Repeat Run Falls Short: Overtime Loss Sends Covington Catholic Home
Covington Catholic's run at back-to-back state titles came to an end on Saturday evening when they were unable to withstand a late run by Owensboro and lost 69-65 in overtime in the semifinals of the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys Basketball Sweet 16 Tournament at Rupp Arena. Backup guard Matthew Schumate knocked down a game-tying three-pointer in the waning seconds of regulation to send it into overtime, but the Colonels faltered in the extra session and their postseason run dating back to last year came to an end.
“When Schumate hit that three, I thought the game was ours, but it didn't work out our way,” sophomore guard Cole VonHandorf said afterward. “This is going to be motivation in the long run and I am just proud of the way we fought.”
VonHandorf had a game-high 21 points on the night.
The game was truly a thriller with fan electricity coursing through Rupp Arena as the game came down to a nail-biting finish. Both teams played exceptionally hard and fatigue was a factor for everyone on the floor by the end.
“It was a great high school basketball game; this is what everybody pays admission to see. Unfortunately, tonight we came up on the short end, but these guys left their hearts out there,” Cov Cath head coach Scott Ruthsatz said about his players after the game. “I'm so proud of our guys and I don't think after last year anybody thought we would be here, but we're here with discipline, we're here with unselfishness and a great attitude. Our seniors, hats off to them. They really helped me my four years here and these guys have really been instrumental in the turnaround that we've made.”
“We don't back down from anybody. We fight as well as we can and like I told the guys in the locker room: this is life lessons. You work so hard sometimes and things just don't go your way. You've got to pick yourself up, dust yourself off. The lessons that we learned during this trip are going to help us down the road. We've got a nice group of kids."
Cov Cath came out hot from the outside as they hit on four long jump shots, one a three-pointer by Cole VonHandorf that gave the Colonels a 9-2 lead. Owensboro was not going to back down, however, as they very quickly struck for seven quick points to tie the score. Jacoby Harris got things going with a three from the top of the key, followed by basket in the post for the wide-bodied Justin Miller. Because the Colonels are not very large, and because Justin Miller is built like an offensive lineman, he was able to do real damage on the block with putback buckets. He had six points and five rebounds in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, the helter-skelter action continued as the Colonels took back momentum with another 9-0 run. It started with Bo Schuh being fouled inside by Aric Holman. Coach Ruthsatz implored his team to keep attacking the rim. VonHandorf followed that advice as he went hard at the bucket on a fast break and made both of his free throws when he was fouled in the process. Those two makes allowed the Colonels to tie the game at 15.
A short time later, Matthew Schumate drained a three-pointer from the right corner to put Cov Cath up 20-15 and the Colonels would not relinquish the lead again in the half.
The complexion of the battle underneath changed dramatically for both teams when important front-court players, Bo Schuh for Cov Cath and Justin Miller for Owensboro each picked up their second foul and were forced to the bench. Without Miller in the game, the rebounding and post presence fell to Holman who is very tall but not particularly strong. This lack of strength showed up when Cov Cath was able to rip the ball away from him after two defensive rebounds which they were able to convert into put-back baskets. Holman also became a source of turnovers for the Red Devils as he traveled twice, kicked the ball out of bounds and let a pass go through his hands and out of bounds. Owensboro racked up 10 total turnovers in the half.
When junior Andy Flood and senior point guard Cooper Theobald each converted on three-point plays, the Colonels found themselves with a 30-24 halftime advantage.
Schuh led the game at the half with eight points and Theobald added seven more.
When it looked like the Colonels dipped some in their shooting success coming out of halftime, it was their defense that helped them maintain a small lead. Cooper Theobald took two charges in three trips down the floor, and Will Heppler gave CCH a good inside presence to help bang with Miller. When Heppler pulled down an offensive rebound and kicked it out to VonHandorf for a three at the top of the key, the Colonels pushed their lead back to four points midway through the third quarter.
Senior center Bo Schuh kept the run going with a mid-range baseline jumper, followed by a corner three from VonHandorf. Then when Schuh scored again going right at the tall Holman, the Colonels pushed their lead to nine points, their largest of the evening.
Schuh played tough against the huge pairing of Miller and Holman. Sacrificing both height and weight to the tandem, Schuh stayed aggressive and in control. He finished with 15 points.
“I speak for everyone when I say that we left everything out on the floor. There was nothing else we could have done, Everyone played their hearts out, everyone played until they were dead. I'm so proud of everyone on this team,” Schuh said.
Like he did in the biggest of moments, though, Owensboro guard Darion Morrow came up with a big three to cut into the Colonels lead and change the momentum of the second half.
“He scored at huge times when we might have had the game if we could just get a stop and get it down the other end and run our sets and it just didn't work out for us tonight,” Ruthsatz said.
Morrow had 18 points.
Once the attention was shown to Morrow on the outside, it gave even more space for Justin Miller to use his girth effectively on the inside. Miller scored on many contested buckets in the paint, but because of his size, he was able to maintain his composure when being bumped and used the glass effectively all night. Miller also finished with 18 points and also had 11 rebounds before checking out of the game in overtime with a leg injury.
As the two teams headed down the stretch in the fourth quarter, Cov Cath saw their nine-point third-quarter lead slimmed down to just one with under two minutes left in regulation. Then when Bo Schuh missed on the front end of a 1-and-1 situation, the Red Devils saw their chance to strike.
Owensboro sophomore point guard Jacoby Harris is an exciting young player with quickness to spare. He pulled off some nice crossover moves at the top of the key that freed him up enough to drive into the paint, and sink a floater as he was fouled. He made his free throw, giving the Red Devils the lead they had fought so hard to take back.
On the ensuing possession, VonHandorf turned the ball over when it looked to have hit his foot and bounced straight up in the air. They were momentarily saved when Morrow missed his free throw and senior guard Cooper Theobald was fouled as he drove the lane. He too was only able to make one of his free-throws though, preventing CCH from tying at the point.
Two possessions later, with the Colonels down three, the ball found its way to Schumate at the top of the key who managed to get a shot off that swished through the net to tie. The Cov Cath faithful went crazy and the Colonels were once more fueled with optimism and momentum.
It would not last.
In overtime, Owensboro set the tone when Dylan Sanford knocked down a triple from the wing. Cov Cath was able to be fouled on two straight possessions, though, and the ensuing free-throws gave them the lead. Justin Miller used his size on the next possession and picked up a loose ball around the rim and put in an easy two, swinging the lead back to Owensboro. When CCH got the ball back, Theobald just missed on floater in the lane that rimmed around twice before falling away as a miss. That was the back-breaker.
Morrow responded again with his own floater and the foul to put the Red Devils up 63-59. Theobald was able to score on a similar shot as the one he missed a few moments earlier, but then Aric Holman picked up another loose ball around the rim on a near steal by Will Heppler, and boomed it in for a dunk.
When desperation began to set in for the Colonels, it looked like they had one more miracle up their sleeve as VonHandorf was able to come away with a steal, but when he tried dribbling around his back to avoid the defender, he lost control of the ball and it trickled out of bounds.
Cov Cath was then down three in overtime with under 20 seconds left when Theobald was called for a travel. They were then forced to foul the Red Dragons who made their free-throws in the end and sealed the deal on the Colonels season. They finished the season with a 31-6 record and fall just two games short of their second straight state title. Cov Cath graduates five seniors, including starters Schuh, Theobald and Grant Romes.
Story & photos by Bryan Burke, associate editor