BY DOUG EADS, CJ Correspondent Commonwealth Journal
If nothing else, the Pulaski County Maroons have proven they are one of the top teams in the 5th Region too.
Al Gover’s club — the number one ranked team in the 12th Region according to most preseason rankings — made it two for two against 5th Regional foes with an impressive victory in the semi finals of the first annual Lake Cumberland Holiday Hoops Classic.
One night after dismantling Taylor County 81-62, Pulaski County hosted the North Hardin Trojans on Saturday night in one semi final game, and took the Trojans best shot — just ask Kody Johnson.
Johnson was limited in this affair due to suffering a busted chin early on that required stitches, but it hardly mattered for the Maroons.
Taylor Gover scored 14 of his 15 points in the opening half of play, while Tyler Goins poured in a game-high 19 points and pulled down 10 boards, helping Pulaski County advance to the championship game of the tournament with an impressive, 63-53 victory over North Hardin.
“Tyler Goins stepped up tonight big time,” pointed out a very happy Al Gover after the game. “We got him the ball and he went out there and made plays. He’s been doing that for most of the year — he’s just playing really well.”
“Blake Burton played some great defense tonight and scored nine points — Spencer Laign just battled his tail off in there on the inside against their bigs,” continued the PC coach. “Mason Helton came in there and really battled, and Riley Hall hit some very big free throws at crunch time. Sean Ross gave us some good minutes as well. I feel really good about our bench this year.”
And, the way things unfolded in this one, Pulaski County needed a lift from its bench and got just that.
Early on however, it was the Taylor Gover and Kody Johnson show.
After falling behind North Hardin very early 6-2 — the Trojans biggest lead of the night — PC went on a nice run, headed by Gover and Johnson.
Gover drained four three-point baskets in the first half of play, scoring 14 of his 15 points in the opening half.
Johnson meanwhile was on his way to a big night as well with nine early points, but he was forced out of the contest at the midway point of the second stanza with a busted chin, and did not return until late in the third period.
A trey from Gover gave the Maroons their biggest lead of the night late in the first half at 26-12, but the Trojans would claw their way back into this one.
North Hardin’s go-to guy — Ruben Gosa — held to just two points at the intermission — hit his club’s only three-point buckets in the second half of play when Ron Beavers’ club tried to get back in this one.
“Their two bigs — Khalil Rasheed and Tyler Landry — were tough on the inside and then Gosa started making some shots in the second half from long range,” stated Gover.
“That was a great challenge for us, and this was a fun game to play in, in the sense that you get to check to see how you measure up against good competition,” Gover remarked. “You get better from games like this and you learn from them.”
Trailing PC 30-18 at the half, North Hardin scored 24 points in the third quarter alone trimming the deficit to just four points — 46-42 — at the end of three quarters of play.
However, Tyler Goins, Blake Burton, and guys off the Pulaski bench would withstand that flurry.
A Gosa trey to begin the fourth period cut the PC lead to 48-45, but Laign countered that score with his only bucket of the night to ease the Maroons’ advantage back up to five points at 50-45.
Goins meanwhile scored 16 of his game-high 19 points in the second half to help pick up the slack of Gover and Johnson.
Gover went ice cold in the second half, hitting but one free throw, while Johnson didn’t return to the game until only 1:28 was left in the third quarter.
However, the PC senior immediately made an impact upon his return to the game.
A Johson trey late in the third stanza gave PC a six-point lead, but North Hardin would respond yet again.
With just over two minutes left in the game and PC clinging to a 54-51 lead, the Maroons — as has been the case for much of the year — got the job done at the defensive end of the floor at crunch time.
PC got stops on five of the next six North Hardin possessions, and with guys like Goins, Hall, and Gover hitting some clutch free throws down the stretch, the Maroons were able to methodically build the lead back up to the final margin of 63-53.
“We played really well defensively tonight,” pointed out Gover.
“You know we had some things going on in this one with Kody going out of the game early in the first half, and then he didn’t get to play much at all in the second half,” added the PC coach. “Then, you think that Taylor only gets one point in the second half and Kody’s not in there that our chances would not be good. But, our other guys stepped up and made the plays for us, just like they have done all year long.”
Pulaski County — with the win over the Trojans — improved to 8-3 on the season and advanced to the championship game of the tournament, where the Maroons met up against arch-rival Southwestern.
NH — 12 6 24 11 — 53
PC — 20 10 16 17 — 63
NORTH HARDIN — King 15, Gosa 13, Rasheed 11, Landry 10, Sterusky 4.
PULASKI CO. — Goins 19, Gover 15, Johnson 13, Burton 9, Hall 5, Laign 2.