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Ludlow-Villa Madonna district opener proves history not always the best predictor at tournament time

By Dan Weber
NKyTribune sports reporter

Some things you just know. Like how Monday’s first game in the 34th District boys’ basketball tournament between Villa Madonna and Ludlow was going to go.

Like it did the first two times these teams played this season, with Ludlow prevailing 72-49 and 81-66 on the Panthers’ way to a 19-win season. Just one more and last year’s Ludlow girls’ Coach Aaron Stamm would have the school’s first 20-win season in just under two decades in his first season coaching the boys.

Not only that, but Ludlow had a guy who could make it happen — senior guard, football star and uber-competitive Jaxson Rice — the state’s No. 6 scorer at 30.1 points a game.

Villa Madonn’as Henry Thole (Photo by Bob Jackson)

Sure, 6-foot-7, 210-pound Villa Madonna junior Henry Thole has been coming into his own recently, breaking the Vikings’ all-time scoring mark with a 50-point effort Friday against Robertson County that also put him into the 1,000-Point Club.

But not many people seem to realize just how good Thole — the state’s No. 8 rebounder at 11.7 a game and No. 40 scorer at 21.7 points a game – is. His coach, Trevor Gould, says he’s “an under-the-radar guy. Has been all year.

“We realize it,” said Stamm, a three-sport Ludlow alum, who might have been the best person in the St. Henry gym to explain what just happened here.

“This is why it’s a wonderful game,” an upbeat Stamm said after spending extended time with his team processing Villa Madonna’s hard-to-describe 59-56 upset of the Panthers.

“You win some, you lose some,” Stamm said, “that’s why it’s a beautiful game.”

It is – and was — indeed. A game that had so many twists and turns in the final minutes – the final seconds – that it was hard for the fans in the raucous crowd to realize it was time to leave. Maybe they didn’t want to, they were enjoying it so much.

Despite needing the win to become Villa Madonna’s “first 10-win team in eight seasons,” Gould said, it didn’t seem to surprise his Vikings. “They came in here to play tonight.”

They came in here with one thought, Thole said: “We’re gonna’ win.” That was it. Period.

One thing was clear. There were two under-the-radar stars in this game. Despite scoring more than 30 points a game and in the top six in the state, Rice has no college offers yet although his coach is working on it for him.

How valuable is he to the Panthers?

Jaxson Rice (Photo by Bob Jackson)

Picking up two quick charging fouls in the game’s first 1:01, Rice had to sit out the first quarter. But he came back to score 10 points in the second, although a VMA team that jumped out to a 23-12 first-quarter lead was on top by 14, 38-24, at the half.

As for Thole, the lefty with a terrific handle poured in 17 points in the first and sealed a 26-point first half in the final 25 seconds with follow and then a step-back three buzzer-beater. He would finish the night with 38 points and five blocked shots – the last one with 8.5 seconds left that ended up in the fifth row.

“I wasn’t going to let him score,” Thole said, although Ludlow did manage to get two good shots in the final seconds before Thole pulled down the final rebound. “We got good looks,” Stamm said, “that’s all you can ask for.”

Blocking shots inside isn’t Thole’s future, he says. “I know where I’m going to play in college.” He’s a perimeter guy, a “three” who can handle it, dribble it, pass it and step back and shoot it although he displayed more than a little finesse around the hoop.

And he’s left-handed. Is that a plus? “Absolutely,” he says.

“There was a time when we should have gotten him out(side) and put the ball in his hands,” Gould said of a flat spot in the second half when Ludlow came charging back on a 10-run that got the Panthers as close as 52-51 and then again at 57-56.

But ask Thole what the key point in the game was and it wasn’t something he did, or even something at the end, but something his teammate who is one foot and five inches shorter did right away.

“When Tommy Wenning got those two early charging fouls on Jaxson,” he said of his teammate who Thole described as “five-two-ish.” That limited Rice to 34 points, in the three quarters he played. Not enough in this one.

(Photo by Bob Jackson)

“He’s a special kid,” Stamm said of Rice. “I told him to ‘Get us back in the game’.” And Rice almost did with his 24-second-half points on one tough physical drive after another as Ludlow defenders hounded the Vikings all over the court.

But when VMA had to have it, they got it – on a block, or a free throw or a big basket, like when Thole grabbed his own missed free throw and scored to take a 52-51 lead to 55-51 with 1:17 left.

“He’s taking it tough,” Stamm said before Jaxson came out of the locker room and explained just how difficult this was for him.

“I’m going to miss my teammates, my coaches, I’m going to miss going to practice,” Rice said, fighting back tears as he described having to sit out the first quarter with two fouls as excruciating.

Not getting to come back Wednesday for the 5:30 game against top-seeded Lloyd will be tough to take, as will not getting the 20th win for his Panthers.

“Going into the year, I wanted to do that for us,” Rice said, “it definitely stinks.”

And there’s the beauty that Stamm was talking about. If it didn’t hurt so much for Ludlow, it wouldn’t feel so good for Villa Madonna, winning only its fourth district game in the last 12 years.

But it took more than Thole. After a stretch in which the Vikings hit just one of eight free throws, Aiden Day and Wenning each hit a pair from the line in the final 24.6 to get the winners to 59.


LUDLOW 12 12 14 18—56
VILLA MADONNA 23 15 12 9—59

LUDLOW (19-12): Ralston 2, Brandenburg 2, Rice 34, Perrin 13, Wolfenbarger 5, TOTALS: 22-1-9/15-56.

VILLA MADONNA (10-19): Case 8, Wenning 2, Brandstetter 2, Day 9, Thole 38, TOTALS: 15-7-8/16-59.

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