By Terry Boehmker
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. – Poor free throw shooting opened the door for an upset, but Holmes managed to hold off Dixie Heights, 54-51, in a 9th Region boys’ basketball semifinal game on Sunday at the Bank of Kentucky Center.
Holmes took a 40-33 lead into the fourth quarter, but the Bulldogs missed 11 of 16 free throws during that final period and Dixie Heights pulled to within two, 53-51 with 43 seconds left on the clock.
After Holmes junior guard James Bolden made one of two foul shots with 38 seconds left, Dixie Heights senior guard Brandon Hatton drove into the lane and put up a shot without getting a basket or a drawing a foul.
There was a scramble for the rebound after Hatton’s miss and Holmes knocked the ball out of bounds near the half-court line with 12 seconds left. The ball went to Hatton once again, but his desperation shot from near the half-court line fell short and Holmes escaped with the victory.
“Luckily, we had a lead because if it was a dog fight to begin with we would have lost the game,” Holmes coach Jason Booher said of his team’s shaky foul shooting in the final quarter. “But it’s survive and advance. It doesn’t matter how you get the win, it could be ugly or pretty or whatever you want. Right now, we’ll take it and advance to the finals.”
Holmes will renew its rivalry with Covington Catholic in the regional championship game at 7 p.m. Monday with the winner advancing to the state tournament that begins March 19 at Rupp Arena in Lexington.
The same two teams met in last year’s regional final and Holmes came away with a 62-60 win. This season, CovCath beat Holmes, 87-77, on Jan. 17 and Holmes beat CovCath, 72-62, in double overtime in last week’s 35th District final.
“It’s two great teams going against each other (Monday) for the right to go to Rupp Arena,” Booher said. “It’s a little deva vu from last year, us meeting in the finals again. Hopefully, the outcome is the same.”
Holmes dominated play in the first half of Sunday’s semifinal game and had a 32-17 lead at the break. The Bulldogs built that lead by shooting 56.5 percent (13 of 23) from the field compared to the Colonels’ 28.5 percent (6 of 21).
Dixie Heights rallied in the third quarter behind the play of Hatton, who scored 12 of his game-high 25 points during that period. It was his field goal and free throw that cut it to 40-33 going in the fourth quarter.
With 2:04 left, Hatton buried a 3-point shot from the left corner that made it a one-point game at 50-49. But Bolden came right back and hit a shot from the top of the 3-point arch for the Bulldogs.
“That was just a dagger,” Dixie Heights coach Ken Cheavlier said of Bolden’s basket. “I thought the momentum was swinging our way tremendously and then he goes down and hits that three and it just took the wind out of our sails a little bit.”
After Hatton made two free throws and Bolden made one, the Colonels were not able to score on Hatton’s last two shots.
“Our kids fought to the end,” Chevalier said. “I think the people who stuck around after halftime saw the real Dixie Heights team that I fell in love with throughout the season -- a team that battled and did everything it needed to do to compete on a nightly basis.”
Dixie Heights shot the ball much better from the field in the second half and finished at 41.4 percent (17 of 41). The Colonels also made 13 of 18 free throws.
Holmes ended up shooting 51.2 percent (20 of 39) from the field, but the Bulldogs converted on just 11 of 23 free throw attempts.
“Our guys know you win championships by playing defense, and they did that (Sunday),” Booher said. “We had to hang our hats on our defense because the free throws weren’t falling and we just held on for the victory.”
The Bulldogs’ leading scorers were Bolden with 18 points and senior center Marcus Hill with 13.
Booher said Bolden’s 3-point goal that came after Hatton’s trey to give Holmes a 53-49 lead was a key basket for the Bulldogs.
“It was a big three because (Dixie Heights) had the momentum and had cut it to one point,” Booher said. “We were able to get a timeout after that and regroup and say, ‘OK guys, let’s go out and finish this off.’”
HOLMES (28-5): Bolden 7 2 18, McClendon 1 0 2, Avery 1 2 4, Housley 2 2 7, Glover 1 0 2, Hill 6 1 13, Revels 0 2 2, Chames 2 2 6. Totals: 20 11 54.
DIXIE HEIGHTS (24-8): Hatton 6 11 25, Schreck 1 0 2, Rabe 3 0 6, Daria 3 0 7, Moore 1 0 2, Hedger 2 2 6, Niehaus 1 0 3. Totals: 17 13 51.
3-point goals: H–Bolden 2, Housley. DH–Hatton 2, Daria, Niehaus.