March 17th, 2012


Paul Najjar

CSN Staff Writer

photo by Rick Schmitt

Smothering defensive effort leads Rocks to title

“Defense wins championships” is a time-tested adage when talking about football.  

In the case of the Trinity Shamrocks and their quest for a basketball state championship, that adage proved to be the clearest, most direct method to achieving a title.

Trinity earned an historical first in Kentucky high school athletics with their 71-53 victory over the Scott County Cardinals in the championship game of the PNC/KHSAA Sweet 16. Along with their championship in class 6A football, Trinity became the first Kentucky high school to earn championships in both sports in the same calendar year.

And defense was at the core of both of them. Especially on the hardwood floor of Rupp Arena.

“We got off to a rough start, but when we settled down I thought we were going to be fine,” said Trinity coach and the architect of this championship run Mike Szabo. “These guys are so tough. It’s neat to have gone out every night with that (No. 1) target on our back and win. Defense wins championships and these guys locked down in the half court.”

The ring leader of this band of defenders was senior point guard Charles Foster. The 5’10” 170lb Foster wreaked havoc on the Scott County backcourt, consistently harassing ball handlers and moving their offense out of position.

“Coach Szabo really pushed us and it paid off in the end,” said Sweet 16 Most Valuable Player Nathan Dieudonne. “But it really started with Charles. Honestly, he prides himself on defense and he’s probably the best defender in the state. We really fed off his energy every game and we were not going to let him down.”

Against a Scott County team that averaged 74.5 points per game, Trinity knew they would have to limit good looks at the basket for the Cardinals’ high scoring duo of Tamron Manning and Isaiah Ivey. That’s where Foster and his relentless defensive effort was a catalyst for his team.

“I’m a defensive player and I want all of my teammates to play defense like I do,” said Foster, who earned All-Tournament team honors for his play. “I like stealing the ball, playing good defense and trying to help my team win. Everybody doubted us and we came out here to prove it (No. 1 ranking).”

Not to make light of his defensive prowess and leadership, but Foster kept the Shamrocks in the game with a strong second quarter on offense going 3-3 from the field with two three pointers and an assist. His threes came on consecutive possessions and sparked a 15-4 run in the last four minutes of the first half.

“This is team ball,” said Foster. “Whoever’s hot gets the ball and shoots it. Everybody felt good.” And about that second quarter: “I felt very confident,” said the beaming Morehead State signee.

All five starters finished with double figures led by Foster's18, Troy Saxton and Darryl Hicks with 13 each, Dieudonne's 12 and James Quick with 10. That type of balanced scoring further underscored the strong team defensive effort. Foster and Saxton joined MVP Dieudonne on the Sweet 16 All-Tournament team.

But what that defense did was take away an opponent's will to work harder to score. And that defense allowed the gifted Trinity athletes to flourish in the open court for easy transition baskets and crisp offensive execution against dog-tired opposition.

So dominant was the Rocks defense that they allowed back-to-back baskets on just four occasions in this championship game, and only once in each quarter. They did not allow Scott County to score more than six straight points (on back-to-back three pointers in the first quarter) on the evening.

“Every timeout we were saying, ‘Get a stop,’ and we weren’t even worried about the offensive end,” said Dieudonne. “We were trying to get a stop every time. If you watch the film you’ll see coaching saying that in every timeout, ‘Get a stop.’ And when we get a stop, we want to run and then we start scoring.”

Team depth, superior talent and a nasty disposition on defense all combined to feed their single-minded focus of earning a championship. Trinity began the season with a No. 1 ranking and took on all types of competition. Whether it was a top ranked team at an out-of-state tournament or a top in-state program, the Shamrocks attacked every opponent with that defense and with a mind-set that every game was an opportunity to get them closer to a championship.

“We want to get a stop every time down,” said Szabo. “These kids play so hard and so together that it really shows on defense. We have guys who could step up and make plays and the biggest thing is that they were so confident. They really believe that that shot’s going down and they’re not worried about missing. They just keep shooting.”

To earn these two championships and create an historical achievement upon which only they can lay claim was not lost on the Trinity community.

“I’m so happy for our school and I just feel so blessed to be a part of it,” said a smiling Szabo amidst the confetti celebration. “I’ve got a special group of coaches that help me out, along with great fans and great students. It’s a special place.”

“Our team is very good,” Szabo continued. “It’s probably the most talented team I’ve coached at Trinity. Manning’s a very good player and he’s going to be a very good college player. But we really locked down defensively and they (Scott County) struggled to get open looks.”

Five time state champion football coach and Trinity Athletic Director Dennis Lampley put his stamp on the football-basketball double state championships.

“You go back and look at what Mike’s been able to accomplish since he’s been here,” said Lampley. “Our program has kept climbing and climbing. It’s not so much the talent, but the hard work. Mike wouldn’t let them slack off at all. He believed in that defense and that was a major factor in every game. The depth on this team pushed the starters every day. To have the football team win it, and to have the basketball team win it; well, we’re very, very proud. We were ranked No. 1 in football and to come back and get our first state championship is just incredible. It’s an exciting time and the energy was there from these fans. You could FEEL IT!”

The common factor on those championship teams, aside from All-State wide receiver and starting guard James Quick, was that nasty defensive disposition. The football team beat Scott County 62-21 and the basketball team took their heart away with a smothering performance.

With championships in hand, the defense can now rest.


Semifinal Game:  Trinity 56 Southwestern 47

Gritty defense leads Trinity to title game

The Trinity Shamrocks absorbed several body blows from the Southwestern Warriors in the first half of their semifinal matchup in the PNC/KHSAA Sweet 16. Staggered, weakened and shooting just 8-25, the Rocks looked to be in for more of a battle than they wanted.

But a spirited, pointed halftime message from Trinity coach Mike Szabo and his staff set the Rocks back on the path that got them to this point in the season. Namely, their trademark in-your-face defense. It was that defensive foundation upon which the Rocks mounted two big runs in the second half on their way to a 56-47 win and their first appearance in a Sweet 16 championship game.

“The moral of the story is it doesn’t matter how it gets done, just as long as it gets done,” said Szabo. “Credit coach Wright (Southwestern coach Steve Wright, Sr.) and his team. I thought they played great. (They’re) very tough, strong, physical team. It was a grind out there.”

It was Southwestern’s superb sophomore point guard David Kapinga who dictated the pace and flow of the game with deft ball handling and excellent use of the high screen and roll play. Kapinga consistently got to the basket and finished with a layup, drew a foul or dished off to a teammate for an open shot. His 3-5 shooting and 3-5 performance from the free throw line along with two assists were the catalysts for Southwestern’s 22-21 halftime lead.



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