Thrust into the starting lineup late in his freshman season, David Johnson is making it difficult for Trinity High School basketball coach Mike Szabo to ever consider leaving him out again.
The 6-foot-3 Johnson continued to emerge as one of the city’s brightest young stars Tuesday, posting 16 points – all in the second half – and nine rebounds as the host Shamrocks beat Male 71-64 in a highly anticipated quarterfinal of the Class Act Federal Credit Union Seventh Region Tournament.
Johnson was Trinity’s seventh man for the majority of the season but moved into a starting role Feb. 19 in the regular-season finale against Central after junior guard Lukas Burkman was declared out for the season with a foot injury.
In four games since replacing Burkman in the lineup, Johnson is averaging 10.5 points and 6.3 rebounds.
“No question we know he’s a good player, but he’s a freshman,” Szabo said. “You have to build some trust, and he hasn’t really had any time to build much trust. But he’s quickly building it.”
Johnson was one of four Shamrocks to score in double figures, joining Gabe Schmitt (22 points), Jacob King (15 points, five assists) and L.J. Harris (11 points). The Shamrocks (27-6) – No. 5 in the state in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings – advanced to face Ballard in Friday’s 6 p.m. regional semifinal at Valley.
Bellarmine University signee Alex Cook scored 20 points and Hogan Brownley added 15 to lead No. 13 Male (25-6). Coach Willie Feldhaus said 3-point shooting was the difference, as the Shamrocks finished 10 of 20 from behind the arc and the Bulldogs were 5 of 20.
“They just shoot it so well and put so much pressure on you out there,” Feldhaus said. “If you get too much out there, then they get shots at the rim.”
After an even first half, Deondrai Williams’ free throw gave Male a 36-35 lead to start the third quarter before Trinity took control.
Johnson scored six points and Harris added five during a 14-3 surge that gave the Shamrocks a 49-39 lead. Johnson, who capped the run with a pair of free throws at the 4:02 mark of the third quarter, said nerves have not been an issue for him since stepping into the starting lineup.
“Lukas was a big part of our team, and we knew that we all had to step up,” he said. “With me coming into the starting role, I had to step up even more.”
Johnson’s 3-pointer gave Trinity a 66-58 lead with 3:39 remaining before Male made a final push. After Brownley’s putback basket pulled Male within 67-64, Trinity committed a turnover with 1:05 remaining.
Cornelius Watts’ 3-point attempt to tie rolled out, and Burton sank 1 of 2 free throws to give the Shamrocks a 68-64 lead with 41.5 seconds left. Johnson blocked Cook’s shot on Male’s next possession, and King followed with a pair of free throws for a 70-64 lead with 24.8 seconds left.
“I love my kids, but these last two or three weeks it seems we’ve played from behind so much,” Feldhaus said. “We always had to fight to come back and make it a game at the end. … You just can’t play from behind against them all night long. It takes too much out of you.”
For Trinity, it’s on to a meeting with Ballard in the Seventh Region Tournament for the fifth straight season. The teams have split the previous four, with the winner also going on to win the regional title.
Szabo likes his team’s chances Friday, especially with the emergence of Johnson.
“He’s a special talent with a really bright future,” Szabo said. “But his future is right now. He’s helping us win, along with his teammates. …
“The thing I like is that he’s not intimidated. He’s aggressive and assertive. That’s what it takes to be good.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and email@example.com.
MALE 16 19 11 18 – 64
TRINITY 21 14 22 14 – 71
Male (25-6) – Kimijwok 2, Bowman 4, Williams 9, Cook 20, Watts 14, Brownley 15.
Trinity (27-6) – Terry 3, Johnson 16, Harris 11, Burton 4, Schmitt 22, J. King 15.
3-point goals – Cook 3, Watts 2; Terry, Johnson 2, Burton, Schmitt 5, J. King.