By MICHAEL CHILDERS, CJ Correspondent
Prior to last night’s Boys 48th District Tournament championship game, Wayne County came into the match-up having won both regular season meetings against Southwestern.
But as everyone knows, the regular season doesn’t mean that much in the scheme of things. It’s all about the postseason.
The Southwestern Warriors proved that the two regular season losses to Wayne County meant nothing, as they came away with a hard-fought, 69-65 victory last night at Monticello High School.
With the four-point victory over the Cardinals of Wayne County, Southwestern earned their third consecutive district championship. All three of those district titles have come against Rodney Woods’ Cardinal team.
Steve Wright, who is in his second year as the Warrior head coach, was more than happy to see his ball club come away with a win over the Cardinals, who came into last night’s game with a region-best record of 24-6.
“This is a good win, because Wayne County is a good team obviously,” began Wright. “Look at the teams in the region that they beat - West Jessamine, Pulaski County, us, and I’m sure there are some other ones. Our kids stepped up tonight, and that was a great thing to see.”
Southwestern ran out to a double-digit lead over the Cardinals early, leading by as much at 15 points at one point in the second quarter. Wayne County would shrink the lead all the way down to a lone point, but the Warriors would hold the lead to come away with their sixth district title in school history.
The Warriors got into foul trouble in the second frame, forcing Wright to take several players out of the game to save them for the second half of action. With those key players out of the game, the Cardinals outscored Southwestern in the second quarter by a margin of 15-12.
Despite Wayne County making a big charge in the second quarter due to the Warriors’ foul trouble, Southwestern went into the locker room with a 32-24 lead at the intermission.
“We played really well early and got a good lead, then we got into some foul trouble,” told Wright. “We had four guys on the bench because we had to save them.”
To begin the fourth quarter, Southwestern held a five-point, 50-45 lead over Wayne County. The Warriors would then run out to a nine-point advantage, but the Cardinals would not go away.
Leading 61-52 with 3:22 left in the contest, Wright and company looked to be well on their way to their third district banner in as many years. Wayne County thought different, as the roared back with seven consecutive points to lessen the Warrior lead to two points at 61-59.
Wayne County’s Peyton Woods hit a jump-shot to begin the 7-0 run with 3:17 left in the contest. Senior Kyle Gehring came off the bench and hit a trey from the corner, forcing Wright to take a timeout. A lay-up from Dagan Shelton cut the Southwestern lead to two points with 2:24 remaining.
After Warrior junior Justin Edwards knocked down a pair of free-throws to put Southwestern ahead by four points, with 1:50 left on the clock, Woods and the Cardinals took advantage of an old-fashioned three-point play to get within one point of the Warriors at 63-62.
Sophomore Dylan Gaskin got a lay-up with 1:07 remaining to put the Warriors ahead, 65-62. Edwards and Gehring would each go one-for-two from the free-throw line to make the score, 66-63.
With 25 ticks left on the scoreboard clock, Shelton tallied a lay-up to cut the Southwestern lead to a lone point at 66-65. Junior David Kapinga, with 18 seconds remaining, hit a pair of free-throws to give the ‘Blue and Orange’ a three-point, 68-65 advantage.
Southwestern took advantage of a Wayne County turnover, as Kapinga went one-of-two from the charity stripe to give Southwestern a 69-65 lead, which would be the final tally in this one.
It was a big victory for the Wright and Warriors, because it has shown that they have made big strides along the way.
“We’ve been working all-year long to get better,” stated the veteran basketball coach. “Like every team, we’ve been trying to play to our strengths and improve our weaknesses - and we’ve done that. This is the time of year when you want your team to be playing its best.”
Kapinga paved the way for the Warriors, as the junior poured in a game-high 27 points. Edwards joined Kapinga in double figures, finishing with 18 points and a team-high eight rebounds.
Sophomore Isaiah Collier scored eight points, while Gaskin and senior Justin Schulz tallied six points each. Adam Isaacs, also a sophomore, chimed in with four points.
Four players were named the Boys 48th District Tournament All-Tournament Team: Kapinga, Edwards, Schulz, and Collier.
“I thought Justin Schulz played big tonight as a senior,” Wright praised. “I thought Javonte Groves gave us some good minutes. Adam Isaacs has been doing an excellent job for us, both offensively and defensively. It was a good team win.”
Woods led the charge for Wayne County, as he tallied 25 points in the loss to Southwestern. Corey Stearns finished with 16 points and Shelton hit double figures with ten points.
Both Southwestern and Wayne County will advance to next week’s Boys 12th Region Tournament, which will get underway Monday evening at Lincoln County High School.
The match-ups for the regional tournament will be revealed today at the annual regional draw. Look for details of this morning’s draw in Sunday’s Commonwealth Journal sports section.
SW - 20 12 21 20 - 69
WC - 9 15 18 19 - 65
SOUTHWESTERN (22-8): Kapinga 27, Edwards 18, Collier 8, Schulz 6, Gaskin 6, Isaacs 4.
WAYNE COUNTY (24-7): Woods 25, Stearns 16, Shelton 10, Perkins 7, Gehring 4, Blevins 3.