By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
The Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds boys basketball team knows it will have to withstand the best shots from opponents to reach more goals.
But the Thoroughbreds are just fine with that. Battle-tested NewCath has withstood tough challenges all season on its way to Ashland Invitational Tournament and All “A” State Tournament championships. Add a fifth consecutive 36th District Championship to the impressive year with Thursday’s 50-42 win over the Newport Wildcats at Highlands.
“It’s never easy, especially against a Newport team that’s really good and well-coached,” said Grant Brannen, NewCath head coach. “We came and missed some shots. They missed some shots. But in the end, it was a nice win. We’ve built our season with championships. But our toughest road is ahead of us for sure.”
NewCath won its 18th consecutive game with its third win over the Wildcats (20-10) to move to 30-2 on the season. The Thoroughbreds also beat the in-town rivals, 80-51 on The Hill on Jan. 2 before beating them again, 61-54 just 17 days later to capture the All “A” 9th Region title at Bellevue.
“I like it like that because no game is going to be easy,” said Nick Seibert, NewCath senior. “We come in the mindset that we’re going to win every game. We come in and work as hard as we can knowing (opponents) are not going to lay down.”
NewCath also had to beat Highlands a second time on Tuesday to make the district championship. But while the first win meant the Thoroughbreds won’t see the Bluebirds again this season, they could again face the Wildcats in the 9th Region championship game at Northern Kentucky University.
NewCath did a good job in the half-court game on both ends. Offensively, the Thoroughbreds worked the ball inside to its tall players and Newport had no answer for 6-foot-6-inch Tournament Most Valuable Player Drew McDonald. McDonald dominated the Wildcats for 22 points making 10-of-18 field-goal attempts to go with six rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots.
“Drew has been a force all year,” Brannen said. “He didn’t have a very good first quarter. I was wondering if he could walk and chew gum at the same time so I asked him. But in the second quarter, he came through and played really well the rest of the game.”
The Thoroughbreds received their usual balance. Zach Pangallo, Michael Bueter and Seibert scored eight each to follow McDonald. Bueter and Seibert also made the All-Tournament team along with Highlands senior Luke Turner.
NewCath made 20-of-50 shots for 40 percent with no three-pointers and 10-of-14 free throws for 71 percent. Seibert led the Thoroughbreds making 4-of-6 free throws with Pangallo, Bueter and McDonald all making both free-throw attempts.
Defensively, NewCath played a 1-3-1 trapping zone using its size to make things difficult for the Newport guards. The Wildcats turned the ball over 11 times to nine for the Thoroughbreds.
NewCath contained the Newport brother guard tandem of JaSean and JaQuan Short. The duo combined for just nine points after scoring 31 in the All “A” 9th Region title game.
“We wanted to keep pressure on (the Short brothers) and not let them get open shots,” Seibert said. “We knew we could force turnovers with our length and that’s what we did.”
Their teammates tried to pick up the slack. Marquis Commodore led the Wildcats making 4-of-4 free-throw tries for 12 points with Cody Pearson and Aroyal Wright scoring eight each.
The Wildcats hit 17-of-49 shots for 35 percent with three-pointers from JaSean Short and Ethan Snapp. They also made 6-of-8 free-throw tries for 75 percent.
The teams made things difficult near the basket. NewCath rejected eight shots led by four from Jake Schulte and Newport turned away seven led by Commodore with three.
Both teams recorded 33 rebounds. Commodore led Newport with 15 for a double-double and Schulte grabbed 13 for the victors.
The squads battled to an 8-8 tie after the first quarter. Newport led 14-10 early in the second before McDonald scored twice to give NewCath a 16-14 lead with 3:58 remaining.
After the Wildcats tied the game at 16, the Thoroughbreds finished the quarter with an 8-0 run to go up 24-16 for good. McDonald hit a jumper in the center to finish off that scoring.
NewCath built the lead to double-digits in the third quarter. The Thoroughbreds led 38-26 entering the fourth quarter. They led by 14 by a 38-24 score at one point after Bueter hit two free throws after Wright received a technical foul coming up-court and McDonald hit a jumper.
The Thoroughbreds increased the lead to 14 twice in the fourth before the Wildcats used a 6-0 run to cut the margin to eight. Newport cut the margin to 44-37 with 1:36 remaining before the Thoroughbreds made six consecutive free throws to ice the game.
Thoroughbred reserves Ben Weyer, Colin Dupont and Brennan Devoto came in contributed some to give the starters relief. Weyer said the upperclassmen are doing a great job being examples to younger players.
“We’re definitely one big family,” Weyer said. “I’m starting to realize that. Everyone just works really hard.”
NewCath will not know its first-round opponent until the 9th Region draw takes place at Holmes at 9 a.m. Saturday. The Thoroughbreds take on the losing team from either the 33rd, 34th or 35th District championship games to be played Friday.