Archive for March, 2010

Rockcastle falls in state semifinals

The ride is over for the Rockcastle County after the Lady Rockets dropped a 52-49 decision to Scott County in a Girls Sweet Sixteen quarterfinal this afternoon.

Rockcastle (29-5) came close to getting a shot at the state championship in a tight game that neither team led by more than six points, but Scott held on in the final minute to earn a spot in tonight’s title game against Mercy. (Click these links for the box score and play-by-play.)

The Lady Rockets trailed 57-51 with 1:11 to play, then quickly cut the margin to one on a 3-point goal by Jackie Alexander at 1:00 and two free throws by Angie Lawrence at :46 after two missed free throws on the other end. Four free throws put Scott back up by five with 14 seconds left, but a Lawrence 3-pointer at :09 made it 61-59, and after the Lady Cardinals got one of two free throws, the Lady Rockets got the ball back with seven seconds left down by three points, but they were unable to get off a shot.

The last of several controversial calls and non-calls, most of which seemed to go against Rockcastle, was the apparent ruling that a Rockcastle player had saved the ball from going out of bounds, causing time to expire. The Lady Rockets believed that the ball had gone out of bounds off a Scott player, which would have left them about a second to get off a potential game-tying 3-point shot. Irate Rockcastle fans booed as the team protested to no one in particular — the officials had already left the floor — and were still booing during the postgame ceremony in which their team received its semifinalist’s trophy.

Rockcastle led by five points with 6:00 remaining, but Scott went in front with a 7-1 run over the next 1:52 that included four points by Kristen Stainback, who scored 26 in all, and the Lady Cardinals never relinquished the lead.
Lawrence had 19 points, Sara Hammond had 17 and Kristen Abney had 10 for Rockcastle. Hammond also blocked six shots. Alexander had nine rebounds and Hammond had eight, but the Lady Rockets were outrebounded 39-30. They gave up 15 offensive rebounds, and they also had 16 turnovers.

Rockcastle proved to be another tremendous representative of the 12th Region and the 47th District, just as Casey County was last year, when it reached the state tournament semis, and the Lady Rockets helped to bolster the 12th’s reputation as one of the strongest girls basketball regions in the state.

Rockcastle was one of two teams in the region ranked in the top 10 in the state in various polls and power ratings this season, and Chrysti Noble’s team figures to be assured of a high preseason ranking for 2010-11 after losing only one senior, Alexander, from its playing rotation.

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Rockcastle reaches girls semis

A 12th Region team has reached the semifinals of the Girls Sweet Sixteen for the second consecutive year as Rockcastle County reached the final four with a 56-45 victory over George Rogers Clark in a quarterfinal tonight in Bowling Green. (Click these links for the box score and play-by-play.)

Rockcastle (29-4) plays at 12:30 p.m. Saturday against Scott County (25-6), which beat Boone County 67-66 in overtime in its quarterfinal. The winner advances to the 9 p.m. championship game against Mercy or Rowan County.

Jackie Alexander led the Lady Rockets in scoring with 23 points. She was 9 for 12 from the field, including 3 for 4 from the field, and had eight rebounds to help her team outrebound Clark 39-20 after it outrebounded Murray 39-19 in its first-round win Thursday. Sara Hammond added 11 points, nine rebounds and seven blocked shots.

The game was tied at 28-all at halftime, and Rockcastle still led by just one point with 5:36 to play before finishing the game with a 12-2 run as Clark never got another field goal, missing its final seven shots with three turnovers. The Lady Cardinals were 2 for 11 in the fourth quarter and 6 for 24 in the second half after going 10 for 20 in the first half.

Rockcastle was 0-5 at the state tournament before this season but is now following in the footsteps of 47th District rival Casey County, which won two tourney games last year before losing to eventual champion Iroquois in the semifinals.

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Rockcastle rolls at Girls Sweet Sixteen

Rockcastle County has made getting to the Girls Sweet Sixteen in recent years but always had a hard time once it got there — until tonight.

In their sixth trip to the state tournament, including their third as 12th Region champion, the Lady Rockets finally won a first-round game for the first time and did so in convincing fashion, routing Murray 69-36 to extend their stay in Bowling Green. (Click these links for the box score and play-by-play.)

