By Terry Boehmker
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. – Covington Catholic’s game plan going into the Region 9 championship final on Monday revolved around rebounding. The Colonels knew they had to win the battle on the boards to beat Holmes, and that’s exactly what they did.
CovCath finished with a 36-34 edge in total rebounds and defeated Holmes, 56-51, before an estimated crowd of more than 6,000 at the Bank of Kentucky Center.
The Colonels get to play in the “Sweet 16” state tournament for the first time since 2006. Their first-round opponent will be 13th Region champion Clay County at 8 p.m. on Thursday, March 20 at Rupp Arena in Lexington.
CovCath coach Scott Ruthsatz put a heavy emphasis on rebounding in practice because it was something the Colonels did not do very well when they lost to Holmes in the 35th District final on March 3.
In that game, the Bulldogs scored 25 second-chance points by getting rebounds under their own basket. On Monday, they got only 10 second-chance points.
“The last time we played them we didn’t box them out (under the boards),” said CovCath junior forward Bo Schuh. “Before this game, the coaches came up to me and Mark Schult and some other guys and said, ‘If we beat them on the boards, we’ll win.’ So we just came out and had the mindset that we would get every (missed shot) that went up there.”
Schuh finished with a game-high 15 rebounds, including 13 that he snagged following missed shots by Holmes. He was able to do that because CovCath used zone defenses through out the game that kept him near the basket.
“I thought our guys executed the game plan, (playing) 2-3 zone, 3-2 and a little bit of 1-1-3 just mixing it up from time to time,” Ruthsatz said. “And (our) rebounding, that was the big key.”
CovCath scored on seven consecutive offensive possessions to take a 17-6 lead early in the game. Senior point guard Nick Ruthsatz, the coach’s son, scored on four of those possessions and got the assist on two of the other three baskets.
Later in the second quarter, Ruthsatz hit a 3-pointer to spark another run that put his team ahead, 28-16. Holmes called a timeout to regroup after that basket and ran off four straight points to make it 28-20 at halftime.
The Bulldogs outscored CovCath, 17-8, during the third quarter to go on top. But CovCath rallied in the fourth quarter and had a 52-44 lead with less than a minute remaining.
Holmes junior guard James Bolden, who made only one basket in the first half, hit a pair of 3-point shots to bring his team within two, 53-51, with 23 seconds left.
The Colonels clinched the win by making two of three free throws and pulling down the rebound on the Bulldogs’ last two missed shots.
“The name of the game is you’ve got to hit shots, and we didn’t hit enough shots (Monday),” said Holmes coach Jason Booher. “We were getting the looks that we wanted, but they just weren’t falling. That’s the way it is sometimes in the game of basketball.”
Holmes ended up shooting 36.8 percent (21 of 57) from the field overall and 11.1 percent (3 of 27) from behind the 3-point arch. Most of the team’s offense came from inside players Marcus Hill and Quinton Chames, who had a combined total of 29 points.
Bolden was 3-for-19 on 3-point attempts, but he still managed to get 15 points for the Bulldogs.
CovCath shot 42.5 percent (20 of 47) from the field overall and made just 14 percent (3 of 21) of its 3-point attempts.
Ruthsatz scored a game-high 24 points for the Colonels and was named most valuable player on the all-tournament team. He also had five rebounds and five assists.
In the fourth quarter, Ruthsatz had nine points and two assists to help his team hold off the late charge by Holmes.
“We knew they were going to make a run,” Ruthsatz said. “I mean, they have Bolden on their team who is a phenomenal player. We just had to stay calm and play our game and we knew we were going to slowly comeback.”
COVCATH 19- 9- 8-20–56
COVCATH (29-2): VonHandorf 5 0 10, Schuh 2 4 8, Ruthsatz 7 8 24, Heppler 1 0 3, Schult 5 1 11. Totals: 20 13 56
HOLMES (28-6): Bolden 6 0 15, McClendon 1 1 3, Avery 1 0 2, Housley 1 0 2, Hill 6 1 13, Chames 6 4 16. Totals: 21 6 51.
3-pointers: CC–Ruthsatz 2, Heppler. H–Bolden 3.
ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM: CovCath – Nick Ruthsatz (MVP), Bo Schuh, Mark Schult. Holmes – James Bolden, Marcus Hill. NewCath – Zach Pangallo, Tanner Moeves. Dixie Heights – Brandon Hatton, Drew Moore. Ryle – Tanner White, Will Stuhr. St. Henry – Nick Rechtin. Highlands – Parker Harris. Conner – Sam Hemmerich,