By DOUG EADS, CJ Correspondent
With a 14-8 record heading into the week, the Somerset Briar Jumpers had been one of the top feel-good stories in the 12th Region this season.
However, first-year head coach Jeff Cothron had lamented on more than one occasion this year that his team had not been able to get over the 'proverbial hump' against big-time competition, still longing for that elusive victory over a regional contender.
However, thanks to Tuesday night's late-fourth quarter comeback, the Jumpers finally can lay claim to the fact they do indeed belong in the conversation as a regional contender.
Hosting the 19-4 Wayne County Cardinals on Tuesday night, the Briar Jumpers saw a 16-point second half lead evaporate into a five-point deficit late, however Cothron's club had enough reserve in the tank to come back from the dead to post a 62-59 victory over the Cards, in a game that turned out to be an absolute thriller.
Early on, this game looked to be a no contest, as the Jumpers played arguably their best half of basketball of the season in the first half on Tuesday night against Wayne County.
Somerset made 16 field goals in the opening half of play - all two-point baskets - was a perfect seven for seven from the free throw line, and was guilty of only four turnovers.
Thanks to an almost flawless 16 minutes of play, Cothron and company rolled into the intermission with a very comfortable, 39-24 lead over the Cards.
So coach, was that the most efficient half of basketball your club has played so far this season?
Cothron indicated the answer to that question was a resounding 'yes'.
"We were really solid in the first half all the way around," stated a very happy Somerset coach, after his club improved to 15-8 on the year with the win.
"Defensively, we kind of had them stymied in the first half with what they were trying to do, and then offensively, we executed in the half-court with pin-point precision," pointed out Cothron. "In the Southwestern game last week, I thought our kids played tentative at the offensive end. Tonight, they came out and were much, much more aggressive in the half-court, especially in the first half."
Coming into Tuesday's game, Somerset was a combined 0-5 against three of the top four teams in the 12th Region this season.
And, the Jumpers were coming into the game riding a three-game losing slide, thanks to losses to three state-ranked teams - Newport Central Catholic in the All A, while dropping arch-rival games to Pulaski County and Southwestern.
Somerset was 0-3 against the Warriors, and 0-1 against both PC and West Jessamine this season - three of the top four teams in the 12th Region.
The other solid contender in the mix - Wayne County - would turn out to be that 'hump' that Somerset was able to get over on Tuesday night at The Briar Patch.
Ryan Dishman scored half of his team-high 24 points in the opening half of play, while Tyson Williams tallied 10 of his 12 points in the opening frame, helping Somerset lead from the opening tap.
An old-fashioned three-point play from Ryan Weddle gave the Jumpers their biggest lead of the first half with 2:15 remaining - 35-20 - a 15-point advantage Somerset took into the intermission, leading the Cards 39-24.
Early in the third quarter, the Jumpers stretched that lead out to 16 points, but then Rodney Woods' club made the run that almost everyone knew was coming, including Cothron.
"Wayne County is obviously a good team with a very good coach, and they're not going to just lay down, and we knew that," stated the Jumpers head coach.
"I thought they really picked up their defensive intensity in the second half, and pressured us a little bit better," Cothron added. "We had a little harder time in the second half getting the ball where we wanted it."
Not only at the defensive end, but coach Woods' club picked things up at the offensive end of the floor as well, as guards Trey Blevins and Peyton Woods put on a clinic behind the three-point arc.
Blevins - who scored a game-high 26 points in leading Wayne County - hit a total of six treys for the game - three in each half.
Peyton Woods meanwhile also got in on the act for the Cardinals, draining four of his five three-pointers in the second half of play.
Peyton Woods hit a pair of treys early in the fourth quarter to trim the deficit to 49-44, and moments later, a pair of baskets by Blevins - a two-pointer and a three - had knotted things up for the first time of the contest at 49-49.
A third Woods three-pointer in the fourth period gave Wayne County its first lead of the night at 52-49, while a pair of free throws from Blevins gave the Cards a 54-49 advantage.
Seeing a 16-point third quarter lead turn into a five-point deficit late in the game, there would be no quit in the Jumpers, trying to get over that 'hump' on this particular evening.
A Ryan Dishman trey - Somerset's first of the evening - cut the Wayne County lead to 54-52, and Cam Cheuvront followed that big-time shot with one of his own - a three-pointer that pushed Somerset back out in front for good at 55-54.
"This was a much-needed win for our guys, but more importantly, the fact that we got over that hump with this win against a good team was just as important," Cothron stated.
"When things went bad tonight for us, we didn't fold up," added the SHS coach.
A basket by Williams extended Somerset's lead to 57-54 late, capping off a modest, 8-0 spurt at crunch time by the Jumpers.
However, Wayne County would not go away quietly.
Another trey from Blevins tied the game at 57-57, before the two teams exchanged a pair of free throws.
After two free throws from Blevins knotted things up for the final time at 59-59 with :37 left in the game, the Jumpers held the ball for the final shot.
That final shot was a strong drive to the basket by Ryan Dishman, who scored and was fouled on the play with :05 remaining.
Dishman's free throw completed the old-fashioned three-point play, forcing Wayne County to call a timeout.
Coming out of that timeout, the Cards got the ball down the floor and Kyle Gehring got a great look from downtown, and his three-point attempt went half way down the basket, before coming out, giving the Jumpers a much-needed win in an instant classic.
"That was a huge win just for our confidence alone - just to be in that situation and to continue to keep fighting," noted Cothron, in talking about his club's comeback after blowing the 16-point lead.
"We've been talking with our kids about how to keep fighting back and continue to be aggressive, and they hung in there tonight," said Cothron. "That was a big shot that Cam (Cheuvront) hit, that was a big three that (Ryan) Dishman hit, and then we hit our free throws down the stretch."
Somerset will now have a few days off, before one of the biggest games of the season for Cothron's club early next week.
Somerset will host arch-rival Pulaski County next Tuesday night, with first place in the 47th District up for grabs.
With a perfect 5-0 record in the district play this year, including a win over Somerset, the Maroons can nail down the 47th District's number one seed by sweeping the Jumpers next week at The Briar Patch.
However, if Somerset were to win next Tuesday night's game with Pulaski, then both teams would end district play with identical 5-1 records, which would force a coin-flip to determine the 47th District's number one seed.
The PC-Somerset game is scheduled to tip off next Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
WC - 12 12 14 21 - 59
SHS - 20 19 8 15 - 62
WAYNE CO. - Blevins 26, P. Woods 19, Shelton 5, Stearns 5, Perkins 4.
SOMERSET - R. Dishman 24, Cheuvront 13, Williams 12, Weddle 9, Gordon 4.