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Highlands joins CovCath, Holmes, Simon Kenton as 9th Region teams to win state championships

By Don Owen
NKyTribune sports editor

Which school captured the 9th Region’s first state championship in boys basketball? Was it Holmes? Maybe Covington Catholic?

Actually, Simon Kenton became the first 9th Region team to claim the state title in 1981, when the Pioneers defeated Mason County in Rupp Arena. That Simon Kenton squad — led by Troy McKinley, Greg Ponzer, Dave Dixon and Billy Meier — advanced to the championship game after outlasting Louisville Moore and prep All-American Manuel Forrest in the semifinals.

Simon Kenton now competes in the 8th Region.

Highlands players and coaches react as the final buzzer sounds Saturday night in the state championship game at Rupp Arena. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

Highlands joined the list of 9th Region squads to capture state championships by posting a 79-60 win over Elizabethtown on Saturday night. Holmes claimed the 2009 state title with a 67-63 double-overtime victory against Louisville Central. CovCath won state championships in both 2014 and 2018.

39.3 SECONDS OF GLORY: Highlands head coach Kevin Listerman recalled his experience at the Sweet 16 while playing at CovCath in 1992. “I told all these kids I played 39.3 seconds in the state tournament when I was a freshman,” Listerman said. “To be able to come back as a coach and have them have this unbelievable experience, and to get to sit back and just watch it, is absolutely amazing and humbling.”

Sam Vinson of Highlands was named most valuable player of the Sweet 16. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

CovCath dropped an 80-71 decision to Lexington Catholic in that 1992 state tournament game. Listerman’s older brother, Andy, scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds in that contest for CovCath. Todd Etler netted a game-high 25 points for the Colonels, who were outscored 34-22 in the fourth quarter by LexCath.

ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM: Sam Vinson of Highlands was named most valuable player of the Sweet 16. He was joined by teammates Luke Muller and Zach Barth. Vinson averaged 23.3 points per game in the Bluebirds’ four wins, including a 31-point performance against Muhlenberg County.

Also selected to the all-tournament team were Jaquias Franklin, Kam Sherrard and Alandre Murphy from state runner-up Elizabethtown. Cole Villers and Colin Porter (Ashland Paul Blazer), Maker Bar and Chaunte Marrero (Louisville Ballard), Noah Dumas (McCracken County), Jacobi Huddleston (Bowling Green), Luke Sheperson (Boyle County) and Jerone Morton (George Rogers Clark) were the other members of the all-tournament team.

TREY-RIFFIC: Highlands set a Sweet 16 record by draining 38 shots from 3-point range during the four games. Muller knocked down 15 treys during the Sweet 16, including seven triples against McCracken County.

Highlands led the state this season with a total of 360 3-point field goals.

Don Owen is sports editor of the Northern Kentucky Tribune. Contact him at don@nkytrib.com and follow him on Twitter at @dontribunesport.

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