By MICHAEL CHILDERS, CJ Correspondent
Pulaski County maybe a senior-laden squad, but it was a pair of youngsters that stepped up in last night’s cross-town match-up with Southwestern.
Thanks to the play from the pair of freshman Riley Hall and sophomore Blake Burton, the Maroons were able to escape with a 71-66 victory over the homestanding Warriors last night at the Wigwam. The victory allowed the Maroons to move to 20-5 on the year, and earn their ninth consecutive win against Southwestern.
Hall came off the bench to score 15 points, while Burton finished the contest with 10 points. Along with scoring in double figures, the underclassmen did the little things that allowed Al Gover and company to pick up a hard fought, five-point win over Southwestern.
“They stepped up big,” said Gover, of the play of Hall and Burton. “We had some guys shoot the ball really well. We weren’t making shots and we weren’t making free-throws - we missed 17 free throws for the game. I told the team after the game, ‘Thank you sophomores for showing the seniors how it’s done.’ Those two stepped up big for us.”
Southwestern delivered the first punch in this classic game, as the Warriors ran out to an 26-18 first quarter lead over the Maroons. Both teams traded baskets early on, but the ‘Blue and Orange’ took the lead at 7-6, and used a 9-0 run to jump out ahead of the Maroons.
The Warriors would continue to roll over the Maroons in the second frame, as they would lead by as much as 16 points. With just over three minutes left to play in the opening half, junior David Kapinga converted on a three-point play to give Southwestern a 41-25 lead.
With 2:45 left until the intermission, a put-back senior Kody Johnson gave the Maroons their first basket since the 5:16 mark of the frame, when Burton got a lay-up. Johnson’s score would kick-off a 10-0 run for the Maroons, allowing them to cut the Warrior lead to seven points at 41-35.
“Southwestern came out early and played extremely well,” told the Maroon hoops coach. “We took a shot, because they knocked us around that first quarter pretty bad. Our kids kept focus and persevered, and continued to battle. That’s all you can ask from the guys.”
After Kapinga hit three free-throws to end the second quarter, the Warriors went into the locker room with a nine-point, 44-35 advantage. In the quarter, Southwestern, despite committing five turnovers, outscored Pulaski by a lone point at 18-17.
One big reason the score was lopsided was the Maroons’ failure to convert at the charity stripe. In the first half of action, Pulaski missed 12 free-throws. The Maroons finished the contest going 17-of-34 from the free-throw line.
The third and fourth quarters would be totally different, as the boys in maroon and white came to play. In fact, the Maroons outscored Southwestern, 36-22, in the second half.
“At times, we played pretty well tonight,” stated Warrior coach Steve Wright. “Then at other times, we didn’t play so well. We didn’t rebound the ball well in the first half. We didn’t finish the last two minutes of the half. We didn’t start the second half very well, so we had some good minutes and some bad minutes.”
Pulaski forced Wright to take an early timeout in the third period, as Burton and the Maroons scored five consecutive points to lessen the Southwestern lead to four points at 44-40. After both teams traded baskets a few times, Southwestern’s Isaiah Collier hit two big three’s to put the Warriors ahead by seven points at 51-44.
After Collier knocked down a pair of treys, the Maroons answered with two huge three-pointers of their own, as senior Taylor Gover and Hall each made a shot from behind the three-point arc to cut the Warrior lead to 54-50 with 57 seconds remaining.
Gover hit two free-throws to end the third frame, meaning the Warriors would head into the fourth quarter with a 54-52 lead over Pulaski. In the third period, the Maroons outscored the Warriors, 17-10.
Johnson opened the fourth period with a three-pointer, allowing the Maroons to take their first lead of the game since the 5:45 mark in the first quarter. Collier got two free-throws shortly after, putting Southwestern back out front by a lone point at 56-55.
Hall hit another trey with 7:07 left in the game to give the Maroons a 58-56 lead. Shortly after a lay-up from Gover, the Warriors were hit with a technical foul. Gover would hit both free-throws, putting the Maroons on a 9-2 scoring spurt, along with a 62-56 lead with 5:50 remaining in the contest.
Shortly after scoring a lay-up to cut the Pulaski lead to 64-62, Kapinga fouled out with 2:32 left, meaning the Warriors would have to play without their floor general. Following Kapinga’s basket, Johnson converted on a spinning lay-up to give the Maroons a four-point lead with 1:45 on the scoreboard.
Warrior sophomore Dylan Gaskin got a basket to cut it two, but Burton went 1-of-2 from the charity to stripe to expand the lead to three points at 67-64 with 42 seconds remaining.
With 17 seconds remaining, Pulaski missed two free-throws, giving Southwestern a chance to tie the game up. Southwestern’s Justin Edwards was quickly fouled by the Maroons. Edwards would make both shots to lessen the Maroon lead to a lone point at 67-66 with nine seconds left.
Hall, once again, came up big for the Maroons, knocking down a pair of free-throws with eight seconds left on the clock to give Pulaski a 69-66 lead. On the following possession, the Warriors would throw the ball away, allowing the Maroons to score a lay-up for their 71st and final point of the evening.
For the victorious Maroons, Gover led the way with a club-high 20 points. Johnson wasn’t far behind, as he finished with 18 points and six rebounds. Hall (15 points) and Burton (10 points) joined the senior duo in double figures.
Kapinga led all scorers with a contest-high 22 points. The junior had a big second quarter, as he tallied 13 of his 22 points in that frame.
Two other Warriors joined Kapinga in double figures - Collier and Gaskin. Collier finished with 14 points, while Gaskin finished with a double-double, as he scored 10 points and pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds.
The Maroons will return to action against another rival on Tuesday evening, as they will make the short trip to the Briar Patch to take on the Somerset Briar Jumpers in a 47th District match-up at 7:30 p.m.
Southwestern, now 19-8 on the year, will conclude their regular season next Friday evening, when they will host Mercer County at 8 p.m. at the Wigwam.
PC - 18 17 17 19 - 71
SW - 26 18 10 12 - 66
PULASKI COUNTY (20-5): Gover 20, Johnson 18, Hall 15, Burton 10, Goins 4, Laign 3, Ross 1.
SOUTHWESTERN (19-8): Kapinga 22, Collier 14, Gaskin 10, Edwards 9, Isaacs 6, Schulz 5.