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Dixie Heights upsets top-ranked Conner in opening round of girls 9th Region basketball tournament

By Terry Boehmker
NKyTribune sports reporter

There were some anxious moments late in the fourth quarter, but Dixie Heights managed to pull off a major upset with a 58-54 win over Conner in the opening round of the 9th Region girls basketball tournament on Wednesday at BB&T Arena.

Conner ended the regular season ranked No. 1 in the statewide coaches poll and Dixie Heights didn’t get a single vote. In the final Northern Kentucky coaches poll, Conner was No. 1 and Dixie Heights was No. 7.

Dixie Heights senior Grace Perry puts up a one-handed shot in her team’s win over Conner. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

Dixie Heights took a 12-point lead, 55-43 with a little over a minute left in the game. Conner made three straight 3-point goals that cut the margin to 55-52, but senior guard Grace Perry secured the win for the Colonels by making three of four pressure-packed free throws on her team’s final two possessions.

“It’s especially crazy because our group of seniors has lost to Conner every single year since the sixth grade,” Perry said after the upset. “To beat them right now when it really matters, especially when they were ranked so high in the state, is really sweet.”

Dixie Heights (21-10) will face another formidable opponent in a regional semifinal game against Highlands (29-4) at noon on Saturday. The Bluebirds were ranked No. 6 in the state and No. 3 in Northern Kentucky in the final coaches polls.

“We only lost to them by one (52-51) at their place during the regular season,” Perry said of Highlands. “I think we’ve got a chance to win as long as we come in with the same mindset we had (Wednesday).”

Dixie Heights junior Celia Pelfrey swished a 3-point buzzer-beater to give her team a 22-17 halftime lead. At the break, the Colonels were shooting 47 percent (9 of 19) compared to the Cougars’ 26 percent (8 of 30).

Dixie Heights guard Sydney Lockard gets the ball knocked away by Conner center Maddie Drummonds. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

Conner senior guard Courtney Hurst, who made only one field goal in the first half, scored 12 points in the third quarter to revive her team’s offense. It was her 3-point basket that pulled the Cougars to within three points, 33-30, going into the fourth quarter.

After Conner got the first basket in the fourth quarter to make it a one-point game, the Colonels responded with a 14-2 run to open up a 47-34 lead. They made 10 straight free throws, including two on a technical foul, to end that decisive run.

Conner started applying full-court defensive pressure, but it didn’t do much good. Perry caught a long pass over the press and made a layup that gave her team a 55-43 lead with 1:08 left on the clock. That’s when Conner made three straight treys and Perry decided the game at the free throw line.

“This season, we’ve played six of the top eight teams in the state and had really good showings against all of them,” said Dixie Heights coach Joel Steczynski. “Now we haven’t put together a full game against any of them, and (Wednesday) we didn’t either. We just did well enough in three and a half quarters where the end of the fourth quarter didn’t hurt us that much.”

Dixie Heights ended up with a 22-4 scoring advantage at the foul line. The Colonels shot 44 percent (17 of 38) from the field compared to Conner’s 34.9 percent (22 of 63) Both teams had 27 rebounds.

Hurst was the game’s leading scorer with 19 points. Perry finished with 18 points to top a list of four double-figure scorers for Dixie Heights.

CONNER               8   9  13  24 — 54
DIXIE HEIGHTS  14   8  11  25 — 58

CONNER  (29-3): Strange 4 2 12, Burcham 3 2 8, Drummonds 4 0 8, Hurst 8 0 19, Murphy 2 0 4, Jordan 1 0 3. Totals: 22 4 54.

DIXIE HEIGHTS (21-10): Pelfrey 2 6 11, Perry 6 6 18, Lockard 4 3 12, Lawson 2 1 5, McGinn 2 6 10, Reinhart 1 0 2. Totals: 17 22 58.

3-point goals: C — Hurst 3, Strange 2, Jordan. DH — Pelfrey, Lockard.

Highlands 72, Holy Cross 46

Highlands showed why it has the lowest defensive average in the 9th Region by forcing 24 turnovers that included 14 steals in the opening game of the regional tournament.

The Bluebirds took a 31-15 lead in the first half when they limited Holy Cross to just five field goals in the first 16 minutes of playing time. They extended the margin to 45-19 midway through the third quarter.

Highlands senior Chloe Jansen gets caught between two Holy Cross players. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

“We were a little concerned with the fouls we were having, but we just kept on playing our game and stuck to the plan,” Highlands coach Jaime Walz-Richey said of her team’s relentless full-court defensive pressure.

