Bluebirds Soar to First State Title, Soundly Tame Panthers 79-60

FINAL STATS

Recap courtesy of KyForward.com

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Sam Vinson’s double-double and William Herald’s torrid long-range shooting propelled Highlands to its first-ever KHSAA Boys Sweet 16 title with a 79-60 victory over Elizabethtown in Rupp Arena.

Photo courtesy Kayla VanHoose.

Vinson totaled 20 points on 6-for-12 shooting from the field and 8-of-8 from the charity stripe while also hauling in a game-high 14 rebounds en route to winning Most Valuable Player honors for the tournament. The NKU signee added five assists, three blocks and one steal.

Herald was 5-for-12 from 3-point range including 4-of-7 in the second quarter. The sophomore guard finished the night with 17 points.

Highlands (30-4) defeated a pesky Ashland Blazer team just a few hours prior to the state finals and head coach Andy Listerman’s squad showed no signs of tired legs as they jumped out to a 14-4 lead with 3:23 left in the first quarter.

“We put in work all offseason and all summer long,” Vinson stated when asked about the grind the Bluebirds experienced winning four games in less than 60 hours. “That prepared us for this day, this whole tournament. I think we outworked everyone, and it showed this tournament.”

“I think I said in the pre-tournament press conference, ‘It’s like going to the moon,’” Listerman added about what he would tell his players to prepare them for a state title push, “You know you can work and work and do everything right and there’s so many things that are beyond your control to have the opportunity and so we just kind of kept our blinders on all week and we just played the team that was in front of us.

“We didn’t worry about the stage. We just went out and did our thing. I am so proud of these guys for the way that our seniors lead this team all year long. We stayed focused, we stayed simple and just made play after play after play. You know, I am so blessed to be in this spot growing up as a Kentucky kid and having played here. I told all these kids I played 39.3 seconds in the state tournament when I was a freshman and 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 and I’m so blessed, and I couldn’t be more happy for this weekend.”

With Highlands up by 11 after a Zachary Barth 3-pointer with 2:41 left in the first quarter, Elizabethtown scored five points in 32 seconds to cut the deficit to six, but it would be as close as the Panthers would get the rest of the game.

The Bluebirds answered with a 13-3 run over the final seconds of the first quarter through the 4:31 mark of the second quarter.

Highlands forced Elizabethtown into seven turnovers in the first half and the Bluebirds were able to convert those turnovers into 13 points.

Highlands, which has won 23 state titles in football, executed its game plan to perfection from start to finish to eventually be able to earn its first basketball title.

“Highlands had an excellent game,” stated Elizabethtown head coach James Haire. “They were on fire. They did everything correctly. I can’t think of anything they did wrong.”

The Panthers, who made six 3-pointers in their semifinal win over a very talented Ballard team, were held to just three makes from long range in 16 attempts against Highlands.

To show how much Highlands dominated from start to finish, Elizabethtown led 2-0 for a mere 21 seconds while the Bluebirds would go on to lead for a whopping 29:45. There are just 32 minutes in a high school basketball game.

Camden Williams would lead the Panthers in scoring with 17 points. Alandre Murphy and Kam Sherrard added 13 and 11 points, respectively.

Highlands was able to hold Jaquais Franklin to just nine points. Franklin was Elizabethtown’s leading scorer going into the tournament averaging 20.4 points per contest.

The second half was all but a formality after the dominance that was on display by Highlands in the first half. Both teams scored 19 each in the third quarter before the Panthers would squeak out a 15-13 fourth quarter advantage.

Muller and Barth joined Vinson on the All-Tournament Team for Highlands. Muller chipped in 11 points and hauled in eight rebounds while Barth totaled 10 points.

Oliver Harris (10) was the fifth starter for Highlands to tally at least 10 points.

The loss in the state finals marked the end of a historic, yet unsettling run for the eight seniors on Elizabethtown’s roster. The Panthers football team played in and lost in the Class 3A finals at Kroger Field less than four months ago.

Regardless of not many people showing love to the Northern Kentucky area schools and some already having cast their ballot for Mr. Basketball in Kentucky, Vinson was able to lead his teammates to the promised land after having dredged through an extremely difficult 9th Region tournament for anyone to have gotten out of.

“Coach Horn is getting an awfully good one,” Listerman would say about Vinson during the postgame press conference. “I am going to be biased here. I think he is the best payer in the state. I think this week he got the opportunity to showcase it. He does it in so many ways. He does it in scoring, rebounding and assists. He is so humble about it. He is about his teammates and when they get rolling, he finds them.

“He did it for Luke (Muller) in a couple games this week. He did it for Will a couple times tonight. We are so proud of him and to get to see him stay home, we are awfully excited. I couldn’t be more happy for Sam. The Northern Kentucky community is going to get to watch him do his thing for four more years on an even bigger stage.”

Vinson may not win Mr. Basketball, but he and his teammates won the more important trophy and that will be all that matters to the Bluebirds.

2021 Boys’ Sweet Sixteen All-Tournament Team

Jerone Morton, George Rogers Clark
Jacobi Huddleston, Bowling Green
Luke Sheperson, Boyle County
Noah Dumas, McCracken County
Chaunte Marrero, Ballard
Maker Bar, Ballard
Cole Villers, Ashland Blazer
Colin Porter, Ashland Blazer
Alandre Murphy, Elizabethtown
Kam Sherrard, Elizabethtown
Jaquais Franklin, Elizabethtown
Zachary Barth, Highlands
Luke Muller, Highlands
Most Valuable Player – Sam Vinson, Highlands

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