It took Dixie Heights 54 years to find its way back to the Sweet Sixteen.
It took Lexington Catholic maybe 15 minutes to get from its Clays Mill campus to Rupp Arena for its third state tournament in four years.
Lexington Catholic's familiarity with the hoops hoopla might have been the difference as it beat Dixie Heights 69-60 in the opening round of the 94th PNC/KHSAA Boys Sweet Sixteen on Wednesday night.
While the Knights looked comfortable from the opening tip — "No spell-bound symptoms at all," Coach Brandon Salsman said — Dixie Heights showed signs of stage fright.
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The Colonels played a pre-season scrimmage in Rupp, but with only a couple hundred people in the stands. This time there were more than 13,000, creating a festive atmosphere.
"When you walk out there it kind of takes your breath away, and I feel we had some kids that were a little star-gazed that first quarter," Coach Ken Chevalier said.
"We knew a big part of this game was to settle in and get off to a quick start. Tonight we played extremely tight."
Dixie Heights, in the state tournament for the first time since 1957, had trouble shooting, passing and defending.
Lexington Catholic took advantage. It rolled up a 19-5 first-quarter lead, and stretched it to 23-7 early in the second.
Dixie Heights, sparked by freshman sensation Brandon Hatton, settled in after that. It rallied to within six points midway through the third quarter, but ultimately the early hole they dug was too deep to escape.
As has been the case this entire post-season, Lexington Catholic's seniors Scott Schuette, Taylor Martin and Seth Beckham set the pace.
Schuette struggled to find his stroke in the first half and had just two points. He lit it up the second half, though, pouring in 21 points, including four three-pointers.
"I don't care if he's 0-for-40, we want him to take that 41st shot," Salsman said. "He's one of the most prolific three-point shooters in school history."
Schuette admitted having played in the state tournament as a sophomore helped.
"The first time my legs felt like Jell-o. I thought I was gonna fall over," he said. "It was a lot better tonight."
Martin, who also started as a sophomore in the Sweet Sixteen, said he felt looser from the get-go this time. He looked it as he had 20 points, 12 rebounds and four assists.
Beckham added 15 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
Dixie Heights was led by Hatton's 18 points (his season average). The 6-foot-2 guard did most of his damage in the middle quarters, and he had just two free throws in the last 12 minutes.
Zeke Pike, better known as one of the state's top football prospects, muscled his way to 16 points and eight rebounds.
Dixie Heights' last serious run came when it pulled to within 40-34 midway through the third quarter. But Lexington Catholic never let the Colonels any closer, and it slowly stretched its lead to 61-44 early in the fourth quarter.
Chevalier credited the Knights' length and athleticism for giving his team problems.
"They've got a great system in place," he said. "They do things no one in Northern Kentucky does. We didn't play a team that implements that mixture of full-court press and half-court traps."
That system has helped Lexington Catholic win eight first-round games in its eight Sweet Sixteen appearances since 1992.
The Knights will play Christian County in Friday afternoon's quarterfinals.