The game plan was so effective that Holy Cross senior guard Olivia Crigler finished with three points, 13 below her season average. The Indians’ leading scorer was sophomore guard Grace Bezold, who came off the bench to get 20 points.

Highlands had 11 players in its scoring summary. Senior guard Zoie Barth led the way with 18 points, followed by junior guard Piper Macke with 13.

Macke had three of her team’s nine 3-point goals, including two in the opening minutes of the game. Highlands outscored Holy Cross, 27-6, from behind the arc.

Highlands (29-4) will take on Dixie Heights in a regional semifinal game at noon on Saturday. During the regular season, Highlands posted a 52-51 win over Dixie Heights.

HIGHLANDS   17  14  20  21 — 72
HOLY CROSS   8    7  19  12 — 46

HIGHLANDS  (29-4): Barth 6 6 18, Macke 5 0 13, Hinegardner 3 0 6, Riccobene 2 4 9, Hayes 1 0 2, Greenwell 1 0 2, Buecker 0 3 3, Mallery 1 2 4, Walz 0 2 2, Jansen 4 0 10, O’Hara 1 0 3. Totals: 24 15 72.

HOLY CROSS (22-10): Bezold 6 7 20, Crigler 1 1 3, McClendon 2 2 6, Arlinghaus 1 0 3, Simpson 0 3 3, Thomas 5 1 11. Totals: 15 14 46.

3-point goals: HI — Macke 3, Barth 2, Jansen 2, Riccobene, O’Hara. HC — Arlinghaus, Bezold.

Simon Kenton 49, Owen County 42

After taking an 11-point lead in the third quarter, Simon Kenton saw it slip to three points, 43-40, before nailing down the victory in the 8th Region tournament opener.

Simon Kenton junior guard Maggi Jones scored a game-high 24 points with three rebounds, two assists and four steals. Morgan Stamper and Matti Vickers had combined totals of 14 points and 11 rebounds.

The Pioneers will play Anderson County in a semifinal game at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Owen County High School. If they win, they’ll advance to the regional championship game for seventh consecutive year.

Mason County 50, Brossart 45

Mason County opened the fourth quarter with a 12-2 run and held off a late charge by Brossart to win the first-round game in the 10th Region tournament at Mason County Fieldhouse.

The Mustangs pulled to within 48-45 on a three-point play by Olivia Schultz in the closing seconds, but the Royals scored on their final possession to come away with a five-point victory.

Brossart sophomore forward Marie Kiefer was selected for the all-tournament team after getting 14 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in her team’s first regional appearance since 2014.

Regional tournament schedules

Beechwood (28-5) vs. Cooper (25-5), 6:30 p.m.
Newport (25-8) vs. Covington Catholic (25-7), 8 p.m.
Championship game, 7:30 p.m.

Ryle (26-5) vs. Ludlow (22-10), 6:30 p.m.
Notre Dame (19-12) vs. Newport Central Catholic (18-10), 8 p.m.
Highlands (29-4) vs. Dixie Heights (21-10), noon
Ryle-Ludlow winner vs. Notre Dame-NewCath winner, 1:30 p.m.
Championship game, 7:30 p.m.

Oldham County (18-13) vs. Gallatin County (27-5), 6:30 p.m.
Walton-Verona (25-6) vs. Spencer County (21-11), 8 p.m.
Championship game, 7 p.m.

Walton-Verona (24-8) vs. Gallatin County (18-13), 6:30 p.m.
South Oldham (23-7) vs. Collins (20-12), 8 p.m.
Simon Kenton (20-11) vs. Anderson County (27-6), 6:30 p.m.
Walton-Verona-Gallatin County winner vs. South Oldham-Collins winner, 8 p.m.
Championship game, 7 p.m.

Campbell County (27-4) vs. Mason County (15-15), 6 p.m.
Scott (19-11) vs. George Rogers Clark (25-7), 7:30 p.m.
Championship game, 7 p.m.

Scott (22-10) vs. Nicholas County (14-15), 6 p.m.
George Rogers Clark (21-10) vs. St. Patrick (12-15), 7:45 p.m.
Harrison County (25-7) vs. Mason County (19-12), 6
Scott-Nicholas County winner vs. George Rogers Clark-St. Patrick winner, 7:45 p.m.
Championship game, 7 p.m.

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