March 2nd, 2012

Holy Moly! Trinity, St. X To Meet For Title

Chris Jung

Senior Writer

Holy Moly! Trinity, St. X To Meet For Title
photos by Chris Jung

Catholic rivals will play for regional championship for first time

It would seem that rival Catholic high schools St. Xavier and Trinity have seen it all and done it all during the past six decades when it comes to athletic competition.

One championship that the Tigers and Shamrocks have never met to decide head-to-head, however, is the high school basketball regional championship.

That will change on Monday night.

With victories in their respective Class Act 7th Region Tournament semifinal games on Thursday night at Bellarmine University's Knights Hall, St. X and Trinity advanced to the title game and will square off in a "win or go home" contest for the first time.

The winner moves on to the Sweet 16. The loser has its season ended at the hands of its rival.

The historical nature of this showdown is beyond substantial. Heading into Thursday, St. Xavier and Trinity had previously reached the regional tournament semifinal round in the same year just twice since 1953. They played each other in each of those seasons with the Tigers coming out on top each time by eeriely similar scores of 66-59 (1970) and 63-58 (1999).

Monday's 7th Region championship game will also be the first all-Catholic regional final since St. X beat Flaget 53-44 in 1955 under legendary head coach Gene Rhodes. That year, the regional tournament final four teams were St. X, Flaget, Vallley and Eastern.

So how did this year's all-Catholic matchup come to be? Read below for recaps and summaries from Thursday night's action.

St. Xavier 70 Central 59

Six-foot-nine junior center Brock Kiesler has teetered on the brink of "breaking out" for the past two seasons and has been persistently working toward that signature performance that could push him into the conversation with the state's other elite big men.

Following Kiesler's clutch second half on Thursday during the Tigers' biggest game of the season, it may be safe to say that he's arrived.

Taking advantage of Central High School's true lack in size, Kiesler was an offensive and defensive force during the final two quarters and was one of four Tigers to score in double figures during St. Xavier's 70-59 win over the Yellowjackets in the 7th Region semifinals.

Kiesler scored 7 of his 13 points and pulled down 8 of his game-high 10 rebounds in the second half, but it wasn't his double-double numbers that defined the performance. Rather, it was the intangibles that made the difference and never allowed Central to get within seven points of St. X after halftime.

“Great performance by Brock tonight. He cleared the backboard, he finished shots at the rim, he altered shots defensively. He changed the complexion of the game,” said St. Xavier head coach Kevin Klein of Kiesler. “That’s what we want to do on both ends of the court with his size and ability. To see him playing his best basketball tonight was gratifying to see. He deserved that.”

Tiger senior Nathan Smith and junior Alex Jones also put together big-time performances in this semifinal win for St. X. After Central gained its first true momentum of the game and cut its deficit to 51-42 on an electric, one-handed baseline dunk by 6-foot-4 junior Stuart Jackson, Smith and Jones proceeded to knock down a combined four consecutive free throws and kept Central at bay by maintaining leads of 53-44 and 57-46 with under five minutes remaining.

Smith, who scored 8 of his game-high 17 points in the 4th quarter, was 9-of-12 from the free throw line and continued to lead by his senior example. With 2:25 to go in the game, and St. X leading 59-52, Smith chased down what seemed to be a sure Tiger turnover on the baseline and under the St. Xavier basket. Smith caught up to the ball, kept his concentration to stay inbounds and flipped the ball back to Kiesler, who drew a foul, made 1-of-2 free throws and forced the contest into a healthy four-possession game.

“He makes senior plays night in and night out, and he’s one of the toughest kids I’ve ever coached,” said Klein of Smith. “His nose for the ball and determination on the court is something to watch, and it definitely resonates to the other guys. We’re thankful for the energy that he brings every night and I know he’s got one more left in him.”

St. X shot 70 percent from the floor (14-of-20) in the first half to build a 34-25 halftime lead. The frontcourt trio of Kiesler, Smith and senior Chris Mitchell all picked up two fouls or more in the second quarter, which forced Klein to rely on his team's depth during several crucial situations.

