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Big Game in Highland Heights: New Cath & Cov Cath

On Friday night, two of the top teams in the area square off at the Bank of Kentucky Center as part of the Bluegrass-Buckeye Charity Classic, when top-ranked Newport Central Catholic takes on third-ranked Covington Catholic at 8:30 p.m.

The game is one of the higher-profile matchups of the season in Northern Kentucky and many people are excited to see who is the current best. Cov Cath head coach Scott Ruthsatz, though, is approaching the event as just another game for his team.

“For us, we're trying to continuously improve, we try to play it to the players that it's a one-game season and each game we need to make sure that we are focused,” Ruthsatz said about the showdown on Friday. “When you get into the regular season, it's somewhat of a chess match. In the end, the game itself doesn't mean much except for what the perspective public thinks of the game, but there are things we are both going to take away win or lose that we're going to ultimately work toward that Regional Championship.”

That being said, Ruthsatz does recognize the relevance of the matchup for those on the outside looking in.

“It's obviously a big game, as far as the local area is concerned. Their number one, we're number two and we've had good battles in the past with both winning and losing,” he said.

Last year Cov Cath beat the Thoroughbreds in the semifinals of the Ninth Regional Tournament, also played at TBOKC. The win was really the beginning of a tremendous run for the Colonels where they vanquished many of the state's top contenders on their way to the school's first state championship. In that game, the smaller Colonels stymied the big scoring forward Drew McDonald and limited the Breds to just 43 points.

This year, NCC might be marginally smaller than a year ago, but with junior forward Ben Weyer emerging as a scoring force to go along with McDonald, the pair poses matchup problems for any coach, including Ruthsatz and the smallish Colonels.

“In the past, we've always been undersized. We were undersized last year and they were as big if not bigger last year than they are this year,” said Ruthsatz. “I think they pose a problem in several different ways. Ben Weyer is more of a scoring threat along with Drew McDonald—they both can score the basketball.”

Also in the mix of concern for the CCH coaching staff is New Cath floor general and senior point guard Zach Pangallo.

“Pangallo is one of the best point guards around, maybe just behind James Bolden (Holmes),” Ruthsatz said. “Those three guys can all score the ball, you have to know where they are. We'll devise different systems to try to negate as many things as we can, but in the end, it's just about preparation and our guys really know how to compete.”

Cov Cath dropped a spot in the RCN/NKYSports.com poll to third after losing a bruising battle against Moeller, 61-52, in Cincinnati.

“We took away a lot of learning points there: how physical it was, and how we need to be the aggressor on both ends of the court,” the Colonels coach said about that loss.

The dimensions of the court at TBOKC are larger than what the Colonels play with at their home court and each team could benefit from the extra space. While both McDonald and Weyer are capable post players, the Breds look their best when they spread their offense out, allow Pangallo to drive the lane and find open frontcourt players slashing toward the rim. For McDonald, the game is another chance to become familiar with his future home court where he will play all of his home games with Northern Kentucky University next season.

The Colonels like to spread it out too, though, and Ruthsatz is excited for his team to play on a wider surface.

“Obviously playing at the Bank of Kentucky Center is a great venue for the area, but the one thing we have to manage for us is just having the big court,” he said. “We're a team that likes to get up and down. The more spread we can be, I think the more efficient we can be, because we are looking to be really, really aggressive on both ends, so sometimes the bigger court definitely helps with that.”

Covington Catholic likely will need at least 15 points from their best scorer, sophomore Cole Von Handorf to keep up with the offensive firepower New Cath possesses. In the loss to Moeller, VonHandorf had just 11 and missed all five of his three-point attempts. The team will also look toward senior forward Bo Schuh who is not always counted on to be a prolific scorer but can do many different things on the court, often filling the stat sheet as a result.

Schuh is likely to matchup with the similarly-sized Weyer, but that means the complimentary Colonel frontcourt players will be tasked with guarding McDonald who is big in the post, but also has a soft touch from three-point range. How the Colonels deal with this combo could become the difference in the game.

Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor