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Cov Cath Moves On to State Finals, Beats Bowling Green, 81-68

After battling to get wins the previous two nights, Covington Catholic withstood a furious comeback by Bowling Green in the semi-final round of the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys Basketball Sweet Sixteen. Cov Cath advances to the state-final game for the first time since 1967 and will take on Scott County for the championship, Sunday at Rupp Arena.

In a game that looked to be over at the half, Cov Cath (32-2) was dealt a scary 17-3 run by the Purples midway through the fourth quarter that cut their 20-point lead, all the way down to six in the last two minutes of the game. While the Colonels had done so well in the first half taking care of the ball, they had 11 second-half turnovers, including two on consecutive possessions that really got the Purple faithful fired up. The desperate full-court press employed by Bowling Green (29-7) late in the game, coupled with the rising excitement of their crowd on each Cov Cath setback, seemed to rattle the Colonels a bit in the midst of the Purple momentum. Still, freshman Cole VonHandorf wasn't worried.

“I looked into my teammates' eyes and I knew we were going to win,” VonHandorf said after the game.

It came true when Cov Cath senior center Mark Schult took a charge by Bowling Green's Blue Tisdale with 40 seconds left that essentially ended the mounting comeback for good.

Necarius Fant was the game's scoring leader in a losing cause with 31 points, and VonHandorf led the Colonels with 22.

Cov Cath came out in their standard 2-3 rotational zone defense, allowing Bowling Green to get open looks from deep and inside the paint, but the Purples could not convert consistently anywhere on the court. Their offensive focus looked to be getting the ball to big man Joseph Ayers in the paint, but Ayers was quickly strapped with foul trouble and rendered to the bench for long stretches of the first half.

Meanwhile, senior point-guard Nick Ruthsatz pushed the tempo for the Colonels and looked for his own shots and also found open teammates for easy buckets. The end product at halftime was 15 points and five assists and his team up 19 points.

Like has been the case all year for the Colonels, though, it was the role players that stepped up when they had to in order to fully bury the Purple's chances so early. Forward Ben Heppler had a nice half with eight points, including back-to-back three-pointers in the first quarter to begin to extend the lead to double-digits and beyond. Freshman sensation, Cole VonHandorf also looked confident as he found openings on the break from so much attention being given to Ruthsatz.

Bowling Green made their shooting woes even worse with eight turnovers and by the time they had seemed to get themselves collected, the scoreboard read that they were down 20 points and had seemingly already been beaten.

It wouldn't be until four minutes left in the game, though, before the Purples would make some noise and possibly make it a game. In the second half, Bowling Green looked to up their tempo on offense and keep Cov Cath from getting back into their zone defense, and then pressed full-court with some degree of success. Once the Colonels' lead dwindled to 11, eyebrows were raised among the arena's crowd on both sides. To their credit, the Bowling Green cheering section—while not nearly as rambunctious as Cov Cath's—hung in their and supported their team with fervor to the bitter end.

It had to be frustrating to coach Scott Ruthsatz to watch the Colonels even the turnover mark after his team had done so well in the first half. Once inside two minutes, Bowling Green's Necarius Fant scored a basket and was fouled where he converted from the line to cut the deficit to six points. The Colonels continued to wilt under the sudden pressure of having the lead against a desperate team as they turned the ball over on consecutive possessions inside of two minutes.

“The pressure got to us,” point guard Nick Ruthsatz said, “but we weren't gonna let that happen.”

When asked about the big rally at the end, coach Ruthsatz was contemplative.

“Once we settled them down in a timeout...,” he said and paused. “Once I settled down, I take full responsibility for losing it a little bit.”

It was that kind of ending. It felt like Cov Cath's open highway to victory became a tight rope in no time at all, but the Colonels walked it all the same, right into the finals.

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Scott County 62, Trinity 56

The game was a close back-and-forth affair that was decided by terrific clutch shooting by one team and critical mistakes down the stretch for the other. Scott County advances to the finals, after beating Trinity, 62-56. The Cardinals were fueled by their senior point guard, Trent Gilbert, and his 36 points. Gilbert was fearless in the fourth quarter as he knocked down huge three-pointers and back-breaking free-throws in the game's final minutes.

Scott County (35-3) came out smoking with their star guard, Gilbert leading the way as he scored on his first three baskets in the opening minutes of the Boys Sweet 16 against the Shamrocks (31-6) in the semi-final round at Rupp Arena Saturday night. But the Cardinals cooled down, just when Trinity's super sub, junior shooter, Jax Levitch, checked into the game and caught fire. Levitch immediately made an impact as he knocked down 4 for 5 from three-point land and finished the half with a game-high 15 points. Levitch would end the game with a Trinity-high 21 points and seven three-pointers.

Gilbert kept up his heavy scoring presence in the second, by going 4-8 from the field and finishing the half with 12 points, but the rest of the team was unable to help much on the offensive end and the Cardinals found themselves down by five at the half. Only guard Matt Murray was able to score more than one basket in the first two quarters other than Gilbert for Scott County.

After halftime, Gilbert stayed in his groove by scoring eight points in the quarter, including two more three-pointers, both of which tied the score. On Trinity's end, Levitch also continued to stroke it from deep, but the team missed free-throws and turned the ball over on their final three possessions for the quarter. This was enough to let Scott County tie the game as the action headed into the fourth.

The fourth quarter saw more of Gilbert firing fearless and clutch three-pointers, one of which gave the Cardinals a one-point lead with just under four minutes to play. The action ebbed and flowed as it headed toward the end, but at 3:45 in the fourth, Spalding fumbled the rebound that gave Scott County's Tony Martini a chance to grab the ball and put it back in for two. Spalding made up for his blunder soon enough, though, with a strong rebound and put-back of his own, plus the foul. The three-point conversion gave the 'Rocks a two-point lead with under two minutes in the game.

Trent Gilbert responded in his wily way with a three at the top of the keywith a hand in his face. The big shot gave the Cards a 54-53 lead and put the pressure back on Trinity.

The Shamrocks point guard Michael Stafford took it strong to the rim twice inside of a minute and a half, but was only able to convert one of four free-throws in that span. He compounded his team's problems with by fouling Gilbert 70 feet from the basket and the hole proved to deep to dig out of.

Gilbert made all eight of his free-throws in the last minute and sealed the deal after Stafford missed another runner.

The championship game of the Boys Sweet 16 is at 2pm on Sunday at Rupp Arena.

Story & photos by Bryan Burke, RCN sports reporter. Bryan will be at Sunday's championship game so follow him on Twitter @mojokong

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