March 6th, 2012
Trinity Basketball Ready To Rock At Rupp
Shamrocks defeat rival St. X in regional finals to advance
Fifty-seven years after the first-ever all-Catholic high school boys’ basketball regional championship game, rivals Trinity and St. Xavier met for the first time in the history of the series on Monday with the Class Act 7th Region crown on the line.
And more importantly, a spot in the 2012 KHSAA/PNC Sweet 16 at Rupp Arena.
Despite chilly temperatures, some fans waited outside of Bellarmine University’s Knights Hall for four hours because of the high demand for limited tickets and a chance to watch this historically-significant matchup between the Shamrocks and the Tigers.
By the time tip-off came, the battling student sections and raucous onlookers had sold out the building and created one of the loudest, most memorable playoff atmospheres in the history of Jefferson County basketball.
Trinity Marches On To Sweet 16, by Paul Najjar
With 32 state football titles between Trinity and St. Xavier, it was time for this intense rivalry to move to the basketball court on Monday night.
And before the aforementioned sell-out crowd at Knights Hall, the Trinity Shamrocks used a 14-2 second quarter run to upend its rival 67-46 in the finals of the Class Act 7th Region Tournament.
Trinity’s 14th straight win gives the Shamrocks its second regional championship in program history and first trip back to the Sweet 16 since 2004.
It was a smothering defensive performance from the four Trinity perimeter players junior James Quick, junior Darryl Hicks, senior Troy Saxton and senior Charles Foster that was the difference in the game. These four guards helped force St. X into nine first-half turnovers.
And more importantly, the Rocks converted 19 points out of those 9 turnovers on their way to a 38-24 halftime lead.
“We wanted to try and pick up the pace and get it up and down (the court),” said Trinity head coach Mike Szabo. “I think we did a pretty good job of that in the second quarter with our press and our pressure defense.”
Those guards, along with junior reserve Miles Rice, challenged every pass and pressured every dribble from the St. X players in the opening period and allowed the Rocks to get a few easy baskets in transition.
The first quarter ended with the momentum swinging towards the Tigers as a 3-pointer by junior guard Will Glasford pulled them within three points at 15-12.
For the Shamrocks, it was time to force the action.
“I just think the intensity defensively was something we needed,” stated Szabo. “Getting up into them; trapping them a little bit; getting some deflections; getting some easy baskets; getting a dunk. That got us going.”
Trinity senior guard Saxton agreed with Szabo’s call for more defensive pressure as that led to a 15-2 run for the Rocks.
“We wanted to speed up the game and get our offense going from our defense with steals and easy transition buckets,” said Saxton. “We were able to go up and down the court on the strength of our defense.”
Up 15-14, Quick hit a three and Foster followed with a three of his own after a turnover by St. X’s Alex Jones. Foster then got a steal in the backcourt and gave a pretty feed to Hicks who hammered down a two handed dunk and got fouled. In just over a minute of game action the Rocks reeled off eight straight points to take a 23-14 lead.
“It started with our defense in the backcourt with Charles and James getting steals,” said senior forward Nathan Dieudonne, who grabbed a game-high 12 boards. “That carried over in the second half and we hit a lot of big shots early and stuck with it.”
The soft spoken Quick let his game do the talking. The All-State and All-American wide receiver for the Rocks football team turned in a strong all-around performance as he snatched 9 rebounds and had 2 steals to go with his game high 15 points.
And even he talked about the need to play defense.
“We just had to come out focused on playing defense,” said Quick. “We did that in the second quarter and that helped our offense.”
The second half saw the Tigers fighting and clawing every possession and they closed the gap to single digits just two minutes into the third quarter at 40-31. But Saxton responded with a four point play converting a three from the high left wing and the resulting foul shot. And with that four point dagger, the deflated Tigers could not muster another comeback.
“This was our mission this season and we talked about it from day one,” said Szabo. “These guys have worked so hard and really paid a price. The bottom line is that they’ve earned it. These guys are so unselfish and they’re such great kids. They play together. They’re a joy to be around. I’m proud of them.”
Saxton has two older brothers who played in the 2004 Sweet 16. They had a simple message for him before this game.
“They say there’s nothing better than playing in Rupp Arena,” Saxton shared. “It’s one of their top five experiences in their life going to the state tournament. They want me to bring it (the championship trophy) home this time.”
Szabo knows that the road will be tough, but he likes his team's experience and the varied styles of play his team has faced this season to help them moving forward. And he looks at defense and rebound to be critical for his team’s success in the 2012 KHSAA/PNC Sweet 16 at Rupp Arena.
“I think a great team needs to be able to play several different styles,” Szabo said. “It’s been fun to play different styles this year. Our guys will be ready no matter what. I think our halfcourt defense will be the thing that we’ll really count on. In a tournament like this, you’re not going to turn over good teams over and over again. We’re going to have to lock down in the half court and rebound the ball. Those two things are going to be really crucial for us in the tournament.”
