Covington Catholic powers past Apollo, 71-47
LEXINGTON, Ky.— Third Region champion Apollo put up a solid fight against fourth-ranked Covington Catholic, but it was simply not enough as the Colonels pulled away in the second half for a 71-47 victory over the Eagles in the first round of the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys Sweet Sixteen® Basketball Tournament at Rupp Arena on Thursday night.
“Our biggest concern coming into the game was having such a long time period off,” Covington Catholic head coach Scott Ruthsatz said. “It’s hard to replicate a big floor and big arena, and in the first half I thought you saw that. We didn’t get back (on defense) the way we traditionally do. But in the second half was really when we got our second wind, and I was happy to see that. After that we executed very well, and down the stretch we made some big shots.”
Covington Catholic (32-4) led 21-17 at the end of a first quarter that was a back-and-forth affair, and the Colonels switched from full court man-to-man to zone defense in the second quarter to take control of the game and build up a 35-27 halftime lead. Ruthsatz made the switch to zone for two primary reasons.
“We tried to get ourselves back and in unison defensively instead of going man-to-man and losing our guys, we got back into a zone,” Ruthsatz said. “But some of that is predicated on fouls. We like to stay out of foul trouble, and that’s one of the ways we can do it.”
The Colonels extended their lead to 53-37 at the end of the third quarter on a pull-up jumper by Iowa signee CJ Fredrick at the buzzer, and Covington Catholic cruised to victory in the fourth quarter.
“We ran into a buzz saw tonight,” Apollo head coach Steve Barker said. “They have a really nice team; the best team we’ve played all year long. They’ve got good posts, they’ve got good wing guards, excellent point guard.”
Barker was up at the state tournament on the 40-year anniversary of the weekend that he was at the tourney as a player for the Eagles, and he wants his players to understand the significance of just getting to Rupp Arena.
“It doesn’t matter that we lost the game (Thursday night),” Barker said. “This is something that you’re going to remember the rest of your life: that you were one of 16 teams to play in March in the state of Kentucky, and that’s a special thing. That’s my reflection on that. I wanted these guys—win or lose—to understand the fact that this is something you’ll never forget the rest of your life.”
Apollo (16-16) was led in the loss by Angel Saldana with 11 points while Hayden Shelton and Alex Gray each tossed in 10 apiece.
Fredrick topped all CovCath scorers with 25 points, and 13 of them came in the second half.
“The second half they really took over, and the Fredrick kid is as good as we’ve seen all year long,” Barker said.
Aiden Ruthsatz poured in 18 points while Nick Thelen added 10 points and six rebounds off the bench.
“He gives us energy, and he gives us length,” Coach Ruthsatz said of Thelen. “He’s really good in the zone because he gives us length, and his athleticism is underrated. He was able to get some rebounds and quick rebounds, and that definitely helps having a guy come off the bench like that to give us a different look. I thought he was a great boost for us.”
Covington Catholic will now play Sixth Region champion Fern Creek in the quarterfinals on Friday night at 8 p.m. The Tigers and Colonels have met once already this season in the King of the Bluegrass, with Fern Creek recording a 70-62 victory back on Dec. 22.
“Honestly I think we’ve changed a lot,” Aidan Ruthsatz said. “That was at the beginning of the year, and it was after we had played some tough games before that. We’re more experienced. All our guards know how to handle the pressure better, and that’s pretty much what they did: they pressured us and turned us over at the end of the game. But now we’re more experienced, and we’ll be able to settle down in the fourth quarter and handle it.”