By Les Dixon / Staff Writer
LEXINGTON — Robert Marcum’s Clay County Tigers were in search of their first state tournament victory since 2001, but it wasn’t meant to be.
The Tigers used a 19-2 run in the first half to take a 40-33 advantage into the third quarter, but Covington Catholic, powered by a 12-of-18 shooting effort from three-point range, was able to withstand the run and pick up a 80-78 over the Tigers.
The Colonels’ Ben Heppler hit five-of-seven from three-point range and scored 16 points while teammate Nick Ruthsatz hit four-of-seven from beyond the arc while finishing with a game-high 28 points to power their team past Clay County.
Tyler Chip McDaniel led the Tigers with 29 points while Trey Farmer finished with a 19-point effort.
“It was a terrific effort by our guys,” Covington Catholic coach Scott Ruthsatz said. “We made adjustments and it’s a credit to our kids. It was a great effort on the part of our guys.”
Covington Catholic came out red-hot behind the three-point line.
The Colonels’ Rushsatz connected with three long range bombs while Mark Schultz and Bo Schuh added three-pointers of their own to give their team an 18-10 edge with 2:45 remaining in the period.
A three-pointer by Ben Heppler increased Covington Catholic’s lead to 21-10, but Clay County managed to close out the quarter with a 7-0 run that saw the Tigers pull to within four points (21-17) heading into the second quarter.
Trey Farmer hit a jumper while Tyler McDaniel hit a three-pointer and Wes Wolfe connected with a mid-range jumper seconds before the quarter ended.
Farmer hit a jumper to begin the second quarter that made the score, 21-19, but the Colonels still managed to extend their lead to 28-20 after Heppler hit his second three-pointer of the first half at the 5:35 mark.
Just when it looked as if Covington Catholic was going to run away with the game, a three-pointer by Ryan House triggered a 19-2 run that saw Clay County take a 33-31 lead into the locker room at the half.
The Tigers started guarding the perimeter and forced the Colonels into five turnovers, as Wolfe scored four points during the stretch while McDaniel added five points.
Clay County connected on 15-of-28 shot attempts during the first 16 minutes while forcing Covington Catholic into eight turnovers. The Colonels were eight-of-12 from three-point range, but only 11-of-28 from the floor.
After falling behind 42-33 seconds into the third quarter, Covington Catholic went back to its three-point attack and strung together an impressive 11-2 run to tie the game at 44 apiece with 3:55 remaining in the period.
The lead changed hands twice during the final three minutes before two free throws by the Colonels’ Ruthsatz gave Covington Catholic a 54-52 advantage with eight minutes remaining in the game.
Covington Catholic’s lead grew to as many as six points (61-55) before Clay County made another run. Baskets by Farmer and jake Allen, combined with a three-pointer by McDaniel cut the Colonels’ lead to 63-62 with 3:40 remaining in regulation.
But just when it looked as if it were going to be a nail biter right down to the end, the Colonels hit four straight shots to take command of the game, and pull out the victory.
97th Annual Whitaker Bank/KHSAA
Boys’ Sweet Sixteen
First round at Rupp Arena
Cov. Catholic 80, Clay County 78
Cov. Catholic 21 12 21 26—80
Clay Co. 17 23 12 26—78
Covington Catholic (80) — Schuh 9, Schultz 7, Vonhandorf 19, Ruthsatz 28, Heppler 16, Romes 1.
Clay County (78) — Wolfe 8, Farmer 19, Allen 8, Smith 9, McDaniel 29, House 5.