Holmes, Cov Cath to Meet Again in 9th Region Finals
The stage was set for a classic. Dixie and Holmes had battled all night, trading big baskets and playing terrific defense in the 9th Region Boys Tournament semifinals at the Bank of Kentucky Center.
The game was tied at 55 and Dixie held onto the ball for the last shot. Colonels senior guard Austin Schreck dribbled at the top of the key, waiting for the right time to move. Holmes guard Markel McClendon had already played a great defensive game with four steals, but his fifth was the biggest as he picked Schreck's pocket on the steal and was fouled on his way to the rim on the other end. One free-throw is all he would need with under two seconds remaining.
“I was watching his move every game where he did the in and out. Branden Englemon was guarding him and I told him to switch with me. I saw it coming and I just put my hand out to the tip the ball. Got the ball, got the steal, made the clutch free-throw and got my team to a victory,” McClendon said.
The second free-throw was missed intentionally. Dixie rebounded and called timeout with 0.9 seconds left, but Nick Niehaus' half court pass was fittingly stolen by McClendon on an interception and Holmes advances to take on Covington Catholic in a rematch of last year's 9th Region championship game. Holmes has not beaten Cov Cath in their two chances yet this season.
“We got two good ball clubs tomorrow. We're going to have keep our blinders on and play rim to rim,” Holmes head coach Mike Listerman said about the Cov Cath game on Tuesday.
Holmes was carried throughout the evening by their back court once again, as McClendon and senior James Bolden hit the big shots down the stretch that were vital to moving on in this rich talent bed of the 9th Region. The going was certainly tough, and the Bulldogs were focused when it mattered the most.
It was a first half of defense as each team presented their unique challenges to the other. Dixie came out in its long 2-3 zone that packed the paint and dared the Bulldogs to shoot from the outside. Holmes, on the other hand, applied their full-court defense in hopes of flustering the Colonels guards into tunrovers. Both teams found it hard to score against the other's defense, as each were only able to put together eight points each.
It was also a game of pace. Dixie did a nice job of slowing things down to their level which helped them better utilize their stark size underneath.
“We know they're bigger than us, and that was an issue, but I thought our defense was solid,” said Coach Listerman.
They stayed in control and in many stretches looked like they would pull it out, but even though they were able to control the pace, they couldn't control the clutch shooting of the Holmes backcourt that combined to go 6-11 from three-point range, some of them in crunch time when the chips were down.
In the second quarter, the points increased as both teams found players that figured out ways to score. For Holmes, it was Bolden who immediately heated up in the second quarter, knocking down a long three and then later scored on a pretty baseline jumper.
For Dixie, it was their big man Mitchell Bolin who had eight points on four easy inside looks, often set up by point guard Drew Moore.
The teams traded free-throws and points and the momentum refused to break to one side or the other. Then the Holmes bigs got involved as both Rod Avery and Andrew Arnold were able to get points down low to give Holmes the slimmest of breathing room, going up 25-20—their largest lead of the half. Avery scored on a sweet baseline ally-oop and Arnold converted with a nice spin move in the lane.
The third quarter featured more competitive basketball as neither side could mount much of a lead. Liam Rabe became the man for Dixie who popped off the quarter with eight quick points, including two threes and a layup off of a steal.
That's when the drama began to thicken as the fourth quarter began. Bolden and McClendon each started it with threes, but then Schreck came back right away to tie it with a spin-move bank shot that was counted with the foul. There were six lead changes in the fourth quarter alone.
Dixie big men, Bolin and Matt Isbel scored important baskets down the stretch, and Bolin's tip in with three minutes left put the Colonels up, 55-52. James Bolden responded by cooly knocking down a three-pointer from beyond NBA range like it was no big deal, tying the game.
“That three was as big as any three all season,” Coach Listerman said.
Each team then held onto the ball, letting the clock wind down. The tension in the building was heightened by the anticipation of a play and when McClendon stole the ball from Schreck the building erupted.
Dixie ends their season at 23-8. While Holmes moves on also with a record of 23-8.
Covington Catholic 72, St. Henry 53
Covington Catholic trailed at halftime of the 9th Region Boys Semifinals, but rallied back in the second half to beat a spirited St. Henry team, 72-53, at The Bank of Kentucky Center on Monday night. The Colonels will play Holmes on Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m. in a rematch of last year's 9th Region Championship game.
