Henderson County absolutely earned the championship of the Traditional Bank Holiday Classic by outplaying the upper crust of Kentucky high school basketball.
The Colonels, out of the 2nd Region, finished off an impressive four-game sweep of the 7th and 11th regions by beating host Lexington Catholic 64-56 in the finals Tuesday night.
Henderson County began its four-day quest with a comeback win over Henry Clay (11th), took down strong Manual (7th) in the quarterfinals, then upset No. 1 Trinity (7th) in the semifinals.
Lexington Catholic is rated tops in the 11th.
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"We knew we had a very hard bracket, but we wanted to prove we could play and compete with any team in the state," said Henderson County's David Simmons, the tournament MVP.
Coach Tyler Smithhart thought his team could contend for the title if it focused on defense and rebounding.
After the Colonels collected the championship trophy Tuesday night, Smithhart said it confirmed "that we've got a team that believes in itself, a team that sticks together through adversity, and a bunch of tough young men that are fun to coach."
Simmons may be the toughest. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior had 23 points, five rebounds and four assists against Lexington Catholic.
He averaged 20 points for the tournament.
"Simmons looks like a running back or linebacker in football," Knights Coach Brandon Salsman said. "When he's pushing that kind of weight around, and as athletic as he is, he's tough to guard."
Senior guard Brady Norman, a speed demon on the break, had 14 points in the finals, and averaged 19 over the four games here.
Senior D.J. Washington starred at the point. He had 10 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in the title game.
Smithhart said Simmons set the tone. "He was a man on a mission this week. He did whatever it took. Tonight he scored the basketball, but I thought his defense on (Tanner Johnson) spurred his offense."
Johnson, Lexington Catholic's 6-5 shooting star, lit up Boyle County for 31 points in the semifinals. But he had to work to get 20 against Henderson County. He was 9-for-22 from the field, including 2-for-12 on three-pointers.
Michael Talbott had 10 points for the Knights, who were in the finals of their holiday classic for the ninth year in a row. They've been runners-up six times in that span.
"We're not very good if we're not hitting a high percentage of threes," Salsman said, noting his team's 3-for-14 long-range shooting.
Smithhart said that was his team's defensive focus. "If we get in a horse game with them, we're beat."
"We knew they had a lot of shooters, so we tried to run them off the three-point line and make them shoot contested twos all night long," he said.
Simmons so enjoyed his stay in Lexington the last few days that he hopes to make a return visit in March.
"We're coming for state," he said. "That's what we want. The road to Rupp."
Henderson Co. 64, Lex. Catholic 56
HENDERSON COUNTY (11-2) — Simmons 23, Norman 14, Washington 10, Mattingly 6, Smith 5, Rollins 4, Calhoun 2.
LEXINGTON CATHOLIC (9-5) — Johnson 20, Griffin 5, Talbott 10, Boothe 4, Ryan 3, Morris 6, Ogbogu 8.
Henderson County 15 14 17 18—64
Lexington Catholic 10 12 15 19—56
David Simmons (MVP), Brady Norman, D.J. Washington of Henderson County; Tanner Johnson, Jarod Griffin, Michael Talbott of Lexington Catholic; Ray Spalding, Daniel Ramser of Trinity; Jeremiah Bell, Hagen Tyler of Boyle County; Matt Rose, Kyle Rode of LCA; Dwayne Sutton of Manual; Eli Wright of Apollo; Braxton Beverly of Perry Central.