The Highlands girls’ basketball team battled past Boone County, 50-39 in Monday’s second Ninth Region tournament quarterfinal at Northern Kentucky University’s Bank of Kentucky Center in Boone coach Nell Fookes’ last game as Rebels coach.
Highlands junior guard Brianna Adler hit a pair of 3-point baskets and led all scorers with 17 points. Eighth-grader Zoie Barth was next with 10.
Alex Combs had nine points and three steals for the Bluebirds, and McKenzie Leigh had nine points and pair of blocks. Lydia Graves led Highlands (30-3) with eight rebounds.
Sadie Moore scored a team-high nine points for Boone County (17-14), and Sydney Foster finished with eight. The Rebels played all but two minutes without starting senior guard and leading scorer Alexis Switzer, who suffered a knee injury early in the first quarter after scoring two points and did not return.
Despite the adversity, the Rebels led 20-18 at the break, but they scored just two points in the third quarter, allowing Highlands to pull away.
“I thought we played great,” Adler said. “We know Switzer is an impact player, but we can’t let that affect us. We had to use it to our advantage.”
The Bluebirds, ranked third in The Enquirer coaches’ poll, advanced to play top-ranked Holy Cross in Saturday’s 6 p.m. semifinal. Holy Cross eliminated St. Henry in Monday’s tournament opener.
Highlands senior Lydia Graves drives to the hoop during the Ninth Region quarterfinals at NKU Bank of Kentucky Center.
“You always want to play a team at full strength, and you never want to see an injury like that, especially in a senior’s last game,” Highlands coach Jaime Richey said. “But we kept playing after being down by two.”
The season is complete for the ninth-ranked Rebels. Fookes gathered the girls in the locker room after the game and told them that she was retiring after 30 years on the Boone County bench.
“It was pretty emotional, especially after what happened with Alexis,” said Fookes, the winningest high school basketball coach in Northern Kentucky history. “I told them it wasn’t anything they did. I told them it was time for me to go, and I told them I loved every minute.”
Fookes, 58, finishes her career 14 wins short of 700 and 59 games shy of 1,000. The 2010 LaRosa’s High School Hall of Fame inductee walks away from coaching with a career mark of 686-255, for a .729 winning percentage. She ranks third all-time on the Kentucky win list.
Also a member of the Northern Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame, the Greater Cincinnati Basketball Hall of Fame and the Northern Kentucky Athletic Directors Hall of Fame, Fookes started coaching the Rebels in 1985. She never had a losing season, and won more than 20 district titles. She won nine regional championships, the last in 2012.
In 2010, Fookes was named a National Coach of the Year finalist by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association. In 2000, she was named Northern Kentucky Coach of the Decade for the 1990s by the Greater Cincinnati Basketball Coaches Association.
“I told our principal the day of the district game against Cooper (Feb. 24) that I was going to step down,” Fookes said. “I thought about doing it two years ago, but I decided to stay. But tonight, I’m done coaching.”