Way back last summer, the general consensus was that Lincoln County and Pulaski County were the co-favorites for a 12th Regional title this season.
On Tuesday night in round one between these two heavyweights, the game didn't disappoint, and did indeed resemble a 12th Regional Tournament contest, solely based on the fact this game was a grind-it-out, half-court affair, with neither team giving an inch.
Both teams struggled shooting for much of the night, but in the end, it was Pulaski County that had answer after answer for every run the visiting Patriots would make on this given night.
Zach Travis and Cayden Lancaster each led the Maroons with 15 points, while Caleb Sloan tallied 11 of his 13 points in the first half, helping Pulaski County to remain perfect on the season at 16-0 with a hard-fought, 51-46 win over Lincoln County in a very low-scoring affair.
"I told our guys before the game that every possession was going to count, and that they had to rebound, and they were going to have to sit down and guard somebody," stated a very happy coach John Fraley after his club's win. "For the most part tonight, I thought we did a good job of doing that."
Pulaski County led this one from wire to wire, never trailing the Patriots, but Lincoln County made a couple of nice runs at PC after falling behind early.
The Maroons led after at the end of the first quarter by a 13-5 margin, thanks to Lincoln County's cold start shooting from the field, with only two made field goals in the first period of play. In the second frame, the Maroons kept the pressure on the Pats, and had stretched the advantage out to 22-13 late in the first half, thanks to back to back baskets by Sloan.
The Patriots however would end the half on a mini, 7-2 run, going in at the intermission only trailing the Maroons 24-20.
Pulaski began the third quarter with a nice spurt, and that's when Travis had the play of the night for the Maroons.
Leading Lincoln County 33-26, Travis went in for an emphatic slam, and was fouled by the Patriots Evan Smith on the dunk.
After the free throw by the Maroon senior, PC led Lincoln County at that juncture 36-26, and would eventually stretch the lead out to the biggest margin of the evening late in the third quarter at 40-28, thanks to a basket from Lancaster.
At that point, Lincoln County would go on another run -- 12-2 -- between the end of the third stanza and the beginning of the final frame, and with 5:52 left in the game, the Maroons only led the Pats 42-40.
But -- as was the case all night long -- PC would have the answer.
A Maroon bucket eased the lead back out to four points at 44-40, and then Patriot head coach Jeff Jackson got hit with a technical foul, and the Maroons began to build their lead again.
Gavin Stevens hit one of the two technical free throws, and Lancaster scored a hoop on the ensuing possession, extending the lead out to 47-40 with 4:22 remaining in the game.
"This group is a resilient team, and they've done it all year long," pointed out coach Fraley. "We were down at Madison Central, we were down at Doss, and we were down last week to Fern Creek. This bunch just doesn't panic. No matter what people seem to throw at us, we just seem to find a way to handle it."
The Maroons extended the lead out to 49-40 with just over a minute left to play, basically icing the game before Lincoln would make one final push.
Colton Ralston and Tremane Alcorn hit back to back three's, sandwiched in between a pair of free throws from Travis, and PC would have its five point win at 51-46, and its 16th win of the season in 16 tries.
Alcorn led Lincoln County -- which fell to 11-4 on the season with the loss -- with 15 points, but leading scorer Jaxon Smith -- averaging 15.3 points per game so far this season, was held to only four points in the contest by a gritty and stingy PC defense.
"We were pretty bought in tonight to the fact that we had to sit down defensively, and get them (Patriots) out of the lane," stated Fraley.
"We had to try to make them hit some hard shots, and we got lost a few times on some shuffle cuts, and gave them some open looks and made things a little more interesting," continued the PC coach. "All in all, I was very proud of our effort defensively."
Pulaski County will now have a week off before taking on 47th District foe Casey County next Tuesday night in a girl-boy doubleheader, beginning with the girls game at The PC Gym at 6 p.m.