They opened the game with 17 straight points in the first 5:22, and that was it for Murray. Jackie Alexander had seven of those points, and she went on to lead Rockcastle with 20 points and eight rebounds. Sara Hammond did not score during the opening run, but she still had 17 points and 10 rebounds.

Rockcastle (28-4) led 40-15 at halftime and was up by as many as 37 points in the second half. The Lady Rockets outrebounded Murray 24-10 in the first half and 39-19 overall.

Thanks to first-round losses by Marion County and Bowling Green, Rockcastle is the highest-rated team remaining in the state tourney field according to The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings. It will play a quarterfinal game Friday night against George Rogers Clark (19-10), which defeated Ohio County 67-63 in double overtime.

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Upchurch, Story win girls regional awards

Jessica Upchurch and Don Story of Lincoln County have been voted the 12th Region player and coach of the year by the Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches.

Upchurch led Lincoln in scoring with about 12 points per game and also led her team in free throw percentage (about .670) and assists (about two per game). Her award comes with an automatic invitation to the Kentucky all-star tryouts next month.

Story led the Lady Patriots to a 24-5 record, their third consecutive 45th District championship and the finals of the 12th Region Tournament in what is apparently the last of five seasons at Lincoln. He has said that he plans to resign.

The two will receive their awards Friday at the Girls Sweet Sixteen, along with the other regional winners. Click here for the full list.

Upchurch and Jackie Alexander of Rockcastle County have been invited to represent the 12th Region in the KABC East-West all-star game Saturday in Bowling Green. The game is at 4:15 p.m. at Warren Central.

In addition, Danville coach Judie Mason will be inducted into the KABC Court of Honor on Friday. Mason, who also previously coached at Somerset and Boyle County, is this year’s honoree for the 11th and 12th regions.

The KABC’s boys players and coaches of the year and Court of Honor inductees will be announced early next week.

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Regional review, Tuesday 3/9

News and notes from day 4 of the boys 12th Region Tournament at Lincoln County:

  • West Jessamine defeated Mercer County 51-48 for the 12th Region championship.
  • West Jessamine (26-7) won its second consecutive regional title and the third for a Jessamine County school. The Colts play Muhlenberg County at noon March 18 in the first round of the Boys Sweet Sixteen. Muhlenberg (20-10) defeated Apollo 64-50 on Monday for the 3rd Region championship.
  • The Colts beat Mercer (22-10) for the third time in four meetings this season, but only after the Titans gave them all they could handle over the final 14 minutes or so. Mercer trailed by 11 points in the second quarter and by nine points at halftime and was still behind by nine early in the third quarter, but the Titans hit five 3-point goals in that period — including three by Kasey McRay — to cut the deficit to four.
  • Mercer pulled to within 47-46 on a 3-pointer by Matthew Honchel with 4:07 to play, then got four chances to take the lead over the next four minutes but couldn’t convert any of them. West Jessamine ended a four-minute scoring drought when Jarrod Polson’s 3-point play with 59 seconds left made it 50-46. The Titans got two chances to tie the game with 3-point attempts in the closing seconds, but both of those shots missed the mark.
  • Mercer was 5 for 14 from the field in the fourth quarter and shot 37 percent (19 for 51) overall and went 9 for 22 from 3-point range, while West Jessamine shot 45 percent (20 for 44) overall and was 6 for 11 from long distance. The Colts hit only four of eight free throws and were 1 for 5 in the fourth quarter, and the normally dependable Polson was just 1 for 4 at the line in the final period. The Titans were just 1 for 3 at the foul line.
  • Polson was named the tournament’s most valuable player after scoring 88 points in West Jessamine’s three tournament games. He led the Colts in the title game with 31 points, going 12 for 16 overall from the field and 4 for 4 from 3-point range. Dylan Pohl added seven points for the Colts, and Bradley Strait had seven rebounds. McRay led Mercer with 16 points, going 5 for 7 from 3-point range, and reserve Austin Sagraves added 14 points. Aaron Lee had a game-high 10 rebounds.
  • Mercer missed its opportunity to win the school’s second regional title but finished with its best record since the 1986-87 season, when it was also 22-10. Until this season, the Scotties/Titans hadn’t won more than 19 games in any season since ’87.
  • The boys all-tournament team: Jacob Bodner, Boyle County; Clay Cinnamon, Mercer County; Zach Eastham, Pulaski County; David Elliott, West Jessamine; Kyle Hopper, Wayne County; Kyle Jeffries, Casey County; Tyler Jenkins, Pulaski County; Cory Jones, Boyle County; Aaron Lee, Mercer County; Kasey McRay, Mercer County; Dylan Pohl, West Jessamine; Jarrod Polson, West Jessamine (most valuable player); Tevin Raines, Danville; Zack Roark, McCreary Central; Gus Sherrow, West Jessamine.
  • Once again, thanks to everyone who regularly visited this blog for 12th Region Tournament info over the last 10 days. I appreciate your interest, welcome your comments and hope you’ll check back often between now and this time next year for more news on Advocate-area high school teams.
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Regional review, Monday 3/8

