HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. - Holmes sophomore point guard James Bolden pulled his jersey up over his face to hide his emotions after he fouled out with 2:45 remaining in the 9 th Region championship game against Covington Catholic on Sunday.
Like everyone else in the crowd of more than 6,000 at the Bank of Kentucky Center, Bolden wasn’t sure his teammates could win the game without him on the court, but they did.
The Bulldogs held on for a 62-60 victory in one of the most dramatic finishes in the history of the tournament and claimed their first regional title since 2009.
Holmes coach Jason Booher was proud of the way his players handled the situation after losing Bolden, whose nickname is “Beetle.”
“We’re battle-tested and these guys didn’t blink an eye after Beetle went out,” Booher said. “They did just enough to get the win.”
Holmes (31-2) advances to the “Sweet 16” state tournament and plays 6 th Region champion Pleasure Ridge Park (25-7) in a first-round game at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at Rupp Arena.
Bolden, who scored 26 points in the regional final, picked up his fifth foul trying to stop CovCath senior forward Sawyer Pauly’s drive to the basket. Pauly made the field goal and the foul shot to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 56-55.
Holmes managed to stay on top after losing its leading scorer, but the game wasn’t decided until the final horn sounded.
With 36 seconds left, Holmes junior Keyontae Herndon, who replaced Bolden, made two free throws that gave his team a 61-57 advantage. Nine seconds later, however, CovCath senior guard Nick Fredrick buried a 3-point shot that made it 61-60.
CovCath came up with a steal and got the ball to Fredrick once again, but his shot rolled off the rim and Holmes junior forward Quinton Chames was fouled as he pulled down the rebound.
Chames missed both of his free throws with 15 seconds left and that gave the Colonels another chance to take the lead.
CovCath junior guard Nick Ruthsatz drove to the right of the basket and passed the ball to junior guard Ben Heppler on the opposite baseline, but his jump shot missed the mark.
CovCath fouled Herndon with two seconds left and he sank one free throw to make it 62-60. CovCath inbounded the ball and Pauly launched a shot from near half-court that fell short as the horn sounded.
Bolden was named the regional tournament’s most valuable player, but sitting on the bench with five fouls wasn’t where he wanted to be when the championship game ended.
“I said a few prayers over there and just knew my teammates had the confidence to pull it out,” Bolden said. “It showed that without me they still can play. They can still pull it out and get the W.”
CovCath shot 60 percent (9 of 15) from the field during the first half, making five 3-pointers. One of those treys gave the Colonels a 29-17 lead early in the second quarter.
The Bulldogs made a comeback with Bolden doing all of the scoring during a 14-2 run that tied the score at 31-31. He scored nine of those points at the free throw line as several Colonels got into foul trouble trying to guard the quick and crafty ball-handler.
CovCath did score on its last two possessions of the first half to take a 35-31 lead into the break.
As his team was heading for the locker room, CovCath coach Scott Ruthsatz approached the officials to ask a question. When Holmes assistant coach Mike Listerman saw that, he charged to the other end of the court to find out what was going on and received a technical foul.
Booher said Listerman, a former CovCath head coach, did not want someone else getting the last word with the officials as they were going into the locker room.
“Sometimes emotions take over,” Booher said. “You’ve got to make sure you take care of those things. Luckily, we didn’t lose by one point or I’d of had (coach Listerman) running wind sprints in practice.”
Ruthsatz made one of the technical free throws to put CovCath ahead, 36-31, before the third quarter started. But Holmes took a 48-44 lead at the end of the third quarter on 3-point goals by senior guards Quan Palmer and B.J. Coston.
The Colonels never did regain the lead, missing two opportunities in the final seconds when Fredrick and Heppler missed field goal attempts with their team trailing on one point.
“We had our chances at the end, and you know what, the ball just didn’t go in,” said coach Ruthsatz.
The coach’s son, Nick, is the player who dished off to Hebbler instead of taking the ball to the basket on one of those final possessions.
“I thought Nick made the right decision passing it,” the coach said. “He’s probably kicking himself right now, but you know it was the right play to make.”
CovCath defeated Holmes, 72-70, in the 35 th District final on a last-second shot from near midcourt by Nick Ruthsatz.
In that game, the CovCath guard outscored Bolden, 29-19, but it was a different story in the regional final. Bolden finished with 26 points while Nick Ruthsatz had 19.
“I thought we were a little too relaxed with him,”