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Dan Weber: Cov Cath Turns Long Wait Into Short Game

Dan Weber writes a sports column for The River City News. Contact him at dweber3440@aol.com.

Covington Catholic turned a long wait - 8 1/2 months - into a short game Tuesday night.

With a full house in Park Hills cheering them on, the top-ranked Colonels (3-0) kept their record perfect with a revenge win over a St. Henry team that eliminated Cov Cath in the first round of the regional last March.

But Cov Cath didn't just beat a St. Henry team that edged them by a single point a year ago. The Colonels chewed the Crusaders up and spit them out. They challenged every St. Henry dribble, pass, shot, and rebound.

Two different Colonel defenders once blocked the same Crusader shooter in back-to-back attempts on the same possession and then Cov Cath got that swatted ball to the other end of the floor for a dunk before the taller Crusaders had time to react.

If the final 82-32 score looks awfully one-sided despite Cov Cath clearing the bench for the fourth quarter with a running clock, it could have been worse. Way worse.

Hold that thought. It pretty much could not have been worse as Cov Cath sprinted out to a 20-2 lead the first six minutes and took it up from there, leading 23-8 after the first quarter, 45-17 at halftime, and 70-24 after three before reaching the final 50-point margin with 2:50 left, sending the shorts-and-tee-shirt-wearing "Colonel Crazies" off into the freezing night chanting "Rupp Arena . . . Rupp, Rupp Arena."

"That's what it should have been," explosive junior point guard Evan Ipsaro said of the 50-point margin, admitting that last year's game was on the Colonels' minds "a lot" since then.

"We lived with that every day," said 6-foot-8, 220-pound center Mitchell Rylee, the only senior starter, who finished with a team-high 17 points on seven-of-nine shooting in 17 minutes. "It just pushed us harder . . . we were super determined." 

For anyone who was here, the "Crazies" will get no argument about their "Rupp Arena . . . " assessment. The way Cov Cath defends at every position makes you realize this is not last year's Colonel team that finished 24-4.

The big difference, says Cov Cath Coach Scott Ruthsatz, is the interior defense they're getting from the post now. "I really challenged our bigs," he says. And they in turn challenged St. Henry, allowing the Crusaders virtually no easy or open shots the first three quarters as they went three of 12, three of 13, and three of 15 the first three periods.

For the game, St. Henry finished a mere 12 for 47 (25.5 percent) while turning it over 16 times against the Colonel pressure and getting outrebounded 34-24 with 16 turnovers to Cov Cath's seven. Cov Cath meanwhile converted 32 of 50 (64.0 percent) from the field.

As advertised, the 5-foot-11 Ipsaro has amazing quickness and athleticism to go with his ball skills. The floor leader from New Richmond, Ohio, hit on five-of-six shots in his 21 minutes for his 14 points but his ability to penetrate and dish -- he had eight assists -- sets him apart.

"We still want him to take it to another level," Ruthsatz says of Ipsaro, "we want him to go from an 8 to a 10 . . . we're challenging him to do that." And part of that challenge is to take his defense to another level along with the big guys.

But until you see him play, "He doesn't pass the eye test," his coach says of the 175-pounder. He doesn't look as good as he is, and no way he looks as fast. Until Evan gets the ball in his hand, or takes it out of yours, and then he takes off. And good-bye.

Ipsaro credits his years playing soccer for the quicks he plays with that get him doing the one thing that's most fun: "Getting them dunks," he says of Rylee and 6-6, 230-pound Chandler Starks, who led the Colonels with 12 rebounds. "Coach is always telling me to push the ball. That's always been my game."

If they accomplish consistency with the defensive effort they played with Tuesday as Ruthsatz believes they will, then "We're a different team from last year," he says. They do lots of quick-twitch stuff, lots of five-on-four in practice where four defenders have to stop five on offense.

"We stay in great shape," Ruthsatz says. You have to to defend all over the floor with what Rylee describes as "a denial defense with us sometimes helping on the short corners."

You also have to be in pretty good shape to play Cov Cath's schedule. Last week they opened at home against a good Dixie Heights team Friday night then hot-footed it to Lexington for a Saturday afternoon game against Top-10 team Paul Laurence Dunbar, rallying from a slow start that had them 17 points down, for a 67-60 win.

They'll do it again this weekend, hosting Cincinnati LaSalle Friday before heading to Indianapolis to face a strong Cathedral team on Saturday. Then the week before Christmas the Colonels head to Louisville for four games in the King of Bluegrass Tournament. The week after Christmas, it's off to Florida for three games at The Battle of the Villages.

Sure, Ruthsatz would like to play more games at home. "I'd love to play more games here," he says. "That was one of the problems last year -- no 'Crazies.' "

"It's a great environment here," Rylee says. But it's not where the ultimate goal is, Ruthsatz says. "It's all about preparing for the State Tournament," and those four games it takes to win it all in the Sweet 16.

So if Cov Cath is on the road for 10 of its first 14 games, so be it. "The schedule flips around next year," Ruthsatz says. But they're going to have to make the best of it this year. Which is pretty much the plan.

--Dan Weber