News and notes from day 3 of the boys 12th Region Tournament at Pulaski County:

  • West Jessamine defeated Boyle County 60-52; Mercer County defeated Pulaski County 72-63. West Jessamine (25-7) will play Mercer (22-9) for the championship at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
  • It’s a rematch of the 46th District championship, this time with a trip to the Boys Sweet Sixteen on the line. West Jessamine will be trying to win its second straight regional title; Mercer is bidding for its first since 2000. (More on the matchup below.)
  • Mercer withstood the one good run Pulaski (13-18) had, then answered with one of its own to clinch its spot in the title game. The Titans led 50-42 midway through the third quarter before being outscored 15-6 over the next four minutes or so and seeing Pulaski take a 58-57 lead with 7:48 remaining. But Mercer then outscored the Maroons 11-1 over about five minutes to take a 67-58 lead with 2:34 to play, and it held Pulaski without a field goal for 6:11.
  • The Titans shot 48 percent from the field and hit six of 13 3-point attempts, but they were shaky at the free throw line, where they were 1 for 7 in the final 1:08 — after making their previous nine shots — and 15 for 25 overall.
  • Clay Cinnamon led another balanced Mercer attack with 17 points. Aaron Lee and Jake Mayes added 10 points each, followed by Kasey McRay and Jamel Taylor with nine each, Lyndon Compton with eight and Austin Sagraves with seven. Taylor had a team-high eight rebounds. Tyler Jenkins had 26 points and nine rebounds for Pulaski, and he totaled 87 points in his last three postseason games after Somerset held him to eight in a 47th District semifinal. Zach Eastham scored 22 points for the Maroons before being forced out by an ankle injury in the fourth quarter.
  • Boyle (19-9) had no answer for West Jessamine star Jarrod Polson, not that anyone in the 12th Region really does. Polson scored 40 points, including 20 of 22 in a run that allowed the Colts to turn an 11-3 deficit into a 25-18 lead. He was 10 for 13 from the field in the first half, when he scored 24 points, and scored all but two of his 16 second-half points at the foul line.
  • The Rebels never regained the lead after West Jessamine went in front in the second quarter, though they stayed close throughout the second half. The Colts shot 50 percent from the field but were just 2 for 7 in the second half, when they hit 20 of 28 free throws to seal their win. In the first half, West Jessamine was 14 for 25 and Boyle was 14 for 26 from the field.
  • Cory Jones led Boyle with 18 points, and Jacob Bodner added 15. Michael Arnett had 10 rebounds for the Rebels.
  • Both of tonight’s losing teams engineered impressive turnarounds before seeing their seasons end. Boyle nearly reversed its win-loss record of a year ago, which was 8-19. Pulaski began this season 0-5, was 2-10 on Jan. 1 and was 5-16 before winning eight of its last 10 games, with its only losses coming to West Jessamine late in the regular season and to Mercer.
  • West Jessamine has won two of three meetings with Mercer this season. Mercer won 68-64 at home on Jan. 4, West Jessamine won 88-74 at home on Jan. 22, and the Colts won 69-64 in overtime on Feb. 26 in the 46th District title game at East Jessamine. West Jessamine holds a 9-3 lead in the series since joining Mercer in the 46th in 2005, and the Colts have won the only two postseason meetings, a district semifinal in 2006 and the district final 12 days ago.
  • Mercer won its only other regional title in 2000 came by beating a district rival in the title game. The team then known as the Scotties defeated Harrodsburg 56-49 in the final at Wayne County after losing two of three games to the Pioneers earlier in the season, including the district final. That Mercer team coached by Stacey Hall took a 15-16 record to the Boys Sweet Sixteen, where the Scotties lost to Scott County 95-47 in the first round.
  • The Titans and Colts already know who they’ll play at the state tournament if they win Tuesday. Muhlenberg County (20-10) has earned a state berth in its first year of existence, capturing the 3rd Region championship with a 64-50 win over Apollo tonight. Muhlenberg will play the 12th Region champion at noon March 18 in the first round of the Boys Sweet Sixteen.
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Regional boys hoops hall adds 2009 class

