Covington Catholic senior guard Nick Ruthsatz was at one end of the Rupp Arena floor, reveling in the glory of the Colonels' 59-51 overtime victory against Scott County on Sunday afternoon in the finals of the 97th Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Sweet Sixteen.
Ruthsatz was hugging his dad, CovCath Coach Scott Ruthsatz, and squeezing each of his teammates after they claimed the school's first state basketball title.
"This means everything to me. I'll remember this forever," said Ruthsatz, who had 25 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals in the title game. "It's awesome."
Scott County senior guard Trent Gilbert was at the other end of the Rupp Arena floor, crushed by defeat. His head was down, and he was sobbing, inconsolable.
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Less than 24 hours after he was the shooting star of the Cardinals' 62-56 victory over Trinity in the semifinals, Gilbert couldn't find his touch against CovCath.
He misfired on 21 of 25 field goal attempts, including 12 of 14 three-pointers. More surprising, Gilbert twice missed the front end of the bonus in the last 90 seconds of regulation. This after he hit a Sweet Sixteen record 28 consecutive free throws in the previous three games.
Gilbert credited CovCath for his jump shot woes: "They did a good job defending me. I never could get in the flow of things."
Every shooter has nights when nothing will fall. "I've had plenty of them, but none that I'll remember like this," Gilbert said, choking back tears.
Ruthsatz empathized with Gilbert: "He's a great player who had an off night. It happens. He could've hit those shots and we could've just as easily lost.
Scott County Coach Billy Hicks tried to comfort Gilbert, whom he considers one of the best players he's ever had. "I hurt so bad for Trent, just like I hurt for all my kids," Hicks said. "I'm sure Trent puts a lot of this on himself, but he shouldn't. He got us here. If not for Trent Gilbert, we'd gotten nowhere near this championship game."
Gilbert, who scored more than 1,000 points this season, carried Scott County to three wins in Rupp, and for the week totaled 105 points and 15 threes and he hit 30 of 34 free throws. But he'd trade all the statistics for the smile on Nick Ruthsatz's face.
Ruthsatz, who had 91 points and 23 assists in four games, was the Sweet Sixteen MVP, and he earned it with clutch play down the stretch in the finals.
With CovCath down 44-37, Ruthsatz scored the Colonels' last 10 points in regulation, including two free throws that tied it 47-47 with :50 left. Scott County had a chance to win, but after two timeouts, Gilbert's leaning 15-footer missed as the 14,165 fans in Rupp Arena held their breath.
After CovCath fell behind 51-49 in overtime, it closed with a 10-0 run that included six points by Ruthsatz, and a key steal by Ruthsatz that led to the go-ahead basket.
CovCath senior Mark Schult wasn't surprised that Ruthsatz, who will play college ball at Findlay (Ohio), took over at crunch time. "That's the spot for him. He lives for that and shines in that."
In 1986, Pulaski County won the state title when Shannon Fraley, son of Maroons Coach Dave Fraley, hit the game-winning shot against Pleasure Ridge Park.
Scott Ruthsatz can appreciate what Fraley felt, sharing a championship with a son.
"I'm so proud of Nick and how he's elevated his game to another level though old-fashioned hard work over the last three years," Scott Ruthsatz said.
"This is all so special, if I keep talking about it I will drop tears here."
That's the ecstasy and agony of the Sweet Sixteen. Tears of joy and tears of heartbreak.