Trailing by 12 points late in the first half Sunday, Covington Catholic point guard Nick Ruthsatz had no doubts that his team would win.
"We worked so hard," he said. "We're not going to let this get away from us."
Sure enough, Ruthsatz and CovCath came back to stun Scott County in overtime, 59-51, to claim the 97th Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys' Sweet Sixteen championship.
Ruthsatz, a 5-foot-9 senior, earned tourney MVP honors before a Rupp Arena crowd of 14,165. He finished with 25 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals as the Colonels won their first state title. They were runners-up in 1967.
"To be the first to win it, it feels fantastic," said Coach Scott Ruthsatz, Nick's father.
Rated No. 5 to Scott County's No. 2, CovCath qualifies as an upset winner. But Nick Ruthsatz said there was no doubt which team was best.
"We knew in our hearts who we are," he said, "and we came out and we had to show everyone in the state."
Mark Schult added 12 points for the Colonels (33-2). Bo Schuh kept CovCath in the inside game by collecting 12 rebounds and added three points.
CovCath cashed in on 19 of 27 free throws to Scott County's 8 of 15.
The Cardinals (35-4) were denied in their bid to sweep state football and basketball titles in the same school year. Scott, which won basketball titles in 1998 and 2007, also placed second in 1999.
"We could have put them away several times. We didn't," Scott County Coach Billy Hicks said. "But they hung in, they got hot, got the crowd behind them. ... Give credit to Covington Catholic, they really made plays."
Scott County, which outrebounded CovCath 45-36, led 36-28 through three quarters. But the Colonels chipped away and chipped away until Nick Ruthsatz hit a pair of free throws with 50.5 seconds left to tie the game at 47.
He would finish 10 of 13 at the line, including 6-for-6 in the last 1:36 of regulation and 2-for-2 in overtime.
"I started focusing like, 'This is not going to be it; this can't be it. We've worked too hard,'" he said. "Just sucked it up and hit them."
After timeouts with 43, 17 and 9 seconds to play, Scott County's Trent Gilbert missed a potential winning shot. Ruthsatz got the rebound and called time with 1.9 seconds left.
The Colonels got the ball to Schuh, whose half-court heave hit the front of the rim.
Nick Ruthsatz opened overtime with a basket, but Scott County took a 51-49 lead on Gilbert's three-pointer and a Tony Martini free throw. The Cardinals wouldn't score again, though, shooting 1-for-10 in the period. CovCath made 4 of 6 field-goal attempts in OT.
Ruthsatz drove through traffic and scooped in a tying layup with 2:15 left.
Schuh scored his only field goal of the game, a put-back, for the go-ahead score at 1:48.
While Scott County missed its last four shots, CovCath added two free throws by Nick Ruthsatz with 57.4 seconds left and two by Drew Parker Keller at 39.3. Ben Heppler's basket at 23 seconds capped the comeback.
Hines Jones came off the bench to lead Scott County with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Martini had 16 points and 17 boards. Trent Gilbert, averaging better than 26 points, was held to 10 on 5-for-26 shooting.
Covington Catholic led 9-3 before Scott County seemed to take control.
The Cardinals scored the last 14 points of the first quarter to lead 17-9, then scored the first four of the second quarter to complete an 18-0 run and lead 21-9.
Martini, who scored Scott's first five points of the game, started the flurry.
Then Jones knocked down three consecutive three-pointers, and Gilbert followed with another triple to end the quarter. Gilbert and Jones scored baskets to open the second quarter.
The lead grew to 12 points, 27-15, late in the first half and was 27-18 at intermission.
"When we were down, we remembered our first game (against Clay County) we were down at halftime," Schult said. "So coach told us, 'We can come back.' We never stopped fighting."
Said Scott Ruthsatz: "It's funny, there's a dichotomy with coaching. When I looked at the Clay County game, I really laid into them. Today, I didn't. We had our shots. We missed layups, but I'll take those any day. Because we'll get that shot selection again and we'll knock them down. And that's the way I approached it this halftime — positive. Get those shots again, let's get it done."
The Colonels listened well, and now they are state champs.
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Twitter: @MarkMaloneyHL. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com.