Two former Danville coaches, the recently retired athletic director at Kentucky School for the Deaf and the longtime sports editor of the Advocate are in the newest class of the 12th Region Boys Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Former Danville coaches David “Stick” Cottrell and Rice Mountjoy will inducted Tuesday at halftime of the 12th Region Tournament championship at Pulaski County, along with former KSD athletic director (and occasional coach) Paul Smiley and Larry Vaught, who succeeded his father, the late Bill Vaught, as sports editor of the Advocate in 1996 and now joins him in this hall of fame.

Twenty-two men, two women and four state championship teams were selected for the fifth class of this hall of fame, which is open to those affiliated with 12th Region schools past and present. The four men mentioned above are the only ones are the only ones being honored for their contributions to Advocate-area schools, which is something of an imblance. (One other honoree has local ties: Duane Dunagan, who played at Monticello and now lives in Perryville and coaches tennis at Mercer County.)

Here’s the full list of honorees, with the schools they are affiliated with:

  • Players: Duane Dunagan, Monticello; Charles Elza, Hazel Green; Paul Elza, Hazel Green; Robert Jones, Pine Knot/McCreary Central; Kay Morris, Monticello; Jimmy John Owens, Wayne County; Dale Cain Phelps, Somerset; J.B. Phelps, London; Elam Stokes, Monticello.
  • Coaches: David “Stick” Cottrell, Danville; Oscar Fitzgerald, Burnside/Somerset; Rice Mountjoy, Danville; Ralph Roberts, McCreary County/McCreary Central; Harold Storm, Lily; Rodney Woods, Wayne County.
  • Contributors: Barry Daulton, Pulaski County; Rick Miles, Russell County; Charles Peck, Russell County; David and Kathy Ross, McCreary Central; Paul Smiley, Kentucky School for the Deaf; Montie and Roscoe Upchurch, Monticello; Larry Vaught, Danville/Boyle County.
  • Teams: 1940 Hazel Green Bullfrogs; 1982 Laurel County Cardinals; 1986 Pulaski County Maroons; 2005 South Laurel Cardinals.
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Regional review, Saturday 3/6

News and notes from Day 4 of the girls 12th Region Tournament at Lincoln County:

