Covington Catholic made its 81-68 victory over Bowling Green look easy for more than three quarters Saturday night, then incredibly difficult.
All's well that ends well, though, as the Colonels advanced to Sunday's championship game of the 97th Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys' Sweet Sixteen.
"We made it interesting, for sure," Coach Scott Ruthsatz said after his team nearly blew a 22-point lead. "We didn't make plays coming down the stretch. We made some bad turnovers that resulted in quick transition points for a kind of a worst scenario. I give Bowling Green credit. They never gave up, well coached, going to get up into you."
Too little, too late as it turned out.
The Purples trailed by 22 points in the third quarter and were still down 70-51 with five minutes left.
A 15-2 run brought Bowling Green as close as 72-66 with 1:53 left, but the rally ran out of gas there.
"Just wasn't our night offensively, that's for sure," Bowling Green Coach D.G. Sherrill said. "We ran into a red-hot Covington Catholic team. ... They hit a lot of shots. They hit them in a row and our hole just got too deep."
CovCath (32-2), playing in its ninth State Tournament, was led by freshman Cole VonHandorf with 22 points. Nick Ruthsatz, the coach's son, scored 17, as did Ben Heppler, who added seven rebounds. Bo Schuh had 11 points and seven boards.
Bowling Green (29-7) got 31 points from Mr. Football Nacarius Fant. Joseph Ayers, in foul trouble much of the night, had 14 points and Tucker Sine added 13.
CovCath raced to a 44-25 halftime lead, getting 14 points from Ruthsatz and 10 from VonHandorf
Tied at 11, the Colonels scored the next 11 points, which was just the start of a 25-4 punch.
The 11-0 jab began with a Ruthsatz three-point play. Then Heppler sandwiched a pair of three-pointers around a basket by Mark Schult.
That made it 22-11 at the first-quarter break.
The Colonels kept clicking and finished the half with 53.8 percent shooting accuracy (14 of 26) while holding the Purples to 38.5 percent (10 of 26). CovCath also controlled the boards, 19-11, and had four turnovers to Bowling Green's eight.
"Running the offense, taking opportunities and shooting," Scott Ruthsatz said.
It was more of the same in the third quarter as CovCath opened the lead to 22 on several occasions.
But Fant and the Purples never quit.
The effort was enough to rattle CovCath, but not enough to take down the Colonels.
Said Scott Ruthsatz: "I thought our guys, once we settled them down with a timeout, and once I settled down — I think I had a lot to do with that as well; I'll take full responsibility for losing it a little bit — but the kids settled down. You look into their eyes: 'We got this, we've got to make free throws,' and that's what we did."
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Twitter: @MarkMaloneyHL. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com.