 19 41.

3-pointers: H —  Hayes, Barth, Hinegardner. C — Hurst 3, Jordan 2, Kennedy.

Conner — Courtney Hurst (MVP), Savannah Jordan, Joy Strange, Maddie Burcham. Highlands — Zoie Barth, Chloe Jansen, Rory O’Hara. Cooper — Lexi Held, Asyah Mitchell. Notre Dame — Danielle Rennekamp.

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