Happy New Year, Trinity.
A few weeks after being crowned Class 6A football champions, the Shamrocks enter 2012 as the favorites to win the Sweet Sixteen basketball championship in March.
That's the opinion of Lexington Catholic Coach Brandon Salsman, whose Knights lost to Trinity 58-40 in the finals of the Republic Bank Holiday Classic on Friday night.
Earlier this week, Salsman said the Rocks were a clear-cut No. 1 in the state.
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Friday night, after watching Trinity hold his 10th-rated Knights to 40 points — their lowest total in six years and more than 200 games — Salsman is more convinced Mike Szabo has the best team in Kentucky.
"They're really good. They're really good defensively," Salsman said. "They are men playing against high school boys. They bully you into what they want you to do. It's very difficult to get into your offense.
"It's going to take a really, really good basketball team to get them."
The Rocks showcased their strengths in winning Lexington Catholic's holiday tournament for the third time. (They also took the title in 2004 and 2009.)
Senior point guard Charles Foster led Trinity with 15 points, four rebounds, four steals and three assists.
Darryl Hicks, a 6-foot-4 junior, had 13 points. Nathan Dieudonne, a 6-7 senior, had 10 points, six rebounds and bodied up defensively on Knights' 6-9 junior Jack Whitman most of the night.
The Rocks' defense is what impressed Szabo the most.
"Defense wins championships," he said. "And I thought our guys gutted it out. They played really hard and helped each other out all night."
Lexington Catholic, which hit nine of 17 threes in its semifinal win over Henry Clay, missed seven of 10 against Trinity's quick defenders.
Whitman was the Knights' go-to-guy. He had 19 points and eight rebounds, but hardly anything came easy inside.
"He's a good player, so he's gonna get some," Szabo said. "But I thought Nathan and our guys did a super job containing him and kind of tiring him out a bit."
Craig Floyd was Lexington Catholic's only other consistent scorer. He had 12 points and seven rebounds.
Salsman said his team's 19 turnovers were the difference.
Trinity's quick, athletic defense swarms the court, especially when sixth man James Quick enters the game.
"When he comes in, their defense goes to another level," Salsman said. "He's probably the fastest player in the state in a long time."
Trinity is 10-2 overall, with both losses coming in a tournament in Florida last week. The Rocks are 8-0 against Kentucky competition.
If Salsman is right, Trinity will be hard to take down as it tries to win only its second-ever region title.
Szabo and his players aren't listening to that talk.
"I don't worry about none of that, and I don't think our guys do either," Szabo said. "Our only concern is getting better every day, and if we do that those things will take care of themselves.
"We just need to keep our heads and stick together."
"We just come out, prove our game on the floor and let everybody know we're serious about it and we're going to do our best to win a state championship."
Dieudonne sounded like a coach when asked about the the Rocks' state tournament aspirations.
"That's a long way away," he said. "We're not worried about that. We just want to get back in the gym and practice. Our defense needs to get a little better."
That could mean a Not-So-Happy New Year to the rest of the state.
TRINITY (10-2) — Dieudonne 4-8 2-2 10, Hicks 5-11 0-0 13, Foster 7-12 0-0 15, Saxton 1-6 3-3 5, Rice 1-3 2-2 4, Quick 2-4 0-0 4, Owens 1-1 0-0 2, Perito 1-1 0-0 3, Page 0-0 2-2 2. Totals 22-46 9-9 58.
LEXINGTON CATHOLIC (12-2) — Keller 1-2 0-0 2, Floyd 4-8 2-2 12, Whitman 8-14 3-7 19, Avare 1-1 0-0 3, Woomer 1-9 0-0 2, Muncy 0-2 0-0 0, Bennett 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 16-38 5-9 40.
Trinity 21 13 7 17—58
Lexington Catholic 16 7 10 7—40