Holmes, New Cath Headline Friday's Main Event
When Holmes plays Newport Central Catholic on Friday night at The Bank of Kentucky Center, it will be a pivotal moment for the Bulldogs and their season. They were in the same building three weeks ago when they lost to Covington Catholic 54-42. It appeared that they had righted the ship after that defeat, though, winning five games in a row, but then they allowed Boone County to beat them on the road on Tuesday and gave up 97 points in the loss to the Rebels.
As the season has progressed, it has become clear that both Cov Cath and New Cath are more polished teams than Holmes. There were times throughout the year when the Bulldogs looked really good, especially when they ripped off 11 wins in a row in the middle of the season, but their inability to beat the state's heavyweights has dimmed the optimism outsiders have of any meaningful post-season success they might achieve this March.
On the other hand, New Cath has solidified their game plan since also losing to Cov Cath at TBOKC and are riding the wave of a 12-game winning streak, including winning the All “A” Classic state tournament for the third time in a row in Frankfort last month. They are playing with precision and accuracy since the Cov Cath loss and are firing on all cylinders with reserves like John Ludwig and Brian Anderson providing quality minutes off of the bench. Their big three—senior guard Zach Pangallo, junior forward Ben Weyer and senior forward Drew McDonald—are a handful for any team to take on, but for a smaller team like Holmes, it's especially difficult.
“I'm sure they're going to try to pound it in,” Holmes head coach Mike Listerman said about New Cath's approach. “They got the two big ones, but the other key is we cannot let Pangallo go crazy. We've got to guard him.”
That responsibility will fall to the trio of Bulldog guards: senior James Bolden, and juniors Markel McClendon and Marcus Mullins. It's not only important that they defend well, but it's seemingly vital that they must shoot well to counter the inside scoring threat of the Breds. Bolden may be the most talented player in the 9th Region, and Mullins and McClendon are typically dependable scorers as well, so the capability to hang with the Breds is certainly there. The concern, though, is whether or not they will be able to play with enough stamina to maintain the fast pace they prefer.
“Absolutely,” Coach Listerman said when asked if his team will look to create a more up-tempo game. “We know that we have success when we do that, but you have to have energy to do it.”
The other problem is that New Cath does not shy away from a track meet. Pangallo avoids the mistakes of a typical high-school guard. He is polished, composed and, in many games, virtually mistake-free. Because of this luxury at the point guard position, coupled with Ben Weyer's awareness to sprint down court as soon as the ball changes possession (not to mention Drew McDonald's sharp outlet passing), the Thoroughbreds have buried teams in faster-paced games by scoring in transition.
“We need to have some people step up. Weyer is a threat inside and he can move outside, then you've got McDonald. So we're going to have to battle, there's no doubt about it,” Listerman said.
Another key player in this game is Holmes center Rod Avery. Coach Listerman was careful not to tip his hand in revealing if Avery would guard Weyer or McDonald, but did say whoever Avery doesn't guard will be an important task for the rotation of other big bodies the Bulldogs will throw their way. Forwards Andrew Arnold and Jason Covington regularly sub in and out for one another, but Brandon Moore and even Jaiden Greene may be asked to play more minutes against the size of the New Cath front court.
“Somebody in that group is going to have to step up for us to be successful,” Listerman said about his big men.
Honestly, New Cath has not played many competitive teams during their current winning streak. Their win over Lexington Christian in the semifinals of the All “A” was a good test and a close NCC win, but everything else has been blowout city. The game against Holmes will bring New Cath back to what they can expect to find if they intend on making a deep tournament run this year, and their game after their matchup against Holmes might be even tougher with state heavyweight Louisville Trinity coming to town. That said, the Breds know better than to overlook the Bulldogs.
“Those games against Holmes and Trinity will be huge for us before the postseason,” New Cath head coach Ron Dawn said. “Holmes is a very good regional opponent, and someone we might see in the regional tournament. They have a very good program and they have three outstanding guards. Holmes will be a really good challenge for us.”
For Holmes, the game is a chance to gain a huge dose of credibility in terms of truly being a contender in the weeks to come. There is an element of doubt that lingers over this team, which could be largely wiped away with a big win over New Cath.
The first game is between (1) Covington Catholic and (5) Dixie at 6:30pm, followed by (2) New Cath at (4) Holmes at 8pm. Tickets at the door are $7 and are general admission.
- Story by Bryan Burke, associate editor