Trinity had four players in double figures: Quick (15), Hicks (12), Saxton (12) Foster (11) combined to score 50 of Trinity’s 67 points. Seniors Foster, Saxton and Dieudonne were named to the All-7th Region Tournament Team for their efforts.
The Rocks (31-3) will face either PRP or Bullitt East when they open play in the 2012 PNC/KHSAA Sweet 16 ® on March 14 in Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.
St. Xavier Does Not Hang Its Head, by Chris Jung
Providing a big lift off the bench, including a single sequence that included two offensive rebounds and a putback to cut Trinity’s lead to 15-14 to begin the second quarter, St. Xavier junior forward Christian Hardy appeared to have the Tigers in prime position to run with the Shamrocks.
The following two minutes, however, would prove to be backbreaking to the upstart Tigers.
Quick and Foster knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers. Foster stole the ensuing inbounds pass following his own long ball. Hicks drove the lane and drew a foul while delivering an emphatic dunk that brought the house down.
And just like that, St. Xavier found itself down 23-14 nearly midway through the second quarter. The Tigers would only trail by a single-digit deficit (32-23 and 40-31) twice during the remainder of the contest.
"I thought that the second quarter run was the difference in the game. I thought we lost our physical toughness and mental focus on too many possessions that just broke down. The name of the game was keeping them off the offensive backboard and limiting turnovers that led to layups. In the second quarter, we didn’t do that,” said St. Xavier head coach Kevin Klein. “We played winning basketball in the first quarter, but didn’t carry it over to the second quarter. And that deficit is tough to overcome against such a tough, athletic, and very good team."
St. Xavier sophomore point guard Robert Shaw, who scored 6 points in the game, hit one of his two 3-pointers to start the third quarter and quickly got the attention of the Shamrocks.
But Trinity would answer right back with a 10-4 run and took its largest lead of the game to that point, 48-31, on a layup by Saxton with 5:01 to go in the third period.
"They made so many tough shots in the first half. We switched up our defenses on them, but it seemed like whatever we put on them that they were making tough shots. We weathered that storm a little bit. We challenged them at the start of the third quarter making the first shot, but we didn’t put together a full sixteen minutes in the second half to overcome the second quarter which was the difference in the game."
The Tigers had thoughts of upset running through its head, but simply could not overcome the points it gave away as a result of turnovers or the difficult night of shooting from the field (17-of-51; 3-of-13 3FG).
St. X 6-foot-7 junior center Brock Kiesler was the lone Tiger to score in double digits. He finished with 13 points and 4 rebounds, but fouled out with just over 5:00 remaining in the game. By that point, Trinity had already built a 19-point lead.
Playing what would ultimately be their career finales, St. X seniors Nathan Smith and Chris Mitchell combined for 4 points and 3 rebounds. And while their final statistic tallies were not overwhelming, the duo’s impact on the school’s basketball program has been irreplaceable.
“Chris Mitchell and Nathan Smith have meant so much to our program and have helped us come so far,” said Klein. “But now it’s about the younger guys and using this as a learning experience, coming back hungry in the offseaon and trying to do it again next year….and go even further.”
Junior Justin Moody finished with 7 points and 4 rebounds, while Hardy pulled down a team-high 8 boards. Glasford was 2-of-6 from the field and contributed 5 points in 18 minutes of action.
St. Xavier, which was playing in its first regional tournament since 2001 and first regional championship game since 1998, put together a 10-game winning streak to end the season prior to its loss against rival Trinity on Monday.
Despite being eliminated from the postseason, Klein does not take his team’s achievements during the 2011-12 season lightly.
“I’m so proud of our guys and we’ve come so far this year; we’ve had an outstanding season,” he said. “We didn’t accomplish our goal to get to next week and compete for a state championship, but I’m still very proud of a district championship, 23 wins and a 10-game winning streak (prior to Monday’s game).”
The Tigers (23-9), which successfully adjusted to some unique circumstances this season as Klein and his family dealt with liver disease and transplant between his infant daughter Katherine and wife/donor Jessica, rallied around the coach.
And along with piecing together one of the program’s biggest seasons in the past decade, St. X also gave Klein a season he will remember forever.
“(This season) will definitely be unforgettable for so many reasons. My mind’s been so many places this year, and tonight was thinking about my daughter still being in the hospital, my wife making a special trip to be here, the sacrifices that the coaches and players have made for me.”
“When you’re selfless and determined and have the will to win and you do great things, that’s what life is all about,” Klein continued. “I think this season has been such a learning experience not only for me, but our players as well. I couldn’t be prouder to be their coach and look forward to coming back.”
Kiesler and junior Alex Jones were named to All-7th Region Tournament Team following the championship. Jones had 6 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals for the Tigers.
To watch video highlights from Monday's Class Act Boys' 7th Region Championship, visit: http://catholicsportsnet.com/louisville/view_csn_video/270