With a 30-1 record on the season coming into Tuesday night’s championship game of the Boy’s 12th Regional Tournament at Pulaski County High School, defending regional champion Wayne County hadn’t lost to a regional foe all season long.
The Cardinals only blemish on the year was an eight-point defeat at highly-touted Montgomery County.
After the dust had settled in last night’s title game against Southwestern, the Cards were still perfect inside the 12th Region, much to the chagrin of the orange and blue nation.
Wayne County used a 14-0 spurt in the first quarter to take charge of the contest, and then fought off a furious second half comeback by the Warriors.
Trey Blevins and Corey Stearns each made a pair of free throws in the final 30 seconds of the contest, and that would be just enough to send the Cards to Rupp Arena next week as 12th Regional champion, thanks to a hard-fought 78-74 victory over the Warriors.
For Southwestern, the loss was extremely difficult due to the fact that Steve Wright’s club displayed the heart of a champion in defeat last night.
Dylan Gaskin poured in a game-high 26 points and 11 boards, while senior Justin Edwards tallied 21 points in the final game of an outstanding prep career.
The loss ended the Warriors season at 25-6 on the year — with four of those losses coming at the hands of Wayne County.
“In the three years that I’ve been here, we’ve try to instill into our kids that the game is never over,” stated coach Wright after the contest.
“You continue to fight and you compete for each other and play as a team, and to our credit we sure did that tonight,” remarked Wright. “Where we started in September and where we ended tonight — I’m awfully proud of our kids.”
Southwestern raced out to a quick 6-2 lead last night, but Wayne County would then take control of things by going on a 14-0 spurt.
And that rally came courtesy of the three-ball.
For the game, the Cards nailed 12 three-point baskets compared to just one for the Warriors — a 36-3 bulge.
In the opening quarter alone, Trey Blevins and Peyton Woods each knocked down two three-point baskets each, helping the Cards race out to a 24-14 advantage through one quarter of play.
With his club knocked back on its heels somewhat thanks to that torrid Wayne County shooting from long range, Wright’s club would have to fight its way uphill for the remainder of the game.
And, the Warriors did just that.
Trailing Wayne County by a double digit margin at the half — 39-28 — Southwestern didn’t really make its move until the fourth quarter.
Down 58-48 headed into the final stanza, Wright’s club made a game of this one, fighting right down to the final horn.
“Tonight, we got behind early and we didn’t play well early,” lamented Wright.
“I thought they (Wayne County) put us on our heels a little bit, because they made so many shots early,” added the Warrior coach. “People that have never played don’t understand that kind of thing does have an effect on you. You tend to back up just a little, and I thought we did that, but we then regrouped.”
It was Wayne County that needed to regroup coming down the stretch, as the Warriors were not going to go down without a fight.
Southwestern made a furious charge at the Cards in the fourth quarter of play, but almost every punch the Warriors threw and landed, Wayne County had the counter-punch.
Southwestern had trimmed the lead down to just five points — 66-61 — but Woods would drain his fifth trey of the evening on the next trip down the floor, extending the advantage back out to eight points at 69-61.
Later in the stanza, a putback by Gaskin brought the Warriors to within four points, 73-69, and then Southwestern got the turnover it needed.
On the next offensive set, Danny Butt was fouled and made one of two from the charity stripe to pull the deficit to 73-70, but Stearns and Blevins would make free throws down the stretch to give Wayne County its second consecutive 12th Regional championship.
“The crazy part about this game is, the next to last possession of the game I thought we got a five-second call down there — I know we did — but we didn’t get it,” said Wright. “If we get the ball right there, it’s a three-point game and who knows what happens.”
“When you’re playing a good team, you have to play better early than we did tonight,” continued the Southwestern coach. “You have got to get control of the game early. I thought that was crucial for us, and we didn’t do it. And, to their credit, Wayne County hit some tough shots early on to get the lead out on us.”
With the win, Wayne County advances to next week’s Boy’s Sweet 16 Tournament which gets underway at Rupp Arena next Wednesday.
The Cardinals however will not play until Noon on Thursday, as Wayne County will play the first game of the second day of the tourney, facing the McCracken County Mustangs, who won the 1st Regional Tournament last night with a 43-41 overtime win over Marshall County.
Meanwhile, members of the 12th Regional All-Tournament Team were as follows: Riley Hall from Pulaski County, Hayden Smith from East Jessamine, West Jessamine’s Daulton Peters, Casey County’s Jordan Brown, Jacob Conway and Timmy Taylor of Lincoln County, Hagan Tyler and Josiah Robbins from Boyle County, Southwestern’s Justin Edwards, Dylan Gaskin, and Adam Isaacs, and rounding out the squad were Jason Perkins, Trey Blevins, Peyton Woods, and Corey Stearns all from Wayne County.
WC — 2415 19 20 — 78
SW — 14 14 20 26 — 74
Wayne Co. — Blevins 22, Woods 22, Stearns 17, Perkins 14, Gardner 3.
Southwestern — Gaskin 26, Edwards 21, Isaacs 11, Butt 10, Fitzgerald 4, Cromer 2.