  • Rockcastle County defeated Lincoln County 48-40 for the 12th Region championship.
  • Rockcastle (27-4) won its sixth regional title, its fifth in seven years and its third in five seasons since joining the 12th Region. It has won all three of its 12th Region championships on Lincoln’s floor, in 2006, ’08 and ’10. The Lady Rockets play Murray on Thursday in the first round of the Girls Sweet Sixteen. Murray (30-4) defeated Calloway County 45-44 in overtime Saturday to win the 1st Region.
  • Rockcastle beat Lincoln (24-5) for the second time this season, but this game was much closer than the first — a 63-49 Rockcastle win on Dec. 4 at Lincoln — and much better than any girls game I’ve seen in at least a couple of years. The lead changed hands 10 times, the last when freshman Michaela Hunter sank a 3-point shot with 2:00 left to give the Lady Rockets a 41-39 edge. Angie Lawrence also played big in the closing minutes for the Lady Rockets, scoring nine of her 11 points in the last 3:03 and going 6 for 6 at the free throw line in the last 22 seconds.
  • Lincoln led 35-29 with 6:20 to play after its own star freshman, Emily Fox, buried a 3-pointer that capped a 7-0 run, but the Lady Patriots hit only one of eight shots from the field in the final four minutes, when they were outscored 15-3.
  • Both teams’ defenses shined as Rockcastle had four scoring droughts that lasted at least three minutes and Lincoln had two. The teams’ field goal percentages were nearly even, as Lincoln shot 35.6 percent (16 for 45) and Rockcastle shot 36.3 percent (16 for 44). Lincoln was 4 for 15 from 3-point range; Rockcastle was 3 for 8. Rockcastle was 14 for 18 at the foul line, including 8 for 11 in the fourth quarter, and Lincoln was 4 for 6. The turnover totals were low: six for Rockcastle, 10 for Lincoln, and the two teams combined for only 15 fouls until Lincoln was compelled to foul three times in the final seconds.
  • Sara Hammond led Rockcastle with 13 points and 12 rebounds, followed by Lawrence, Hunter and Jackie Alexander with 11 points each. Kendra Brown led Lincoln with 11 points and seven blocked shots, and Fox and Jessica Upchurch had eight points each Upchurch also had a team-high nine rebounds.
  • It was a bitter defeat for Lincoln in the final game and for five seniors whose goal was nothing short of a trip to the state tournament and for coach Don Story, who plans to resign after five seasons in which his teams went 110-40. And it underscores how very difficult it has become to win the 12th Region in recent years. The addition of Rockcastle, one of the most consistently successful programs in the state over the past decade, and the strength of Lincoln and Casey counties, which have become annual title contenders and are adding talented players to their varsity rosters year after year, give the 12th three teams at the top that can compete with anyone when they’re at their best. And the quality of the teams in the second tier — currently Southwestern, Monticello, Mercer County and Garrard County — make the region even deeper. It’s no consolation, but Lincoln could have won a good many of the 16 regions this season. The Lady Patriots was No. 5 in the final Litkenhous ratings published by The Courier-Journal and was rated higher than every team in 13 of the 16 regions.
  • I cannot let Story’s departure pass without saying what a tremendous loss it will be to Lincoln basketball. I first met Story when we attended the same church for a short time during our college years, and I knew him to be a good man from a good family long before he became a good coach. His success first at Lincoln’s middle school and then at the high school is exceptional in itself, but just as impressive is his success as a leader, the kind of coach you’d want your kids to play for. Story has worked to make this year’s group of Lincoln seniors and those who came before them who can help his players become better athletes and better people, and the respect he has earned and the way people speak of him in that community is quite a remarkable legacy, regional championship or not. Lincoln will get another coach, and probably a good one, but men like Story are hard to replace.
  • The girls all-tournament team: Jackie Alexander; Rockcastle County; Lacey Alley, Monticello; Kendra Brown, Lincoln County; Nikki Bustle, Lincoln County; Nicole Coffman, Casey County; Devin Conley, Garrard County; Danay Fothergill, Southwestern; Sara Hammond, Rockcastle County; Malesha Hughes, Monticello; Angie Lawrence, Rockcastle County; Liz Miller, East Jessamine; Abra Sickles, Mercer County; Jessica Upchurch, Lincoln County.
  • The boys 12th Region Tournament resumes Monday with the semifinals at Pulaski County, where defending champion West Jessamine (24-7) plays Boyle County (19-8) at 6 p.m. and Pulaski (13-17) plays Mercer County (21-9) at about 8 p.m. West Jessamine defeated Boyle 70-65 on Dec. 22 in its Jessamine Invitational, while Mercer beat Pulaski 77-65 on Dec. 15 at Pulaski.
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Regional review, Friday 3/5

News and notes from day 3 of the girls 12th Region Tournament at Lincoln County:

