Thanks to a second-half comeback, Highlands is in the KHSAA Sweet 16 for the first time since 2001 after defeating Conner 77-67 in the 9th Region championship game at the Evans Fieldhouse in Covington.
Sam Vinson was one of five in double figures for Highlands after shooting 6-of-12 from the field with one made 3-pointer and 8-for-9 shooting from the charity stripe.
Vinson, a candidate for Mr. Basketball and an NKU recruit, added eight rebounds, four blocks, two steals and two assists to take home Most Valuable Player honors throughout the tournament.
Highlands (25-4) trailed 40-30 early in the third quarter before going on a 14-0 run to take a 44-40 lead.
The third quarter run and eventual win for the Bluebirds was keyed by outstanding shooting from beyond the 3-point arc.
Highlands shot 15-for-38 from beyond the arc for the game including 9-of-19 in the second half.
Zach Barth, Luke Muller and William Herald drained four 3-pointers each for head coach Kevin Listerman.
Barth finished with 15 points while Muller added 14 and Herald chipped in 12. Oliver Harris closed out the double-digit scoring with 10 points for the Bluebirds.
Conner (17-6) was led by Ayden Lohr’s brilliant 18-point performance that saw him knock down 5-of-10 shots from the field including a pair of 3-pointers. Lohr was also perfect from the free throw line going 6-for-6.
The Cougars lost despite outrebounding Highlands by a 44-29 count including 15 from Cole Skiles.
Skiles, a senior forward, added 10 points to complete the only double-double by either team.
Luke Hamilton made four 3-pointers and five free throws to pitch in 17 points for the Cougars.
Highlands was able to contain Conner’s top two scorers in Riley Osterbur and Spencer Couzins, who averaged a combined 28.1 per game going into the finals.
Osterbur was held to eight points while Couzins tallied 10. The duo was just 7-for-26 from the field, 1-for-6 from beyond the arc and 3-for-6 from the free throw line.
Highlands was able to protect the ball throughout the game committing just six turnovers while forcing Conner into 11 of their own.
With Highlands ending its streak of not qualifying for the Sweet 16 at 20 years, the streak continues for Conner, which has not won the 9th Region title since 1993.
Highlands advances to face the winner of the 3rd Region in the 11 a.m. contest on Thurs., April 1.
Muhlenberg County and Owensboro Catholic face off in 3rd Region title game on Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Owensboro Sportscenter.