Given that Catholic High basketball coach Mark Cascio was without two starters and faced a taller, quicker opponent there was a natural tendency to feel a bit of trepidation.
It took the Bears two quarters to calm any of their coach’s anxiety.
Guard Toliver Freeman was among his team’s driving forces during a decisive second-quarter explosion that inevitably carried Catholic to a 72-54 home victory Tuesday over Covington.
“We were a little shorthanded and the guys stepped up,” Cascio said. “One thing I would like to see us do better through all four quarters would be to guard better. I thought we struggled but credit to them because they were attacking and had some athletes that could get to the rim.”
Freeman scored 16 of his team-high 24 points in the first half, including two free throws that closed out the opening quarter with 1:12 left that tied the game for the fourth time at 11-all.
That was also the catalyst for a decisive second quarter in which Catholic, which won its sixth straight game, outscored Covington 20-4 and built a 31-15 halftime advantage.
Catholic (6-1) scored nine unanswered points to open the quarter and established its first double-digit lead (23-13) on Grant Sceroler’s 15-footer at the 3:26 mark. The Bears, who shot 57 percent for the game, made 6-of-8 shots with Patrick Fields burying a 3 and Freeman adding a driving lay-in in the final 30 seconds.
“Three of the quarters were close but they got hot in the second quarter,” Covington coach Mike Smith said. “I told my guys part of the game is knowing when a team gets hot and how to throw some water on the fire and slow it down. We’re young and well learn as we go along.”
Catholic, which played without senior starters Michael Giorlando (injury) and Sam Cancienne (illness), also forced Covington (2-6) into five turnovers and limited the Lions to 2-of-6 shooting in the quarter.
Michael Francioni complemented Freeman with 14, while reserve guard Ethan Treigle had 10.
Jay Earlycutt led Covington with 14 and Nick Cyprian added 13.
“We do a great job of sharing the ball so everybody gets opportunities,” Cascio said. “Toliver typically leads us in scoring but our second and third scorer varies every night. We have multiple guys that can step up and that’s why I enjoy coaching this team because at any point someone can give us a spark.”
Treigle’s jumper from the lane, courtesy of an assist from Toliver, provided Catholic with a 44-24 lead with 3:37 left in the third quarter before the Bears established their largest lead of 23 points on four different occasions in the fourth quarter, the last time (68-45) with 1:20 to go on Jacoby Carter’s two free throws.
“If you would have told me we would handle the ball that well and get guys involved,” Cascio said, “and pull away from a team like that, I would have been happy.”