And that group certainly answered the call. The Tiger bench combined for 11 points and 9 rebounds.

“I’m so proud of our bench, and a lot of those hustle stats and plays that were made don’t always show up on the stat sheet,” said Klein. “Will Glasford, Austin Clemons, Charles Walker, Christian Hardy, Chris Mitchell played huge minutes off the bench, whether it was an offensive rebound, a back tip that resulted in a steal, a defensive assignment that was covered, everybody was just so tuned in.”

Central's last ditch effort came with 2:34 to go when a steal and Jackson layup cut St. Xavier's lead to 59-52, but the Yellowjackets would get no closer.

Klein said he frequently reminded his team to "weather the storm" and to prevent big Central runs in the second half. St. Xavier responded and never allowed the Yellowjackets to get within threatening striking distance, ultimately leading to another milestone win for Klein's bunch.

“This is unbelievable for the program,” said the St. X coach. “We’ve put some dates up on the board in recent weeks; 2006 was our last regional tournament, 2001 was our last district championship and 1998 was our last regional championship (appearance), and it’s been all about our will to win that these guys have shown during this 10-game winning streak.”

“We’ve prepared great, we’ve had great practices, guys are playing for one another – very selfless.”

Central, which relied consistently on the long ball to make its offense effective during the season, finished the game 6-of-19 (31.6 percent) from behind the three-point line and never hit more than one trey consecutively. Yellowjackets junior Dominique Chandler went 7-of-7 from the free throw line, but just 3-of-11 from the field and finished with a team-high 15 points.

Sophomore guard Jamie Johnson (11 points) and senior guard Jaylen Maxey (9 points) finished a combined 0-of-7 from long range.

“In the district championship, (Central) was 2-for-23 (from the three-point line) and they shot lights out against Eastern on Tuesday (in the regional quarterfinals). We knew we had a challenge, especially Chandler and Jackson and Johnson and Logan. And when they make shots, they’re very, very tough,” said Klein. “Fortunately a few of those shots rimmed out, we did a good job on the backboard and used our size to our advantage.”

“Give Central a lot of credit. They’re so scrappy. They play so hard. They try to take you out of your rhythm, which they did a very good job of,” Klein continued.. “But we did a very good job of countering that with good decisions and high-percentage shots, and played winning basketball in the fourth quarter. I couldn’t be prouder of our guys.”

The aforementioned Jones finished with 13 points for St. X in the win. He and Smith were a combined 9-of-12 from the field and 12-of-16 from the charity stripe. Tigers sophomore point guard Robert Shaw was the 4th member of the team to score in double digits; he had 10 points to go with 3 assists and a steal.

St. X can now look ahead to its first appearance in the regional finals since 1998, a year when the Tigers lost to Eastern at Louisville Gardens. The program's last regional title came in 1995 - a squad that current coach Klein was a member of.

“We had a great performance tonight against a team that had beaten us and now it’s all about getting to Monday…being mentally and physically ready to play and have our best game of the year, because it’s going to be a dogfight,” said Klein. “The belief level is off the charts. And when you believe and play hard and play together, great things are going to happen.”

The Tigers, which have now won 10 games in a row overall, will take on rival Trinity in the 7th Region title game on Monday (March 5) at 7pm at Knights Hall.

Trinity 58 Ballard 55

After Ballard High School settled for runner-up in its district title game, and it was determined that the regional power Bruins and the state's No. 1 ranked Trinity High School would be placed on the same side of the bracket, fans and basketball enthusiasts immediately circled the inevitable matchup and were dubbing it as the game of the boys' Class Act 7th Region Tournament.

On Thursday night, in front of a sold-out Knights Hall and an insanely raucous crowd, the game lived up to its billing and delivered a classic as the Shamrocks overcame a 12-point deficit in the 4th quarter and came from behind to defeat Ballard 58-55 in the regional semifinals.

Despite being outrebounded (31-28) and outshot from the floor (Ballard: 52 percent; Trinity: 39 percent), the Shamrocks hung tough and closed the game on a 23-8 run to advance to the regional finals for the sixth time in program history.