  • Lincoln County defeated Southwestern 63-49; Rockcastle County defeated Monticello 78-41. Lincoln (24-4) will play Rockcastle (26-4) for the championship at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
  • The anticipated title game matchup is here, as two teams that have been ranked among the top 10 to 15 teams in the state in every poll and power rating for much of the season will play for a spot in the Girls Sweet Sixteen. And given how well Rockcastle and Lincoln’s teams are supported by their respective fan bases, they might well before a capacity crowd. Arrive early. (More on the matchup below.)
  • Lincoln relied on 3-point shooting to come from behind after Southwestern (20-10) opened a 19-12 lead late in the first quarter, but turnovers and runouts fueled a third-quarter surge that allowed the Lady Patriots to pull away. They outscored Southwestern 15-4 in the second quarter to lead 30-23 at halftime, then opened a 49-32 lead in the third period, after which the Lady Warriors got no closer than 10 points. And after sinking six 3-pointers in the first half, they had only one in the second. Southwestern, a young team that has relied on the 3 for a surprisingly successful season, outscored Lincoln 27-21 from long distance.
  • Four players scored in double figures for Lincoln, led by Kendra Brown with 17 points. Nikki Bustle and Emily Fox had 14 each, and Jessica Upchurch added 12. Danay Fothergill had a game-high 28 points for Southwestern, and Emily Walker added nine.
  • The second semifinal was over almost as soon as it started, as Rockcastle opened the game with 19 unanswered points in about 4 1/2 minutes. Monticello (18-13) trailed 21-4 after one quarter and 41-14 at halftime, and the Lady Rockets continued to expand their lead in the second half. Rockcastle’s regulars were able to get plenty of rest in the second half, although they didn’t leave the game for good until about 3 1/2 minutes remained.
  • Sara Hammond led Rockcastle with 18 points, followed by Angie Lawrence with 13, Michaela Hunter with 12, Jackie Alexander with 11 and Kristin Abney with 10. Monticello got 11 points from Cortney Morrow, nine from Lacey Alley and eight from Malesha Hughes.
  • Saturday’s game will be the final home game for Don Story as Lincoln’s coach. He has already said that he plans to resign after the season.
  • Rockcastle won its regular-season meeting with Lincoln 63-49 on Dec. 4 in Stanford. Story said after that game that he was disappointed in his team’s performance. “We just got outworked. It was pretty much in every area,” Story said. The Lady Rockets led just 30-26 at halftime, but they outscored Lincoln 13-4 in the third quarter and led by as many as 20 points in the fourth quarter. The Lady Rockets shot 45 percent from the field and outrebounded Lincoln 36-24. The Lady Patriots shot 32 percent from the field and were 8 for 24 from 3-point range.
  • Alexander led Rockcastle with 26 points, 15 of them in the second half, while Hammond had 19 points and 18 rebounnds, including 12 second-half boards. Lincoln got 14 points from Bustle and 11 from Upchurch, but Brown went scoreless and attempted only two shots. Here’s the full box score:

Dec. 4 at Stanford
Rockcastle County    18    30    44    63
Lincoln County    14    26    29    47
ROCKCASTLE (2-0) — Sara Hammond 19, Jackie Alexander 26, Kristen Abney 2, Shanlee Burton 4, Angie Lawrence 10, Ella McQueary 2.
LINCOLN (2-1) — Jessica Upchurch 11, Emily Fox 8, Shelby Smith 7, Nikki Bustle 14, Ciara Saylor 1, Korey Coleman 6.

  • In my game story, I wrote that Story said the only good news for Lincoln was that the game was in December rather than March. “We’re going to try to fix some things and be determined, and I think this group will,” he said. “And we may see them again.”
  • Lincoln knocked out Rockcastle in last year’s regional with a 50-49 win in a semifinal at Pulaski County, only to lose the title game to Casey County. The teams have split eight meetings since Rockcastle was moved to the 12th Region before the 2005-06 season, but the Lady Rockets have won two of the three postseason games. They defeated the Lady Patriots 52-40 in the 2006 regional championship game at Lincoln, and they beat Lincoln 67-55 in the first round of the 2007 regional at Pulaski County.
  • Rockcastle has won five regional titles, including four in the last six years and two in its four full seasons in the 12th Region. Those two championships came in 2006 and 2008, the last two times the tournament has been played at Lincoln. Lincoln’s only regional title came in 2001, when John Kolasa’s Lady Patriots defeated Boyle County in the championship game at Russell County.
  • The Lincoln-Rockcastle winner will play the 1st Region champion at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the first round of the Girls Sweet Sixteen at Bowling Green. Crosstown rivals Murray (29-4) and Calloway County (21-10) will play for the 1st Region title Saturday night at Murray State University. Those two teams split their two regular-season meetings, with each winning at home by four points, and Murray beat Calloway 61-54 last week in the 4th District final at Calloway.
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Regional review, Thursday 3/4

