Just happy to be there — no, really

If you were looking for an ideal illustration of a team that’s “happy to be there” at the Boys Sweet Sixteen, the West Jessamine Colts fit the bill perfectly.

No, they weren’t one of those teams that took a first-round beating and got back on the bus, which is the type of team you usually associate with that phrase. And they would have been even happier to have had a chance to play for the state championship Saturday night. But when their season ended with a 52-48 semifinal loss to Central on Saturday morning, there was a prevailing feeling that they enjoyed almost every minute of their three-game run in Rupp Arena.

“I think we left a legacy, and it just feels good being part of that team,” senior Jonathan Rehner said.

The part they didn’t enjoy, of course, would have been the last couple of minutes of their loss, when they finally gave way after battling tooth and nail against a team almost no one thought they could keep up with.

“We didn’t match up with them at any position,” coach Robert Hammond said. “They were faster than us, they were bigger than us, they beat us on the boards. To be honest, I don’t think we should’ve been in the game, but we were. We didn’t match up well, but I thought the kids gave me all they had.”

The game was tied at 46-all with 3:29 remaining, but 3:24 of that time was used up before West Jessamine scored again. And the Colts found themselves in a bad way in the final seconds when they needed to foul to stop the clock and put Central on the line, but they had three fouls to give before Central got into the bonus and only five seconds to give them.

Jarrod Polson scored 23 points to lead West Jessamine, one of only three 12th Region teams in the last 20 years to win even a single game at the boys state tourney. Dylan Pohl had six rebounds, but the Colts were beaten 30-19 on the boards.

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Hammonds and his players made two or three references during their postgame press conferences this week to the fact that West Jessamine was ranked ninth in the 12th Region in the preseason, which illustrates just how much of a crapshoot — and how wrong — preseason rankings can be.

I had the Colts eighth in a regional preview I wrote for The Cats’ Pause Basketball Yearbook, behind 46th District rivals East Jessamine and Mercer County, and they were seventh in the Bluegrasspreps.com preview.

What about next season, when West Jessamine returns three starters who won two games at Rupp Arena? It would be awfully hard to pick against the Colts after what they’ve done this month, but serious consideration will also have to be given to McCreary Central, which returns three starters to a team that lost by three points in the regional final.

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Those of us who like to talk basketball spent a lot of time this winter discussing just how bad the 12th Region was compared to the rest of the state, then spent this week watching West Jessamine shoot that argument full of holes.

The top teams in only one of the state’s other 15 regions (the 1st) were consistently rated below those in the 12th this season, yet far stronger regions (were 4th, 7th and 10th, for example) didn’t get their teams as far in the state tournament as did the 12th.

Did West Jessamine benefit from a good draw? You bet. But so did Hazard, the team the Colts beat in the first round, and Adair County and Grayson County, the others in their quarter of the bracket. And none of them could do what West Jessamine did.

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Finally, a useless but interesting nugget from Burgin coach Don Irvine, who said West Jessamine became the ninth team to reach the Sweet Sixteen after knocking one of his teams out in the first round of a district tournament, and the fourth of those teams to reach the state semifinals.

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