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Cov Cath Beats Bardstown, Moves on to Semifinals at Sweet 16

Gritty wins like the ones Covington Catholic has pulled off in consecutive nights at Rupp Arena are just what the Colonels are built for.

“This is why you schedule a hard schedule,” Cov Cath head coach, Scott Ruthsatz said after the 61-54 win over Bardstown in the quarter-final round of the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys Basketball Sweet 16 State Tournament.

In a game with nine lead changes and 14 ties, the Colonels advance to the semi-final round where they will try to make only their second appearance in the state finals in school history.

The Colonels played hard-nosed half-court defense the entire evening as they prevented Bardstown from getting out in transition and limited their quickness. On offense, Cov Cath's senior point-guard Nick Ruthsatz used his bounciness to either get to the rim or be fouled during crunch time. The all-time Covington Catholic scorer led the game with 21 points and went 10-14 from the free-throw line.

Bardstown's Eljay Cowherd was clearly once again the offensive focus for the Tigers, but because he was unable to run as much as he would have liked, he had to work hard to get 13 points on 15 shots. The Cov Cath zone can be beaten with good outside shooting and quality interior passing among big men, but Bardstown only ended up shooting 23 percent from deep.

“We can't always guard their guys, that's why we play zone,” coach Ruthsatz said.

While Nick Ruthsatz did lead the scoring charge, he consistently set his teammates up in the right spots too. The Colonel big man tandem of Mark Schult and Bo Schuh were efficient scorers, shooting a combined 11-15 for 25 points, 17 for Schult. The entire team knows how to move well without the basketball and the result is often an assist advantage, and more importantly a win, as was the case against Bardstown.

“We run a very basic continuity offense that is nothing special, but we're able to move the ball side to side and we're able to put all of our players in a situation where they can execute if given an opportunity,” Coach Ruthsatz explained.

Like the previous game, it came down to a tense finish. On consecutive possessions, the Colonels translated dazzling drives into points as first Ruthsatz skipped the ball high off the glass with his patent spin on an up-and-under, and then Cole VonHandorf slashed to the rim on a wicked cross-over dribble that gave him a clean look for a right-handed layup. The sequence gave Cov Cath the lead they would not relinquish. Inside the last minute, CCH was able to convert on only 5 of 9 free-throws, but the Tigers missed threes on their last two possessions, and the Colonels escaped with the victory.

The semi-final round on Saturday will be played between Trinity (31-5) and Scott County (34-3) in the first game at 6pm and Covington Catholic (31-2) versus Bowling Green (29-6) after that. The final is scheduled for 2pm on Sunday afternoon.

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Trinity 74, Hopkinsville 56

Trinity used their inside-outside game to pull away from Hopkinsville in the first half and never looked back as the Shamrocks coasted to the win, 74-56. Sixth-man Jax Levitch knocked down consecutive threes to give the Shamrocks a 25-17 lead midway though the second quarter and from there, star center Ray Spalding controlled the post, showing an ability to score on turnaround jumpers and pass to open cutters to the rim. At the half, Trinity had built a nine-point lead and positioned themselves in the driver's seat for the second half.

The biggest advantage for the 'Rocks was how they dominated the glass, collecting 33 rebounds compared to Hoptown's 22. This disallowed any second-chance points for the Tigers in the first half and helped Trinity maintain their lead all game.

Hopkinsville star of the first round, Tra Edwards, found it hard to get in the groove as his best chance for points came from the free-throw line. Edwards began the game 1-5 in the first half and the team looked elsewhere for points. Fortunately for them, point guard Demarius Henry was feeling good as he made three from beyond the arc to keep his team's chances afloat at halftime.

The second half was simply more of the same, however, as Hoptown was doomed by poor shooting and no rebounding. It seemed all the loose balls were going the way of Trinity and the Shamrocks kept the foot on the petal as they ballooned their lead to 20 points in the fourth quarter. Levitch continued to be a dead-eye shot from the outside by going 4-5 from beyond the arc and Ray Spalding did exactly what a team wants from a giant center with shooting skills. Spalding stuffed the stat sheet with 14 points, seven rebounds, five blocks and two steals. It was not a perfect game for the Shamrocks as they committed 20 turnovers, but they dominated enough in the other areas of the game to cruise to an easy win.

Scott County 64, Johnson Central 55

After a dismal first-quarter shooting performance, Johnson Central was able to pull itself together to make for a competitive second half and position itself back into the game. It looked as if Scott County may have established enough supremacy in the early going to carry them through the game, thanks largely to scoring guard Trent Gilbert's 17 first half points, but Johnson Central big man, Shane Hall came alive after halftime, taking the ball hard to the rim off of the dribble and finding himself on the free-throw line often. Had Hall shot better from the line, the Golden Eagles would have likely enjoyed a lead, but as it were, the Cardinals held him enough at bay to pull out a tough win.

Gilbert led all scores with 29 points in a scrappy effort, while Hall led his team with 21, 17 in the second half.

Johnson Central center Shane Hall started slowly with only four first half points and appeared uncomfortable for much of the early going. Fortunately for the Golden Eagles, Scott County racked up 15 fouls before halftime, giving Johnson Central 10 free points in exchange. Had they converted better at the line (10-19, 53%), Johnson Central could have pulled even closer, but their poor shooting half from everywhere on the court kept them down the entire game.

The Cardinals had their problems in the form of turnovers (18) and fouls (26), and they could have used a better scoring effort from someone other than Gilbert, but they were tough enough to withstand a spirited second-half charge by the Golden Eagles and advance to the semi-finals.

Bowling Green 64, McCracken County 58

Bowling Green held their concentration long enough to withstand a big McCracken County lead and pull away inside three minutes of the game, as them move on to the quarter-finals of the Boys Sweet 16, winning 64, 58.

Guard Tucker Sine waited until crunch time to heat up as he scored nine points inside of four minutes, highlighted by two huge three-pointers on consecutive possessions. Sine led his team with 16 points.

McCracken County found themselves down early, but raged from behind by closing out the first half on a 13-2 run and gaining a 25-21 lead. Much of this success was fueled by the scrappy play of senior point guard, Kam Chumbler, who didn't shoot the ball particularly well but hustled around the court picking up easy points from the foul line and giving his team a dose of defensive intensity.

The Purples, however, soldiered on and clamped down on the Mustangs led by the shot-blocking extraordinaire, Joseph Ayers. While McCracken sent waves of bodies to push the slender Ayers around, he was only midly bothered by the opposing beef. Instead he patrolled the paint and dared the Mustangs to bring it in his house. Ayers finished with five blocks.

Nevertheless, McCracken County had a chance down by three with 3:17 left when Chumbler had the ball stolen by Blue Tisdale. Sine followed with two free-throws and the Purples never looked back.

Story & photos by Bryan Burke, RCN sports reporter. Follow Bryan throughout the tournament on Twitter @mojokong