Owensboro Catholic was able to hold off a hungry Eagles team on Tuesday night, as sophomores Luke Beickman and Waryn Ebelhar led them to a 58-50 win and a spot in the 9th District Championship for the eighth consecutive season.
Both teams got off to a slow start early on, failing to find a rhythm. But it was the Aces that had the slight edge on the defensive end and took an 11-9 lead following the first quarter.
The Eagles got off to a strong start in the second quarter though, holding Owensboro Catholic scoreless until there was 5:36 left in the quarter and had built a 14-11 lead thanks to some fullcourt pressure. However, some patience from sophomore Vince Carrico led to a layup shortly after, as the Aces slowly put things together with a combined 13 points from sophomore Waryn Ebelhar (five), junior Deuce Sims (four) and sophomore Vince Carrico (four) and took a 30-25 lead into halftime.
Apollo continued to try and chip away at the lead coming out of the locker room as well, holding Owensboro Catholic to nine points in the third. However, the Eagles were held to single digits themselves, as sophomore Kobe Kelly scored six of their eight as they went into the fourth down 39-33.
The Aces had grown their lead to double digits at 48-37 with 4:31 to go, but over the last three minutes of the contest Apollo gave them all they had. Kelly and Tutt each had eight points in the quarter, while the Eagles fullcourt pressure was giving Owensboro Catholic fits—as it had been for most of the night—and had their deficit cut to 54-50 with just under a minute to play.
“We fought,” Head Coach Mark Starns said. “The press kept us in there. The press gave us the mentality that we’re going to hang around. It gave us the mentality that we were going to be the aggressor. I was proud of the way that they fought all night long.”
But Apollo’s 18-34 mark from the charity stripe came back to bite them in the end, as the Aces were able to hang onto their late lead. With a combined 11 points from Ebelhar (seven) and Beickman (four) leading the way, Owensboro Catholic was able to top the Eagles and come away with the 58-50 victory.
Following the game Head Coach Tim Riley was less than pleased with his team’s efforts, saying that if a few things had gone the other way that Apollo could’ve pulled off the upset.
“They shot 34 free throws in the game,” Riley said. “If they would’ve made free throws then they win the game. They shoot just a few more, it’s probably a different game… We turned the ball over 17 times and we had probably turned over 10 with four minutes to go in the first half… Just played really poor. We were lucky to win.”
Riley said the Aces knew coming into this game that it was going to be a battle to the end, but just didn’t execute the way they needed to on the offensive end.
“You can’t turn the ball over that many times, especially with as few possessions as there were in that game,” Riley said. “Then when we didn’t turn it over, we shot it quick. Especially in the first half. We have proven when we don’t run decent offense, we can’t score.”
Despite the troubles on the offensive end, Ebelhar and Beickman led the way with 14 points each, while senior Brian Griffith added 10 as Owensboro Catholic advanced to the 9th District Championship and 3rd Region Tournament for the eighth time in eight years. They’ll be looking to grab some hardware against Owensboro on Friday, with tip-off set for 7 p.m. at Owensboro High School.
Apollo on the other hand has their season come to a close with an overall record of 5-23, but can leave with heads held high with how they competed after two blowout losses to the Aces in the regular season.
“I just thought we were gonna be the aggressive team tonight,” Starns said. “We weren’t going to get punched in the mouth and we were going to give the punches back. I wasn’t going to sit there and take it like it’s happened the past two games. There’s going to be some more of that coming too. That’s the way we’re going to start playing.”
They were led by their dynamic guard duo, as Kelly led all scorers with 21 points while Tutt followed with 12 points. Starns sang the two’s praises following the game, happy with how they’ve performed this season.
“Kobe’s not afraid of anything to be honest with you,” Starns said. “He’s not. I called him Machine Gun Kelly because there’s not a shot that he doesn’t like. He’ll take it if he’s got the opportunity. Z’s potential has been there. I’ve told him many times that he has the potential to take over games and do the things that he did this year. The coaches voted him for all-district and he deserved it and earned that.”
Apollo will return a much different roster next season, as they will lose six seniors to graduation. This includes senior guard Donte Dixon, who joined the team this season after his four-year football career with the Eagles.
“We had six seniors,” Starns said. “I can’t say enough about all of them. What about Donte Dixon, our unsung hero. He was our Mr. Defense all year long. He always drew the toughest assignments. I always put him on the leading scorer for every team that we played.”
As for the future, Starns and company are hopeful. With a new fire seemingly underneath the program, Apollo will look to turn things around in the 2023-24 season.
“I said ‘guys, get used to it,’” Starns said. “The drills we’ve been doing the last four days. All the Pitino stuff that I learned from him—it’s coming. We got some young guys coming too to filter in behind them and have the depth to do that kind of stuff.”