The victory also gave the Shamrocks its 30th win of the season. No other team in program history had ever reached the 30-win mark during a season.

"It was awesome. This is what these kids have been dreaming about. This is why we do what we do," said Trinity head coach Mike Szabo. "You've got to love this."

"We kept playing hard and kept believe in what we do and in each other, and what a great win," Szabo continued. "We got it done with defense. We got big stops and big rebounds. Got some steals. It was just a great comeback."

Trinity 6-foot-5 senior and 7th Region Player of the Year Nathan Dieudonne finished the game with a game-high 21 points and 11 rebounds and sparked the Shamrock comeback with an enormous two-handed, fast-break dunk that cut Ballard's lead to 48-45 with 4:13 remaining in the game.

After Ballard sophomore and University of Louisville commit Quentin Snider gave the Bruins a 47-35 lead on a 3-pointer just 12 seconds into the 4th quarter, Trinity persevered and created the Dieudonne dunk when junior Darryl Hicks raced down a loose ball at midcourt, lobbed it to senior Charles Foster, who found a trailing Dieudonne for the slam.

The sequence sent the Trinity bench and student section into an uproar and seemed to shift the momentum to the green and white.

Dieudonne followed with a stretched out putback that brought the Rocks within 49-47 with 3:33 to go. And after Hicks drew a charging foul on 6-foot-6 sophomore Kelan Martin on the Bruins' ensuing possession, Foster used two offensive rebounds, two putbacks and one inspired effort on the other end to tie the game at 49-49 with 2:54 left in the game.

"That's just being a warrior and wanting it more than anyone," said Szabo.

Snider would put Ballard back ahead 51-49 on a spin move and layup,  but Trinity finally established and took over the lead for good when Dieudonne flew through the lane and hung in the air to tip in a missed shot by junior James Quick with 2:04 remaining. Ballard would never regain the advantage.

Bruins 6-foot-8 senior center Aaron Murray, who scored 7 points, cut Trinity's lead to 56-55 on a layup with 12 seconds to go. And after Dieudonne knocked down a pair of bonus free throws for Trinity with 9.3 seconds left, Snider went for the tie but his off-balanced three-point attempt bounced off the front of the rim and triggered an emotional celebration on the floor.

Ballard, which hit seven of its first eight 3-pointers to start the game, only made one of its final three and faltered despite shooting 60 percent from the field in the first half and 52 percent overall for the game. Szabo credited his team's switch to a zone press in the 2nd half with cutting into the Bruins' hot shooting.

"I thought early on, we extended a little too far (with our pressure) and it hurt us. And we got burned," said Szabo. "We picked up some cheap fouls out there and we had no business doing that. (Ballard) was also able to get around us to get to the rim at times, and then kick, so we decided to back up a little bit and contain and do a better job of staying in front and rebound after that on shots."

The Bruins, which had its season ended with a record of 24-9, were led by Snider's 16 points. Lavonne Holland, who hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Ballard a 29-23 halftime lead, finished with 13 points and 6 rebounds in the losing effort.

Martin had 14 points and 6 rebounds.

For the No. 1 Shamrocks, Foster (14), Hicks (10) and Quick (6) also had crucial offensive games. Quick also pulled down 7 rebounds. Senior point guard Troy Saxton had 6 assists.

Trinity, which has now 13 games in a row, only committed four turnovers during the game. The Rocks are 27-1 against in-state teams this season and has won 25 of its last 26 games overall.

On Monday, Trinity will attempt to continue its magical season with an appearance against rival St. Xavier in the 7th Region finals. The Rocks are 1-4 all-time in regional title games. Its lone victory game in 2004 against Male. Trinity defeated St. X 63-45 during the annual regular season rivalry game on Jan. 20 at Freedom Hall.

"They do a good job of running their stuff," said Szabo of St. Xavier. "They've had a nice year and our guys will be ready on Monday."

The Trinity-St. Xavier regional championship showdown is scheduled for Monday (March 5) at 7pm at Knights Hall.


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