It took a while for the margin to widen, but No. 2 Covington Catholic ultimately came away with a convincing victory — 71-47 — over Apollo in the final first-round game of the 101st Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen Thursday at Rupp Arena.
CJ Fredrick, who’s signed with the University of Iowa, scored 25 points on only 13 shots for CovCath. He was 8-for-13 from the floor, 3-for-4 from three-point range and 6-for-6 from the free-throw line. He also dished out five assists for the Colonels.
Aiden Ruthsatz had 18 points on 7-for-11 shooting and was 4-for-5 from long range. He too finished with five assists.
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Nick Thelen had 10 points and six rebounds off the bench for the Colonels.
Angel Saldana led Apollo with 11 points and five assists. Alex Gray had 10 points, eight rebounds and three assists for the Eagles.
Covington Catholic hadn’t played since March 5, when it blew out Dixie Heights, 74-31, in the 9th Region finals. Coach Scott Ruthsatz was concerned about where the Colonels’ energy level would be in their first game back.
“We had had such a long time period off and it’s hard to replicate for a big arena,” Ruthsatz. “The first half I think you kind of saw that.’
Apollo led for a good chunk of the first quarter before CovCath took a 21-17 advantage into the second thanks to a 5-0 run by senior AJ Mayer, who finished with six points total along with four assists. CovCath’s run extended to 10-0 in the second quarter, giving it some breathing room and helping it build an eight-point lead at the break.
Mayer, who’s signed to play football at Miami of Ohio, said his role is to ignite the team.
“It’s just kind of my job to come in and give energy right away whenever we need that little boost or just to get over that little hump,” Mayer said. “Like coach said, it’s just been so long since we played and I knew we were in a little slump. I knew what I had to do, so those five points, if it gave us a boost then perfect; I did my job then.”
The Colonels cruised in the second half, outscoring the Eagles 36-20. CovCath finished with a plus-11 advantage in turnovers, seven to 18.
“In the second half was really when we got our second wind so I was happy to see that, and after that we executed really well,” Ruthsatz said. “Down the stretch we made some big shots.”
CovCath will play Fern Creek — one of only two Kentucky teams to which it lost this season — in the quarterfinals at 8 p.m. Friday. The Colonels fell to the Tigers, 70-62, in the King of the Bluegrass semifinals on Dec. 22 before losing to 9th Region rival Cooper in a consolation game the next day; they defeated Cooper in their two later meetings, the last one coming in the region semifinals.
Apollo Coach Steve Barker said his Eagles “ran into a buzzsaw” and called Covington Catholic the best team Apollo played this season.
“They’ve got good posts, they’ve got good wing guards, an excellent point guard,” Barker said. “We were down eight at the half and had played really well but we had nine turnovers. ... To have nine at the half against a team like that, I think that was the difference in the half. And in the second half they just really took over, and the Fredrick kid is as good as we’ve seen all year long.”