Maroons rally late to advance to Finals

Caleb Lowndes I CJ

Pulaski County High School senior Gavin Stevens reacts after getting fouled during a layup during the Maroons 12th Region Semi-Final game against Boyle County on Monday night at Pulaski County High School.

After trailing for most of the game, the Pulaski County High School boys basketball team put on a wild flurry of scoring in the final stages of the game to down Boyle County High School, 59-5, in the 12th Region Tournament semifinal round on Monday at the PCHS gym.

Before a capacity crowd, Pulaski County trailed 46-45 with 4:04 left in the game. Pulaski County 's Cayden Lancaster drove the lane to hit a five-footer. Then, Gavin Stevens made a steal on the defensive end and drove the length of the floor to score on a layup to give the Maroons their first lead of the game since early in the first quarter. Lancaster made another defensive steal, but the Maroons couldn't convert after two missed free throws. Boyle County's Jakei Tarter hit one of two free throws to put the score at 49-47, Pulaski County, with 2:32 left in the game.

Off a tight full-court defensive press by the Rebels, Pulaski County's Carson Fraley made lengthy crossing pass to Zach Travis at halfcourt. The ball seemed too high for Travis to retrieve, but he managed to sky high in the air to catch the pass and he quickly found Lancaster under the basket for the easy score.

"That was such a great play and sometimes you got to have some luck," Pulaski County High school boys basketball coach John Fraley said with a large smile. "My dad (Dave Fraley) always told me you got to have some luck to win games like this. And maybe that was our lucky play and it gave us some separation."

After a Boyle County turnover, Stevens made a spin move to the basket for the score to put the Maroons up 53-47 with 1:25 left in the game. Boyle County's Kasen Meyers hit one of two free throws and Pulaski County missed two free throws, but still led 53-48 with 1:23 remaining.

Fraley chased down a long rebound, on the Rebels' next offensive shot attempt, and passed downcourt to a streaking Stevens - who finished the play with a thunderous two-handed dunk with less than a minute in the game and leading 55-48. Stevens hit four free throws in the final 46 seconds of the game to secure the Maroons' first 12th Region Tournament championship game appearance in five years. The Maroons ended the game on a 14 to 5 run in the in the final four minutes.

Stevens led Pulaski County with a game-high 26 points. Stevens scored 15 of those points in the final quarter, which included a big three-pointer to tie the game at 43-43 with 5:37 left in the contest.

"This group is so resilient," Fraley exclaimed. "We've been through so much sickness, and the pressure of all that. And this group just keeps playing and keeps playing hard. So I'm proud of this group right now. We got to get that monkey off our back and we get back to the finals."

As well as Pulaski County played in the final four minutes of the game, the Maroons struggled in the third quarter. Already down 28-25 at halftime, the Maroons fell behind 38-30 midway through the third. Pulaski County committed six turnovers in the third quarter.

Stevens scored an 'old fashion' three-point play and Travis scored inside to pull the Maroons within six at 41-25 at the end of the third period. Caleb Sloan scored inside to open the fourth period to get the Maroons within four at 41-37. Barek Williams drove down the left side of the lane for an 'and one' play to pull Pulaski County within three at 43-40.

On Boyle County's next offensive possession, Sloan intercepted a pass in the lane, and later in the Maroons' halfcourt set he threw the ball to Stevens - who nailed the trey to tie the game at 43-43.

"I felt like if we could ever get the lead, we would be alright," Fraley stated. "We just kept fighting and kept fighting. Once we got the lead, our energy got up. Gavin (Stevens) hit that big three to tie the game and it sort of snowballed for us from there."

At the start of the game, Pulaski County raced out to an early 8-3 lead midway through the first period off a three-pointer by Travis, two made free throws by Stevens, and an 'and one' three-point play by Travis. However, Boyle County closed out the first period on a 11 to 2 run pace by an Imfeld trey and 12-foot jumper.

Boyle County's Hagen Web, Imfeld, and Cruise Wilson all hit threes to vault the Rebels to their largest lead of the first half at 28-20 with 2:15 left in the first half. Stevens hit two throws and Lancaster nailed a trey from the top of the key to close the Rebels' lead to 28-25 at the halftime break.

For Pulaski County, Zach Travis scored 14 points, Cayden Lancaster scored 12 points, Barek Williams scored five points and Caleb Sloan scored two. Jakei Tarter led Boyle County with 13 points, William Carr scored 12, and Luke Imfeld scored 11

Pulaski County (30-2) will advance to their first 12th Region championship game since 2017, and will take on Lincoln County (28-7) at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. Lincoln County defeated McCreary Central in their semifinal match-up by a score of 69-49.

The Maroons' last regional crown came in 2017 in John Fraley's first year at the helm.

STEVE CORNELIUS is the CJ Sports Editor and can be reached at sports@somerset-kentucky.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CJSportseditor.

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