The Republic Bank Holiday Classic drew 21 teams from all over Kentucky this year, but Monday night's championship showdown will match local neighbors — Lafayette and host Lexington Catholic.
Lafayette rallied Sunday from 16 points down late in the third quarter to beat Newport Central Catholic 57-55 on Jackson Davis' putback with 10 seconds left.
Lexington Catholic relied on terrific defense and dead-eye foul shooting to upset previously undefeated Knott County Central 65-47. The Knights spread the floor and hit 22 of 25 free throws in the fourth quarter.
So it will be Lexington Catholic's Brandon Salsman matching strategy with Lafayette Coach Mike Mendenhall, a former Knights' player and assistant.
"Mike's one of my best friends in the whole world," Salsman said. "I love him like a brother."
No. 3 Lafayette 57, No. 4 Newport Catholic 55: After rallying from seven down in the last minute of regulation to beat Scott County in overtime Saturday, the Generals had another stunning comeback against NewCath.
Do the Generals love drama or what?
"Apparently so," said Davis, who had 28 points and 11 rebounds in the latest thriller.
Lafayette trailed No. 4 NewCath 44-28 late in the third quarter.
The key to the Generals' rise from the dead?
"We started knocking down shots," Mendenhall said. "Once we could score we could turn up the heat defensively."
Lance Blakley had seven of his 12 points in the last quarter. Harrison Lane, who hit two clutch threes against Scott County, missed his first six long-range tries Sunday, but he made his last one that tied it 55-55 with 1:05 left.
"I guess he likes the spotlight," Davis said laughing.
Coach Ron Dawn said NewCath wanted to hold the ball for the last shot, but the Thoroughbreds instead tried and missed a three from the top of the key with 39 seconds left.
Lafayette got the ball to Jackson in the lane. He missed, but got the putback with 10 seconds left.
"He wasn't going to let us lose," Mendenhall said of Davis. "That's what Mr. Basketball candidates do. They find a way to win."
NewCath made a turnover before it could get off a last shot.
Lafayette forced the Thoroughbreds into eight turnovers in the fourth quarter.
"We just didn't execute very well," Dawn said. "We panicked, no doubt. They got a on a roll there and we threw the ball away."
NewCath was led by 6-7 junior Drew McDonald (19 points, eight rebounds) and 6-6 sophomore Ben Weyer (19 points, five rebounds).
Lexington Catholic 65, No. 11 Knott Central 47: The unrated Knights did a solid job defending Knott Central stars Camron Justice and Evan Hall.
Lexington Catholic's 6-7 Robert Dence helped limit the 6-7 Hall to seven points and eight rebounds. The Knights hounded Justice into 6-for-16 shooting (3-for-9 on threes) and made him work for his 22 points. Justice's only points in the third quarter were three free throws.
Hall and Justice were a two-man wrecking crew when the Patriots beat Lexington Catholic 65-53 a few weeks ago in Hindman.
"This time we were going to focus on them and let their other guys shoot," Knights' junior Tanner Johnson said.
Once the Knights got the lead in the second half, they spread the floor.
"I knew they'd have to start fouling us," Salsman said. "They put us at the line to make us miss, but our ballhandlers are great free throws shooters."
Michael Talbott hit 11 of 12 from the line in the fourth quarter. He had 18 points.
Jarod Griffin was 6-for-6 and had 13 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Johnson was 4-for-4 and finished with 20 points.
Reese Ryan added seven points and six rebounds.
Knott Central Coach B.B. King made no excuses.
"They just kicked our butts," he said.
King didn't like his team firing and missing from long range. The Patriots were 4-for-16 on three-pointers.
"All we wanted to do was shoot threes," he said.
Last year Knott Central started the season 11-0 before losing to Henry Clay in the semifinals of this tournament. They took a 9-0 record into the semifinals this year, and fell again.
For Lexington Catholic, it was a victory that Salsman hopes will be a boost going into 2014.
"If we're able to do anything special this year, this is a game we'll look back on and say we really grew up," he said.
LAFAYETTE 57, NEWport CATHolic 55
NEWPORT CATHOLIC (7-3)—Weyer 19, McDonald 19, Schulte 9, T.Moeves 6, Pangallo 0, G.Moves 2.
LAFAYETTE (8-4)—Davis 28, Blakley 12, Robinson 4, Lane 3, R.Jenkins 4, J.Jenkins 2, Jackson 4.
Newport Catholic 15 18 13 9—55
Lafayette 13 7 15 22—57
LEX. CATHolic 67, KNOTT CENTRAL 45
KNOTT CENTRAL (9-1)—Justice 22, Hall 7, Cornett 6, Christon 4, Sammons 5, Miller 3.
LEXINGTON CATHOLIC (9-2)—Griffin 13, Johnson 20, Talbott 18, Dence 4, Ryan 7, Morris 3.
Knott Central 8 12 12 15—47
Lexington Catholic 10 22 7 26—65
Finals: Lafayette at Lexington Catholic
When: 7:30 p.m.
Radio: WVLK-FM 101.5
Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337. Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes. Blog: fieldsnotes.bloginky.com.