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Holmes Dumps Highlands, Dixie Outlasts Conner in 9th Region Tournament

Holmes was given very little difficulty in the first round of the 9th Region tournament as they breezed by Highlands, 60-41.

In what was not a pretty game, the Bulldogs looked toward their star, junior guard James Bolden, and he answered the call to the tune of 19 points on a mixture of three-pointers, mid-range jumpers and fluttery lay-ups and runners.

If it wasn't “Beetle” Bolden that killed the Bluebird's chances, it was the springy Holmes front-line players who racked up an abundance of offensive rebounds and second-chance points. Senior center, Quinton Chames, missed a ton of close shots, but he and Marcus Hill feasted on the offensive glass and cleaned up the same messy two-foot misses time and again. Hill finished with 15 and Chames with 10.

Highlands (9-15) lacked the necessary offensive firepower to keep pace with the Bulldogs. Lanky guard/forward hybrid, Paker Harris, turned in a reasonable performance with a team-high 15 points, but he wasn't able to be the dependable go-to player required to compete with the likes of Bolden and his taller friends. The Bluebirds did a lot of standing around and holding the ball on offense in the first half. By the time any kind of designed scheme rose to the surface, it was the second half and the game was out of hand.

Holmes was given a brief scare as Bolden crashed hard to the floor on a blocking foul in the third quarter, where he laid on a the ground for a few minutes. Eventually, though, he was fine and later returned to the game.

The highlight of the game was a lovely ally-oop on a fast-break from Bolden to Chames in the third quarter, who rose high in the air to corral the pass and jam it in. While Bolden deservingly receives the limelight, the big-man trio of Chames, Marcus Hill and super-sub Rod Avery, continue to impress with their length and exceptional leaping ability.

Holmes (27-5) advance to the semi-final round for the sixth time in the last eight years. They take on Dixie on Sunday at the Bank of Kentucky Center. The Bulldogs and Colonels met back in December with Holmes winning 67-59.

Dixie 61, Conner 59 (OT)

In easily the most competitive first-round game in the KHSAA 9th Region tournament, it took an extra session for Dixie to outlast Conner, 61-59 in overtime.

In the second quarter, Dixie senior guard, Brandon Hatton, scored the 3000th point of his prolific high-school career, becoming only the 31stplayer in Kentucky history to do so. He led the game in scoring with 26 points.

The Colonels came out cold early on, though, and were only able to score nine points in the first quarter. Hatton went 1 for 5 during that stretch and looked irritated as he shoved and muscled his way around the court all night. Conner was getting a quality contribution from their star forward, senior Samuel Hemmerich, as he quickly became the Cougars focal point, scoring eight points for the quarter. It was clear that Dixie would need the same from Hatton if they were to win.

It took about midway through the second quarter for Hatton to get going. A much thicker guard than most, he both absorbs and doles out a lot of contact that comes from his style of game. He is a freight train moving toward the rim and looks like a running back as he powers the ball through the lane. Not only that, he throws fast and accurate passes while on the move and shows good court presence when in the zone. Once in that zone, he made his impact felt Friday night as he led the Colonels back to a point after scoring seven and dishing off two sweet assists.

After the half, it again took Hatton time to warm back up. Both and he and Hemmerich slowed their scoring pace and it took role players to keep their teams locked in a battle. For Dixie, that player was forward, Drew Moore, who found three offensive rebounds that translated into six points for the quarter. Moore would play a critical defensive role in the game later on. For Conner, it was senior guard Andrew Way knocking down two late three-pointers in the third.

In the fourth, Hatton went after the rim with reckless abandon. The tenacity of his drives led to nearly automatic foul calls against Conner. He scored seven straight points for the Colonels that proved to be absolutely necessary in the end.

With under 10 seconds left, Hemmerich found an open lane to the basket and got what seemed to be a good look for a layup. Drew Moore, however, shifted over and swatted the shot clear out to the sideline. After a 38-foot miss in regulation's waning seconds, overtime was in order.

In OT, Conner lost an inch as Hemmerich missed in extra time and then dribbled the ball off of his leg with two minutes left. Meanwhile, Hatton scored on a nice up-and-under, sank two more free throws, and put Dixie in the driver's seat.

In their last possession, Conner needed a three-pointer to tie and Andrew Way's attempt of a pump-fake, lean-in three proved faulty. Dixie (24-7) advances to the semi-final round where they will play Holmes on Sunday at 1:30 at the Bank of Kentucky Arena. Conner ends their season at 11-15.

Written by Bryan Burke, RCN contributor

Photos by Brian Frey, RCN contributor