It's been a happy holiday of hoops for the Henry Clay boys' basketball team.
After winning the Woodford County Invitational the week before Christmas, the Blue Devils rallied past host Lexington Catholic 69-64 to win the Republic Bank Holiday Classic on Sunday night.
Christen Cunningham, who sparked the comeback by scoring all of his 17 points in the second half, was motivated by Henry Clay's loss to Lexington Catholic in the semifinals here last year.
"We got pushed around and punished by these guys, and we didn't want a repeat of that," Cunningham said.
"I knew I had to step up, and my teammates did, too. We showed great character."
Henry Clay, No. 5 in the state in the pre-season rankings, has played up to its rating with a 12-1 record, including 11 victories in a row.
No. 8 Lexington Catholic seemed to be on its way to knocking off the Devils when it led by 13 in the first half, and by 11 late in the third quarter.
Jack Whitman was being a force inside for the Knights. The 6-foot-9 senior had 20 points, including a three-point play that gave his team a 50-39 lead with three minutes left in the third quarter.
But a minute later, Whitman reinjured the little finger on his shooting hand in a scramble for a loose ball and went to the bench.
Henry Clay exploited his absence and pulled to within 55-50 going to the fourth quarter. Whitman reentered the game, but not for long. He suffered a concussion (no one was sure how it happened) and he sat out the last seven minutes of the game.
Henry Clay then went on an 13-3 run to take control. Cunningham had six points in the surge, and Jordan Green had seven.
Lexington Catholic pulled to within three points four times down the stretch, but never got closer.
Green, who had 16 points and 10 rebounds, said there was no secret to what got Henry Clay back on track after a pedestrian first half.
"We knew we had to pick it up, plain and simple," the tournament MVP said. "We weren't playing up to our potential. We knew we had to turn it on."
Teddy Ware hit four threes and had 14 points for the Devils. Trey Grundy had 10 points and eight rebounds.
Coach Daniel Brown said the difference in the second half was that his Devils started "getting on the boards, getting to the rim more, and getting more defensive stops. And Whitman is a load down there. It was a big factor when he went out. Not having him in there played into our favor."
Without their big guy, Lexington Catholic was in more of a scramble mode, trying to get open looks on the perimeter. After making six of 10 three-point shots in the first half, the Knights missed 10 of 11 from long range in the second half.
Tanner Johnson and Jarod Griffin had 13 points each, and Dillon Avare had 10.
Coach Brandon Salsman didn't use Whitman's injury as an excuse for Lexington Catholic's poor fourth quarter.
"We didn't execute, and that's what disappoints me the most," he said. "Everything we did wrong is correctable. I like the way we played, but we've got just got to fix a few things."
Meanwhile, Henry Clay closed out the old year in style, and looks to the new year and new challenges.
"We've had a good 2012, but you know what? It's over," Brown said. "We can't enjoy this too long because 2013 is almost here, and we go to Scott County Friday night."
Consolation games: John Hardin star Brandon Price was hurt in the first quarter, but the Bulldogs still routed Ohio County 81-52 as Daveon Greene had 19 points, 10 rebounds, four assists ... Simon Kenton beat Perry Central 70-63 in overtime. Riley Barnes led the winners with 22 points, five rebounds, five assists, three steals. Dalton Cornett had 17 points, 12 rebounds for Perry Central.
HENRY CLAY (12-1) — Green 16, Cunningham 17, Ware 14, Tisdale 7, Tichenor 5, Grundy 10.
LEXINGTON CATHOLIC (9-5) — Whitman 20, Johnson 13, Griffin 13, Avare 10, Talbott 2, Dence 2, Ryan 4.
Henry Clay 13 18 19 19—69
Lexington Catholic 23 18 14 9—64
Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337. Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes. Blog: fieldsnotes.bloginky.com