By Dave Malaska
ERLANGER, Ky. — Dixie Heights hung on, going 5-of-6 from the free throw line in the last 90 seconds and getting a timely turnover, to survive a scare from St. Henry in Friday night's 34th District title game.
The Colonels (23-7) won, 50-45, to earn their second straight district title, but not without some frayed nerves.
Down 11 midway through the fourth quarter, St. Henry was willed back into the game nearly single-handedly by senior guard Nick Rechtin, who scored seven of the Crusaders' 12 points down the stretch.
St. Henry's Adam Goetz started the rally with a 3-pointer near the 4:00 mark, before Rechtin took over, mixing drives in the lane with quick jumpers to pull the Crusaders (14-10) within a basket with 2:42 remaining.
Jake Plummer's driving jumper a minute later tied the game at 45 apiece, setting the stage for a frenetic finish, but the Colonels calmly hit free throws and sealed the win when an outlet pass caromed off Rechtin and across midcourt for a backcourt violation with 13 seconds left.
"You get to this time of year, nothing is easy," said Colonels' coach Ken Chevalier. "I told our kids at halftime that was okay with only scoring 22, as long as we kept playing defense the way we were. The basket was going to open up at our end."
"Anytime you can beat St. Henry on their own floor in a district final, that's a quality win. I don't care what the records are," Chevalier added as his squad cut down the nets.
After a nipe-and-tuck first half, the Colonels led, 22-20, at halftime. They extended their lead to double figures in the third, shooting 9-for-11 from the field. Austin Schreck accounted for nearly half of Dixie Heights' scoring output in the third, sparking the Colonels.
After a Brandon Hatton 3-pointer to open the half, Schreck scored on a fast break, then stole a Rechtin pass to go the distance for another basket and the foul, hitting the free throw for a 3-point play to put Dixie Heights up by eight.
After another free throw and an Adam Daria jumper, Schreck hit on a driving jumper to give the Colonels the 35-24 edge.
The junior was named the district tournament's MVP largely on his performance in the final.
"I just didn't want to let my team down," he said. "I thought if I could just get going, we could start something and pull out the victory. Nobody had to light a fire under me, it was just personal fire."
Chevalier had plenty of praise for the junior, who finished with 14 points.
"Not only was he unstoppable on the offensive end, but he was great on the defensive end, doing a great job in the post. Austin's starting to figure out that he can take over a ballgame when he wants to," Chevalier said. "When you put him with Brandon (Hatton), you get a pair of special kids who can put the team on their shoulders and win a game."
Hatton finished with a game-high 17 points, leaving the junior six short of the 3,000-point career milestone. Daria chipped in with nine points to help the Colonels to the title.
For the Crusaders, Rechtin was the top scorer with 15 points, most coming in the stretch run. Goetz finished with nine and Jake Plummer added seven for the runner-ups.
Rechtin and Plummer were named to the all-tournament team after the game, along with Hatton and Daria from Dixie Heights. Villa Madonna's Scott McQueen joined them on the all-tournament squad, as did Lashunn Patterson from Lloyd Memorial and Ludlow's Jerad Howard.
D. HEIGHTS 10-12-17-11—50
ST. HENRY 6-14-8-17—45
DIXIE HEIGHTS (23-7): Schreck 6 2 14, Rabe 1 0 2, Daria 4 1 9, Bolin 1 0 2, Moore 1 0 2, Hedger 1 0 2, Hatton 5 6 17, Niehaus 1 0 2. Totals 20 9 50.
ST. HENRY (14-10): Plummer 3 1 7, Goetz 3 2 9, Wallenhorst 1 0 2, Jo. Noble 3 0 6, Rechtin 6 2 15, Kunstek 2 2 6. Totals 18 7 45.
3-pointers: D—Hatton. SH—Rechtin, Goetz.