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Holmes Upsets Cov Cath, Wins 35th District Title

In a contest with all the appropriate fixings for a championship game, Holmes outlasted Covington Catholic in a double-overtime thriller, 72-62, in the KHSAA 35th District final at the Bank of Kentucky Center.

The game was an intense, closely refereed affair that saw both teams become derailed on offense because of so many whistles. The opposing superstar guards, Holmes' James Bolden who scored 25, and Cov Cath's Nick Ruthsatz who scored 26, fulfilled their role as their squad's leading scorer, but neither found it easy to get into any kind of rhythm and needed complimentary players to rise above their normal roles to challenge in the end.

The tone of the game was set early as shooting guard Cole VonHandorf was slapped with two fouls in the first five minutes. With him on the bench, Ruthsatz went into a total shoot-first mentality and finished the first quarter with nine points, but found his team trailing by four.

For Holmes (26-5), they realized early on that their guards would not be able to simply beat the Colonels (26-2) with quickness alone. They found it difficult to get good looks early on and were bailed out with a number of second-chance attempts on offensive rebounds by the trio of big men in Marcus Hill, Quinton Chames, and Rod Avery. These three gave extraordinary efforts on the glass and in transition defense as their length bothered Ruthsatz and VonHandorf on multiple occasions.

As a sizable and spirited crowd watched Bolden and Ruthsatz duel it out, another player began to emerge; Cov Cath forward Bo Schuh displayed an ability to score in a variety of ways throughout the game. During a second-quarter stretch, the junior had a nice turnaround in the post, a tip-in, and a fast-break lay-in on consecutive possessions to put the Colonels back up a point. At halftime, the game was tied, 24-24, and the slug-fest was on.

In the second half, Bolden heated up but Ruthsatz cooled down. Fortunately for Cov Cath, Schuh found open looks and nailed a three in the corner to end the third quarter and then another at the top of the key to tie the game at 53 with under three minutes left. He finished the game with 16 points and kept his team afloat with many big baskets. With over a minute remaining, however, he fouled out, and then fellow forward, senior Mark Schulte, did the same and these two events proved to be the difference in the extra periods.

Regulation did not finish, though, without a little controversy in the end. With the score tied and 50 seconds left, Holmes held the ball and ran the time down to four seconds. Holmes guard Markel McClendon drove to the paint and jumped to pass, allowing his defender to set his feet and take the charge. The Cov Cath defender was rather deep under the basket, but did have both feet set. The call caused an uproar from the Holmes cheering section, which vociferously argued their points to the officials on the court.

On the other end, it was VonHandorf who saw the final shot, but missed from one foot inside the three-point line on the left wing.

In overtime, another role player rose to the occasion, this time for Holmes. With both front-line starters fouled out for Covington Catholic, Marcus Hill was able to dominate the glass, record a ferocious block and score eight points in extra time. He became a presence when the Bulldogs desperately needed one.

Bolden hoisted a lot of the pressure on his shoulders down the stretch and often appeared to be attempting too much. In the team's last possession in the first overtime, he had the ball poked away from behind which gave Cov Cath another chance to end it. This time it was Ruthsatz that missed the shot, though, and the contest continued.

In the second overtime, Ruthsatz missed more shots and these misses translated to easy points for Chames who received two lobs in transition including a an ally-oop dunk dished nicely by Bolden. Cov Cath either needed Ruthsatz to score 30 or more points or get more scoring production from the other players. Neither of these things happened and it allowed for a hard-fought Holmes victory, becoming the only Kentucky team to beat the Colonels this season.

It is possible these two teams could meet again as both teams advance to the KHSAA 9th Regional Tournament at the Bank of Kentucky Center beginning Wednesday, March 5th. 

UPDATE: The pairings in the Ninth Region tournament have been announced. All games will be played at the Bank of Kentucky Center at NKU. First Round: Ryle (14-11) vs. Covington Catholic (26-2) on Weds. at 6:30 p.m.; Newport Central Catholic (28-3) vs. St. Henry (14-10) on Weds. at 8 p.m.; Dixie Heights (23-7) vs. Conner (11-14) on Fri. at 6:30 p.m.; Holmes (26-5) vs. Highlands (9-14) on Fri. at 8 p.m.

Semifinals: Cov Cath/Ryle winner vs. New Cath/St. Henry winner on Sunday at noon; Dixie/Conner winners vs. Holmes/Highlands winner on Sunday at 1:30 p.m.

Championship: Monday at 7 p.m.

Written by Bryan Burke, RCN contributor

Photos by Brian Frey, RCN contributor