News and notes from day 2 of the boys 12th Region Tournament at Pulaski County:

  • Pulaski County defeated Danville 67-58; Mercer County defeated McCreary Central 62-52. Pulaski (13-17) plays Mercer (21-9) in Monday’s 8 p.m. semifinal.
  • It didn’t matter that Mercer’s players had no regional experience, nor that McCreary (24-7) was the winningest team in the region and one of the co-favorites in the tournament. It only mattered that the Titans outplayed McCreary on both ends of the floor to send the Raiders packing without the regional title their fans wanted so badly. Mercer is the only 12th Region team that had beaten McCreary this season, and the Titans repeated that feat in a much more difficult setting tonight. The Raiders had an edge in tournament experience — Mercer hadn’t been to the regional since 2005, more than a year before its merger with Harrodsburg — and virtual home-court advantage, as scores of schoolchildren were bused to the game to help McCreary fans vastly outnumber the Mercer supporters. But the Titans had the better night, executing their offense with precision and keeping McCreary’s shooters from burning them from the perimeter and its rebounders from burning them for second-chance baskets.
  • Mercer led for most of the game, taking a 12-4 lead in the first six minutes, withstanding one run early in the second quarter and another late in the third, then taking the lead for good at 37-36 on a 3-point goal by Clay Cinnamon in the first minute of the fourth quarter. McCreary was still within two points when the Titans scored three times in 43 seconds to take a 50-42 lead. The last two of the three buckets in that span came when Mercer’s Kasey McRay stole the ball from McCreary star Aaron Watts and drove for a layup, then did it again on the next play to effectively break the Raiders’ backs.
  • Mercer hit only 10 of 18 free throws in the final three minutes, but McCreary couldn’t hit the shots it needed to close the gap. The Raiders shot 36 percent from the field and hit 15 of 18 free throws, but they were just 1 for 18 from 3-point range overall and 1 for 9 in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, the Titans were 7 for 15 from long distance.
  • Cinnamon led Mercer with 20 points, followed by Jamel Taylor with 15 and Aaron Lee with 10. Lee also had 11 rebounds. Watts had 18 points in the final game of his outstanding five-year career at McCreary; Zack Roark, another of the team’s six seniors, added 17 points.
  • This was Mercer’s first regional tournament win since 2003, when it eked out a two-point win over Lincoln County in the first round before losing a close game in the semifinals to eventual champion South Laurel.
  • Danville (12-16) ran neck-and-neck with Pulaski for most of the battle between two of the three teams in the tournament with losing records. The game was tied at 47-all before the Maroons scored seven unanswered points over about two minutes, taking a 54-47 lead with 3:50 to play on a layup by Kody Johnson. Danville drew within 56-53 about 90 seconds later on a 3-pointer by Jacody Taylor, but it got no closer.
  • The Admirals had no way to stop Pulaski’s leading scorer, Tyler Jenkins, who made hay inside just as he did last week in the 47th District final against Casey County. Jenkins, one of only two seniors on the team, had 33 points against Casey, and he got 28 against Danville. Meanwhile, Taylor, Danville’s leading scorer at almost 18 points per game, scored only once on that late 3-pointer, finishing 1 for 13 from the field.
  • Johnson, one of three freshman starters, scored 24 points for Pulaski. Taylor Gover, another freshman and the nephew of coach Al Gover, added 11. Tevin Raines came off the bench to lead Danville with 24 points, and reserve Tryston Ford had nine.
  • The boys regional is on hold until Monday, but play resumes tonight in the girls tournament at Lincoln County. The home crowd will arrive early as Lincoln (23-4) plays Southwestern (20-9) at 6 p.m., followed by Rockcastle County (25-4) vs. Monticello (18-12) at 7:45 p.m. Lincoln beat Southwestern 59-44 at home on Jan. 23; Rockcastle and Monticello have not played since Rockcastle was moved to the 12th Region in 2006.
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