Before Covington Catholic's Nick Ruthsatz shoots free throws, he steps above the top of key, turns his back to the line, does a quick deep knee bend, and meditates.
He was doing that a lot in the closing minutes of the Colonels' quarterfinal showdown with Bardstown in the 97th Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Sweet Sixteen Friday night.
"I think over the whole season, about the hard work we've put in, and how I'm not going to let this be the last time we play," Ruthsatz said of his routine.
Ruthsatz’s karma, and that of his teammates, was in sync with success, and CovCath beat Bardstown 61-54 in front of 11,501 fans in Rupp Arena to earn a spot in the state final four for the first time since 2004.
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CovCath (31-2) will play Bowling Green (29-6) in Saturday night's semifinals.
The Colonels were favored to beat Bardstown, just like they were favored to beat Clay County in Thursday's opening round. In both games CovCath was pushed to the wire, but it found a way to survive.
"Another battle," Coach Scott Ruthsatz said. "That's why you play a hard schedule, to put your players in spots where you can learn about your senior leadership. And all our seniors contribute in their own way."
Ruthsatz, the coach's son, was the one out in front again Friday night.
The 5-foot-10 senior point guard, who had 28 points, eight assists, four rebounds and two steals against Clay County, filled the stat sheet against Bardstown with 21 points, including 10 of 14 free throws, five rebounds, four assists and a steal.
Mark Schult was a force inside for the Colonels. The 6-3 senior had 17 points and four rebounds. He benefited from the fact that Bardstown's Seivon Schooling, a 6-6 senior, was slowed by a bad ankle.
Bo Schuh, a 6-6 junior, had eight points and seven rebounds. And freshman Cole VanHandorf had 10 points and three assists.
CovCath, outmatched by Bardstown's quickness and athleticism, used a 2-3 zone effectively. "With their big guy not 100 percent, we had to force them to make shots," Scott Ruthsatz said.
Junior guard Keanu Young led the Tigers with 14 points. Junior guard Eljay Cowherd had 13 points and seven rebounds. Schooling had 10 points and six rebounds.
CovCath broke a 50-50 tie when VonHandorf hit a driving layup, and Ruthsatz sank a pair of free throws. That put the Colonels up 54-50, and they didn't relinquish the lead again.
Ruthsatz, a 76 percent free throw shooter, hit seven of 10 from the line in the last two minutes.
CovCath showed its versatility the last two games. Against Clay County, it hit 12 of 18 threes and played a lot of man-to-man. Against Bardstown, it was 2-for-8 on threes, but pounded it inside, won the battle of the boards, and played zone.
"We put guys in situations where they can be successful," Scott Ruthsatz said.
Bardstown was successful, too, making it past the first round of the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in school history. "No one believed in us all year," Coach James "Boo" Brewer said. "But these guys came out and proved everybody wrong and earned respect. I love them as my sons, and I'm very proud of them."