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CovCath returns to form, Dixie Heights comes away with hard-fought win in 9th Region boys semifinals

By Terry Boehmker
NKyTribune sports reporter

After a uneven performance in the opening round of the 9th Region boys basketball tournament, Covington Catholic returned to form in the semifinals and cruised to a 71-52 win over Lloyd on Sunday at BB&T Arena.

It was the 20th victory by a margin of 15 points of more for the Colonels (27-4), who will play in the region final for the ninth time in 10 years after getting knocked off in the first round last season. Their opponent in the title game at 7 p.m. Tuesday will be Dixie Heights (22-6), a 65-57 winner over Holy Cross in Sunday’s semifinals.

CovCath guard Evan Ipsaro scores a fast-break basket off a steal against Lloyd. (Photo by Bob Jackson)

CovCath has a long winning streak against Dixie Heights that includes a lopsided 74-31 victory in the 2018 region final that ended Roddy Stainforth’s first season as head coach. He knows what his players must do to contend with CovCath on Tuesday.

“If you protect the basketball and you rebound the basketball against them you can stay in the game,” Stainforth said. “That’s pretty much a strategy for every game, but more so with them. You’re not going to get away with giving them extra possessions on offensive rebounds and turnovers.”

In its semifinal win, CovCath scored 17 points off 19 turnovers committed by Lloyd and had a double-digit lead for most of the second half.

The Colonels played defense so well during a 17-8 run in the third quarter that Lloyd had six turnovers and only three field goals in that eight-minute span.

“It all starts with our defense,” said CovCath junior guard Evan Ipsaro. “Coach said before the game we’ve got to turn them over. We did a great job of that in the third quarter and through the second half.”

After going scoreless for most of the first three quarters in his team’s first-round game, Ipsaro got off to a better start against Lloyd. He got 13 of his game-high 20 points in the first half that ended with CovCath holding a 34-27 lead.

Dixie Heights guard Kiernan Geraci tries to arch a shot over Holy Cross forward Cade Lehmkuhl. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

In the third quarter, CovCath senior center Mitchell Ryle scored eight of his 10 points, including two dunks on fast breaks that were triggered by steals, to help his team take a 51-35 lead. The Colonels led by as much as 22 points in the fourth quarter.

“Defensively, especially in the second half, I thought we got after it and were able to get some turnovers and transition buckets,” said CovCath coach Scott Ruthsatz. “I know yesterday (in the first round) we let Cooper dictate the tempo and we just really had to get back to playing good, solid defense.”

Lloyd’s only double-figurer scorer in the game was senior guard Ryan Davis with 16 points.

In the second semifinal game, Dixie Heights offset a 40-point performance by Holy Cross junior guard Jacob Meyer by shooting 51 percent (23 of 45) from the field and having three scorers in double figures.

The Colonels’ team leader was senior guard guard Kiernan Geraci with 24 points, followed by senior teammates Jay Flynn with 15 and Hudson Black with 10. Senior center Billy Wogenstahl, who got into early foul trouble, scored all nine of his points in the second half.

At the end of the third quarter, Geraci scored five points during an 8-0 run that gave Dixie Heights a 45-40 lead. After Holy Cross pulled to within 57-54 on a 3-point goal by Meyer, Geraci swished a pull-up jumper and Flynn made a pair of free throw that put the Colonels ahead, 61-54, with 36 seconds left on the clock.

Holy Cross guard Jacob Meyer’s drive to the basket is blocked by Dixie Heights center Billy Wogenstahl. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

Meyer hit another trey, but Flynn and Geraci each made two free throws in the closing seconds to give their team a hard-earned eight-point victory.

Coach Stanforth was proud of his team’s ability to take a 31-25 lead in the second quarter while Wogenstahl was on the bench.

“We lose Billy, we lose the lead, and we bounce back because I’ve got eight seniors who are as tough as nails,” the coach said.

“We come out in the third quarter and we try a zone (defense), just to try something, and Meyer hits a couple threes and we lose the lead again. But we come right back because I’ve got some tough kids.”

Meyer tied the 9th Region boys tournament record with 41 points in his team’s first-round win. He had a chance to break that record in the final seconds of Sunday’s game, but one shot rolled off the rim his final shot was off target.

Meyer did set a 9th Region record for most points in a season with 1,109. The previous record was 1,094 points by Scott Draud of Highlands in 1985-86. Meyer’s total ranks 10th in state record books for most points in a season by a boys basketball player.

Boys region basketball tournaments

Championship: Covington Catholic (27-4) vs. Dixie Heights (21-6), 7 p.m.

Mason County (24-5) vs. George Rogers Clark (31-1), 6 p.m.
Campbell County (20-10) vs. Bracken County (23-9), 7:45 p.m.
Championship game, 7 p.m.

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