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Holmes, Cov Cath to Battle for 9th Region Crown

Covington Catholic 51, Newport Central Catholic 43

In what turned out to be a defensive and low-scoring battle, Covington Catholic moved past Newport Central Catholic, 51-43, in the semi-finals of the KHSAA 9th Region Tournament. The Colonels (28-2) will play Holmes in the championship game Monday night.

Cov Cath point-guard, Nick Ruthsatz, led the game with 20 points, but it was junior forward, Bo Schuh, that again shined on the big stage. Not unlike his performance against Holmes in a double-overtime loss to Holmes in the 35th District final, Schue showed up time and again when his team needed it the most.

The game was a back-and-forth affair throughout, with each team finding it difficult to play to their strengths. New Cath (29-4) was unable to use their stark size differential well at all during the game with the typically dominant front-line duo of Drew McDonald and Jake Shulte finishing with only five points each. Also the Thoroughbreds were dreadful from the foul-line which certainly doomed their chances down the stretch.

For the Colonels, it took a while for their point-generating backcourt to get going. Instead, they relied on early scoring from Schuh and forward Mark Schult who both made three-pointers in the first quarter and forced the larger NCC players away from the basket. Once Schue had space, he used his superior quickness to move past McDonald and score in a number of ways off of the dribble. By halftime, Schue and Schult accounted for 16 of their team's 24 points and nicely contained their counterparts on the other end.

For New Cath, their struggle was odd. When their post-up shots refused to fall, further aggrevated from Schuh's excellent shot-block timing, neither big man knew exactly how to effectively insert themselves into the action. McDonald looked especially uncomfortable as he was forced to dribble far more often than he should have. This over-dribbling lead to turnovers and to an offensive stagnation. If weren't for the senior sharp-shooter, Tanner Moeves, adding timely three-pointers throughout the game, the outcome would have been even worse for the Thoroughbreds.

There was one player, however, the game insisted on making a focal point, whether he liked it or not. New Cath sophomore forward, Ben Weyer, found the ball in his hands in critical situations, time and again. He did have six points in the first half by using his size advantage against other small-forwards, but generally speaking, most of these opportunities did not go well for him. In a key stretch in the third quarter, he allowed two offensive rebounds from either fumbling the ball or watching instead of reacting. In crunch time, with under three minutes left, Weyer attempted and missed two crucial three-pointers, including a chance to tie with 30 seconds left. It just wasn't the young man's day.

Once the second half got going, Ruthsatz became more involved and began racking up the team fouls against the Thoroughbreds with his bouncy style of play. These fouls became important later on as Ruthsatz knocked down six free-throws in a row in the closing possessions to seal the victory for the Colonels. He ended with 16 second-half points, including nine in the fourth quarter. His three-pointer from the left wing with under four minutes laft, put Cov Cath up by five and kept them in the driver's seat from that point on.

Schuh fouled out of the game with 1:30 left, having played a marvelous game on both ends of the court. He outscored both of his taller opposing players combined with 12, and contributed mightily to their struggles.

This will be the fourth time in eight years that Covington Catholic has faced Holmes in the Ninth Region championship, Holmes having won the previous three. The teams split their two meetings this year, the last one coming in the double-overtime thriller in the district final.

Holmes 54, Dixie Heights 51

In a semi-final game that perhaps should not have been as close as it was, Holmes escaped a scare from Dixie, 54-51, to advance to the 9thRegion championship game at the Bank of Kentucky Center against Covington Catholic.

If the Bulldogs (28-5) could have converted on even half of their free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter, the winning margin would have been closer to something like 10, but the game unfolded in a way that allowed Dixie guard, Brandon Hatton, the chance to rally back and make things interesting.  Hatton led all scores with 25 points.

In the first half, it was a contest of star players as guard James “Beetle” Bolden easily outdid Hatton to the tune of 12 points to Hatton's five. No other Dixie player looked all that ready to help out on the scoring end, while Holmes fell into their groove with Bolden dictating shots and the big men cleaning up any misses on the glass. By halftime it looked like the comeback trail for Dixie (24-8) would be too uphill with a 32-17 deficit.

The second half was a completely different story, however, as Bolden cooled off and was unable to score at all in the third quarter, while Hatton poured in 12. Late in the period, though, Hatton picked up his fourth foul and had to play less aggressively for the rest of the game.

In the fourth, Dixie opened the quarter with an 11-4 run and closed the Bulldog lead to four points. It became suddenly clear that Holmes needed one of the complimentary guards around Bolden to pick up some of the scoring load, and Armani Housely rose to that occasion. The senior guard tossed in five fourth-quarter points that turned out to be huge in the end.

With Dixie down by three and under 30 seconds left, Hatton had two three-point attempts to tie, but neither were very good looks. The first one, Hatton pump-faked his defender, then tried to lean in to draw the foul on the play; the foul was not called and the shot was no good. The second was an extremely deep three, perhaps as long as 30 feet with ample time to get a closer look. It hit front end and came off as a more desperate attempt than was necessary. Despite the curious last two shots, Hatton shined in the game of his sterling high-school career and rallied his team back with 20 second half points.

For Holmes, Bolden led the scoring with 18 and senior forward, Marcus Hill, finished with 13 points and three blocks. 

Stories by Bryan Burke, RCN contributor

Photos by Brian Frey, RCN contributor