Cov Cath had four scorers in double figures and was led by sophomore Cole VonHandorf with 24 points on 16 shots. The Crusaders were led by Adam Goetz who kept close pace with 23.
St. Henry looked like fearless underdogs in the early going, as they took it right at the Colonels in the first half. Cov Cath's 9th Region tournament swoon continued in the first two quarters as St. Henry often looked like the better team, up nine at two different points in the half.
Adam Goetz paced the Crusaders with 16 first half points, many on fearless drives to the rim. St. Henry accepted the quick pace of the game that the Colonels regularly force, thanks to their quality ball handlers in the face of the CCH full-court trap defense. Rather than try to slow it up once crossing halfcourt, the Crusaders moved forward toward the rim, scoring on runners and being fouled on a regular basis.
“The problem with the trap is that we weren't keeping them in front,” Cov Cath head coach Scott Ruthsatz said. “They were beating us off the dribble, and it wasn't like they had guys blasting past us, we took bad angles. We have to keep them in front, make them take contested jump shots, rebound the ball with two hands as a group and we'll be alright.”
The score was only separated by a point when St. Henry senior forward Paul Wallenhorst had to come out of the game with two fouls, but Goetz kept on strong, scoring on contested jumpers, backdoor cuts to the rim and an awkward, double-clutch runner at the buzzer of the first quarter.
Similarly to the way the Colonels handled the Newport zone defense in their previous game in the quarterfinals, Cov Cath found that they could not shoot jumpers well enough to rely on that facet of their offense keeping pace with the Crusaders. When guards Cooper Theobald and VonHandorf went right at the zone, attacking the paint, better results ensued for them rather than relying on shots 18-feet and out. Theobald had 17 on the night.
“We've got to start getting in the lane because they're just going to pack it in,” Coach Ruthsatz said. “We haven't been shooting it very well, though we did hit one or two, but we've got to get into the lane.”
The Colonels felt the tough scoring situation in the second quarter when they found themselves down 31-22 and had really no resemblence of an offensive rhythm. That's when the tables began to turn, however.
“We needed to be much more physical inside setting screens, and you play against zone guys just kind of float from place to place,” Ruthsatz said. “We really wanted them aggressive, posting up, screening the zone and I think we did better at that.”
First it was senior forward Bo Schuh to break out as he made a 16-foot jumper on the baseline, followed by another inside two. Next, it was VonHandorf with a nice strong take in transition, and when Andy Flood scored on an offensive rebound on a free-throw, the Colonels had cut their deficit to only two.
The score at the half was 33-29.
The second half was all Cov Cath. Andy Flood's three-pointer from the corner was a sign of a better half to come for the Colonels. VonHandorf really started to warm up in the third quarter, and when he scored on back-to-back possessions, he gave CCH their first lead of the game at 41-40.
The momentum that St. Henry had found in the first half was evaporating quickly as they began to miss close shots and turn the ball over. The Colonels paid even more attention defensively to Goetz who was face-guarded by someone on Cov Cath, no matter where he went on the court. When VonHandorf scored again, followed by a 14-foot baseline jumper by Schuh and a Theobald steal, hoop and the foul, the game had definitively shifted to the Colonels' favor, up 49-41. Schuh finished with 10 points and two blocks.
If St. Henry were to keep things under control and stay in the game, they had to take care of the ball and convert on their open shots. Unfortunately for the Crusaders, that did not happen and they turned the ball over on their first two possessions of the last period which led to a double-digit Cov Cath lead. St. Henry had one last gasp for life when Alex Green cut their deficit to five points with a drive to the the rim and a foul, but once again, the defending state champions responded blow for blow.
Flood scored on an easy hoop, taking his man off the dribble and finishing off the glass. Flood racked up his second straight double-digit scoring night, finishing with 14; he had 15 in the quarterfinals. A short time later, VonHandorf and Theobald each made a pair of free-throws and when St. Henry looked up at the scoreboard again, they were down 13 points with not enough time on their side for another charge.
With the Colonels paying more attention to getting inside shots, they were able to shoot 70 percent from the field in the second half and made 12 of 17 free-throws after halftime to seal the deal in the game's late going.
Cov Cath is now 28-5, while St. Henry concludes their season at 20-12.
- Story by Bryan Burke, associate editor/Photos by Brian Frey, RCN photographer