Covington Catholic Wins Boys Basketball State Championship
In an epic, overtime thriller of a state-championship game, Covington Catholic outlasted Scott County, 59-51, to win the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys Basketball Sweet Sixteen State Tournament for the first time in school history.
The Colonels never led in the second half and when senior point-guard and tournament MVP, Nick Ruthsatz, missed the front end of a one-and-one with the 2:24 left and his team down by five, one could sense the shroud of defeat closing in around Cov Cath. The heart of a champion, however, never wavers. Ruthsatz hadn't shot well for most of the game, but after that moment he wouldn't miss again, scoring 12 points in the game's last six minutes, including eight clutch free throws. During one sequence in overtime, down by two, Ruthsatz pulled off a spectacular up-and-under layup with his patented heavy spin off the glass, followed by a steal and a cross-court pass that led to a Bo Schuh basket.
On the other end, Scott County had controlled most of the game thanks to a surprise scoring outburst by guard, Hines Jones, who's three straight three-pointers in the first half helped distance the Cardinals to a 12-point lead. That margin would hover around nine until the fourth quarter, at which time seemed like plenty of a margin for Scott County to go home winners. The problem, though, was that their superstar shooting guard, Trent Gilbert—who averaged 25 points a game during the season—was ice cold, shooting 4-25 on the afternoon and had a bevy of misses down the stretch in both regulation and overtime. His two free-throw misses on one-and-ones and his missed jumper in the closing seconds of regulation, followed by a four missed three-pointers and a turnover in overtime, crushed any Cardinal resistance to the Cov Cath comeback and the state title fell from their grasp.
Both teams came out tight and mostly turned the ball over to each other in the early going of the first quarter. Each team had six in the first period.
The momentum exploded in the Cardinals favor however, when Hines Jones knocked down three threes and Gilbert followed with one of his own. Before that shot, Gilbert had looked off, air-balling two straight shots.
The Colonels started pressing a bit as they felt the things turn against them. Cole VonHandorf especially seemed to be bothered by the pressure of the big game as he committed three turnovers and shot just 1-5 from the field in the first half.
In the second quarter, the scoring completely dried up for the Colonels as they were only able to muster nine points, caused largely from quality defense from Scott County. The momentum simply refused to swing away from the Cardinals as Cov Cath missed multiple jump shots and free throws, finishing the first half at 27 percent from the field and 50 percent from the line. Meanwhile, Hines Jones continued to score, but on easy curls to the hoop rather than from outside. It appeared that too much attention was given to Gilbert, even though he struggled shooting only 2-8 from the field in the first half. This attention freed up Jones who made the Colonels pay.
Once Cov Cath looked up and saw that they were down double-digits, some stress appeared to set in, as Ruthsatz went into score-first mode but was consistently bothered under the rim on his drives. Just before halftime, coach Ruthsatz switched to zone defense and came up with three straight stops that allowed CCH to cut their deficit to nine heading into the locker room.
The third quarter was more misses for the Colonels and Scott County forward Tony Martini had begun to stand out with his gritty play. Martini would go on to have an excellent and very hard-fought game with 16 points and 17 rebounds. By the end of the quarter, the Cardinals had built an eight-point lead and looked in control.
Slowly but surely, though, CCH chiseled their way back. A Mark Schult charge here, a Cole VonHandorf bucket there and before you knew it, the Colonels found themselves in striking distance toward the end of the fourth. The arena could feel the change; the Cov Cath student section grew louder and louder and Scott County panicked from the pressure. They watched shot after shot clang off of the rim until the game was tied with six seconds left in regulation. Trent Gilbert drove right and pulled up at the right wing, only to miss yet again.
Cov Cath inbounded to Bo Schuh at half-court who heaved it off of the front rim and was mere centimeters from winning the game in dramatic fashion.
In overtime, Martini was the first to make his mark with three offensive rebounds and produced an early Scott County lead. Ruthsatz, though, responded with his incredible trick-shot layup to tie the game with just over a minute left. Gilbert on the other end, tried a crossover dribble in front of Ruthsatz, only to have it taken by Ruthsatz who fired it down court to Ben Heppler who missed the layup but had Schuh there for the putback. The Cov Cath crazies went bonkers as their team finally gained the lead and the championship was in reach.
Gilbert followed with another missed three-pointer that would have put the Cardinals back on top. Covington Catholic continued to make their free-throws as Scott County fouled to stop the clock and once Ben Heppler scored on a layup to put his team up by eight, the game was decided and the title theirs.
Ruthsatz led the game in scoring with 25 points, 20 of which came after the first half. Hines Jones led the Cardinals with 18. Gilbert finished with 10.
The Colonels proved to be a well-disciplined and well-coached team that played with controlled confidence and sustained intelligence. While not the biggest or most athletic team, Cov Cath excelled at identifying and staying in their specific roles, playing terrific team defense and knowing when to lean on their star, Ruthsatz. Their state championship is a tremendous achievement, made possible by a genuine team effort. Congratulations to Covington Catholic on winning the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys Sweet Sixteen state title.
Story & photos by Bryan Burke, RCN contributor