(This is a computer simulation of the 2020 Kentucky High School Athletic Association Boys Sweet Sixteen that is not officially cancelled but not likely to happen. All game results are from the computer but the quotes are on me.)
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Move over 1928 Ashland Tomcats, you’ve got some company.
Ashland completed an improbable perfect season by defeating Covington Catholic 78-70 Tuesday in Rupp Area for the Sweet Sixteen championship in front of 17,644 fans.
The Tomcats became the first team in 72 years to finish as undefeated state champion. Brewers last accomplished the feat in 1948.
Not only that but Ashland matched its own school record of 37-0 from 92 years ago when Ellis Johnson led the Tomcats not only to the state championship but the national high school championship in 1928.
This one is the end of the road for these history-making Tomcats, but what a journey it has been for them and their fans who rushed the Rupp Arena floor after the victory.
Freshman point guard Colin Porter scored 27, including the last eight points of the game, and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. This was Porter’s first year in the Ashland system after playing at Elliott County.
“I’m so proud to be a Tomcat, proud of my brothers and our coaches,” Porter said. “I’ll never forget these last four days as long as I live.”
His playmaking skills helped bring together one of the best passing teams in Ashland history. The Tomcats also had shooters from all five positions, using the 3-point shot to great advantage throughout the perfect season.
“This is a storybook team, a real storybook team,” said Tomcats coach Jason Mays. “Nobody could have written this script, but they did. I’m so proud of them. Proud of the players they made themselves into and the people they’ve become. They have great parents and that made a difference, a big difference, in everything we did. I’ll never forget them and Ashland will never forget them either.”
Neither will the rest of the state.
The Tomcats came into the Sweet Sixteen undefeated but not many were giving them a realistic chance of running the table.
Well, not everybody thought that way.
“I’ll be honest with you, I’m not that surprised,” Mays said. “The way these guys played in the last three weeks was remarkable. What a joy to coach too. I wasn’t going to tell you guys this before the tournament, but I’d have been a little surprised if we hadn’t won it.”
Covington Catholic and Ashland waged a terrific battle in the championship game.
The Tomcats led for much of the game and built a lead of as much as nine points. But the Colonels rallied and tied the game at 62 and again at 64 with 4:05 remaining. Porter and Ethan Sellars drilled consecutive 3-pointers for a 70-64 lead and the Tomcats kept them at arm’s length.
Porter scored on a pair of drives and drilled four free throws in the last 90 seconds to clinch the victory.
Senior Ethan Hudson closed his career with 13 points, four rebounds and three assists and Cole Villers finished with 12 points. Justin Bradley added eight points and Sellars, who was limited by foul trouble, may have hit the biggest 3 of the season late in the fourth quarter. Senior Nolan Phillips contributed five points and two rebounds.
“It’s so fitting that every one of those guys contributed to this victory,” Mays said. “That’s the way it has been all year, so why not tonight?”
Dicky Martin, the longtime Voice of the Tomcats, said he could now die happy. “I told you we were going to do it! I told you! I love this team. They have so much heart. Nobody will ever match this dream season. No way, no how.”
Villers and Hudson joined Porter on the All-State Tournament team and Ashland’s cheerleaders won the award for best sideline cheer to complete the sweep.
“Undefeated!” yelled Hudson between hugs of teammates, family members and friends on the Rupp Arena floor’s sea of maroon. “The work that went into 37-0 cannot be described but it was worth it.”
Justin Bradley, a senior sharpshooter and top defender, was often called the “glue” of the Tomcats.
“You know, everybody did their part,” he said. “We all had roles, but our No. 1 objective was always to win. Somehow, we were going to figure out how to win. I don’t think there was a single game where we went into it hoping we could win. It was always knowing we would win. Even this week, when we played some great teams every night, there was never a doubt. In started in the summer camps. It was the same attitude. Losing never entered our thought process.”
Donna Suttle promised the celebration of all celebrations for the state champions once they get back to Ashland.
“We’re going to put on the shindig of all shindigs,” she said. “Nothing can top this team and nothing will top this party. They are heroes in Ashland.”
Ashland has a chance to break its own record for consecutive wins. The 1927-28 Tomcats went 37-0 and the 1928-29 Tomcats won its first seven games to make it 44 in a row before losing.
So the Tomcats already have something to achieve next season.
“Oh come on guys,” Mays said to reporters. “Let me enjoy this one.”
ASHLAND (78) – Porter 7-15 10-10 27, Hudson 5-8 0-0 13, Sellars 1-5 0-0 3, Villers 4-7 1-1 12, Bradley 4-5 0-0 8, Gillum 2-3 0-0 4, Phillips 1-3 3-3 5, Atkins 0-0 0-0 0, Adkins 0-0 2-2 2, Conway 1-2 0-1 3, Davis 0-1 1-2 1, Ashby 0-0 0-0 0. FG: 25-49. FT: 17-19. 3-pointers: 11-25 (Porter 3-8, Hudson 3-6, Sellars 1-5, Villers 3-5, Conway 1-1). Assists: 13 (Porter 4, Hudson 3, Villers 2, Bradley 1, Adkins 2, Conway 1). PF: 20. Turnovers: 17.
COVINGTON CATHOLIC (70) – Disken 4-17 5-6 15, Green 5-10 2-2 13, Stocks 4-12 5-6 15, Starks 5-8 0-0 11, Hupmann 1-1 0-0 2, Moser 2-4 0-0 4, McHale 3-3 0-0 6, Sommerkamp 0-2 0-0 0, Jackson 1-3 1-2 4, Horn 0-1 0-0 0, Hrycak 0-0 0-0 0, Skinner 0-0 0-0 0. FG: 25-61. FT: 13-16. 3-pointers: 7-24 (Disken 2-8, Green 1-4, Stocks 2-7, Starks 1-2, Sommerkamp 0-2, Jackson 1-1). Assists: 16 (Disken 7, Green 3, Starks 4, Skinner 2). PF: 16. Turnovers: 17.
ASHLAND 22 18 16 22 – 78
COV. CATHOLIC 17 17 19 17 – 70