Cov Cath, Holmes Advance in 35th District Tournament
For the sixth straight year, it will be a rematch of the 35th District title game as both Covington Catholic and Holmes advanced through the semifinals on Wednesday night and will square off in the championship game on Friday evening at Holmes.
Covington Catholic 69, Beechwood 32
Cov Cath breezed by Beechwood, 69-32, in the first game of the evening by featuring a balanced attack that saw all five starters score in the first quarter alone. Sophomore shooting guard Cole VonHandorf finished with a hard-fought 17 points on 16 shots. Senior forward Bo Schuh was just behind his teammate with 16 points and looked dominant inside in the second half on the glass and the defensive end.
When the Colonels went to a full-court man defense, the Beechwood guards were forced into a pace of game they did not appear comfortable playing. When they did get settled into a half-court set, they needed sophomore guard Jacob Huff to lead the way in scoring and he was clearly the focal point of the offense, but he struggled on the night, shooting just 3-12 and finishing with eight points. Huff had many good games in his second year, averaging over 17 points a game, and his talent is obvious. He just had a tough night shooting the ball and the Tigers didn't have the other guns to hang with the Colonels. Connor Brock led Beechwood with 11 points in the game.
To make matters worse for the Tigers, they turned the ball over in bunches as the scrappy Cov Cath defense stole the ball 15 times and forced 19 turnovers total.
The second half was especially difficult for Beechwood who simply couldn't even get many shots off, only shooting twelve shots after halftime. The steals led to easy baskets which led to an insurmountable lead midway through the third quarter. Even the Colonel reserves came off the bench hot, as guards Noah Lenhof, Aiden Ruthsatz and Max Bishop all came off the bench and made three-pointers in the fourth quarter. Cov Cath shot 78 percent (18-23 FG) in the second half.
Holmes 77, Holy Cross 66
Holy Cross gave it their all in the second semifinal game, but the talent of Holmes was just too much in the end and the Bulldogs advanced to the District final for the eleventh year in a row.
Both teams came out hot, matching one another on three-point baskets and finding their big men down low with drives and dishes around the rim. For the Indians, it was Derrick Barnes who got open looks on the block pretty much all night on some nice entry passes to him, especially from junior forward Tyler Bezold. Barnes finished with 16 points on 8-10 shooting.
For Holmes, it was junior guard Markel McClendon keeping pace for the Bulldogs as he found his stroke from the outside early, knocking down threes and finishing the first half with 15 points, and a game-high 24 overall. Chipping in was Rod Avery on putbacks and finishes down low. Avery had 11 before the half and 18 for the game.
Holmes held on to a small lead for the majority of the half and the Indians were able to stay close thanks not one but two buzzer-beating threes by Leighton Schrand, the second of which was from 35 feet and was even fouled on the shot which he converted into a four-point play.
In the second half, though, Holmes senior guard and team leader James Bolden emerged and produced a terrific third quarter. Bolden finished with a modest 15 points, but made a concerted effort to share the ball and find his teammates in transition. His ability to find seams in the defense on the fast break and deliver dazzling bounce passes is uncanny. During a particular stretch midway through the third, Bolden found guard Marcus Mullins twice on long-range bounce passes which Mullins cashed in on with nifty reverse layups. The back-to-back plays that finished with the same Mullins layup put the Bulldogs up by 12 and kept Holy Cross at arm's length the rest of the way.
Schrand led Holy Cross with 20 points and Bezold added 18, but wing man Erich Jakubowski, who is normally Holy Cross' most reliable outside shooter, went scoreless and only attempted three shots. While the Holmes defense did a lot of switching, Bolden also did a good job denying Jakubowski the ball when matched up with him.
Holmes beat Cov Cath last year in the District championship game, but the Colonels would not lose again for the rest of the season from that point. They beat Holmes in the 9th Region Tournament final last year and again at The Bank of Kentucky Center on January 23. The two schools have faced one another in 10 of the last 11 35th District championship games. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 at Holmes High School on Friday night.
- Story and photo by Bryan Burke, associate editor