For John Fraley and the Pulaski County Maroons, life without two all-region basketball players — Gavin Stevens and Zach Travis — began on Monday night in PC’s season opener against one of the top-ranked teams in Kentucky.
Hosting the highly-touted Madison Central Indians — ranked number six or number seven in the state, depending on which preseason ranking you go by — Pulaski County went toe to toe with the visitors from Richmond at The PC Gym for four quarters.
And, thanks to a game-high 29 points from senior guard Barek Williams, and a modest, 8-0 spurt midway through the fourth quarter, it was Fraley and PC doing just enough from the charity stripe coming down the home stretch, to rally for a hard-fought, 71-70 victory over the Indians.
“Every year we try to start the year off against a difficult opponent, to try to set the tone for the season and let us know what things we need to work on,” stated a very happy coach Fraley immediately following the contest.
“Tonight, to come out here and play this way against a top ten opponent on our home floor in the first game of the year was great,” continued the Pulaski County head coach. “We’ve been working really hard over the course of the preseason, and we’ve finally got some pieces healthy this year. We always knew this group could be pretty good, because they play hard and they defend hard.”
One of those pieces — Barek Williams — missed about 90% of last season due to an injury.
On Monday night from the opening tap, it appeared that PC’s senior guard was trying to make up for lost time.
Williams scored the Maroons first seven points in the game barely over a minute into the contest, on his way to 17 points in the opening half of play.
For the half, Pulaski County shot a torrid 58.3% from the field, connecting on 14-24 field goal attempts, which included going 6-12 from beyond the three-point line.
Had it not been for the play of Madison Central’s Jaylen Davis, the Maroons could have had the Indians in some trouble from the outset. However, Davis matched Williams almost point for point in the first half, helping to keep his club in the contest, scoring 16 of his 20 points over the game’s first two quarters of play.
However, even with that performance, PC held a 40-36 advantage at the intermission over the Indians, thanks to those 17 points from Williams, and 13 points from fellow senior Cayden Lancaster.
However, it was Williams that stole the show on opening night for Pulaski County.
“That’s the kid we knew we had if we could ever get him healthy,” pointed out Fraley, in talking about the performance turned in by Williams.
“We’re really proud of his effort, and to say that Barek is a kid who is resilient would be an understatement, to go what he’s been through over the past two years with injuries, and to work as hard as he has had to do,” Fraley added.
Pulaski County maintained its lead through three quarters of play, leading Madison Central 57-55 headed into the game’s final eight minutes, but it was at that juncture, the Maroons faced adversity for really the first time of the evening.
PC began the fourth stanza ice cold from the field, and went over three minutes without scoring a single point.
That dry spell finally ended when Will Blankenship hit a pair of free throws to cut the Madison Central lead down to 61-59 with 4:52 remaining in the game.
Those two free throws by Blankenship ignited what would eventually turn into a modest, 8-0 run by the Maroons, putting PC back in front of the Indians for good at 65-61 late in the contest.
“When you’re down four points with four to five minutes left in the fourth quarter, whether you’re home or away against a top-10 team in the state, that’s just hard to overcome,” pointed out Fraley.
“We go on an 8-0 run, and we handled some adversity there really well, and we kept on defending during that run as well, which was very nice to see,” continued the PC coach. “I told our guys to be successful and to achieve the goals that we want to achieve this year, we’ve got to be able to defend and get multiple stops in a row. That’s something we work on every day at practice, and I thought we did a good job of that tonight.”
After that 8-0 spurt by the Maroons that gave PC that 65-61 lead, the Indians were certainly not going to go down without a fight.
Madison Central trimmed the PC lead down to just two points — 69-67 — with only :16 left in the game. At that juncture, Kam Hargis hit one of two free throws to extend the lead back out to three points at 70-67.
After a second consecutive stop at the other end of the floor, Brysen Dugger sealed the victory for the Maroons by hitting a free throw with just :02.7 remaining in the contest, extending the PC lead out over the Indians to 71-67.
Madison Central’s Hagan Harrison then drained about a 30-footer just before the final horn sounded, making the final score 71-70 in favor of Pulaski County, in an absolute thriller to tip off the 2022-’23 basketball season for the Maroons.
“This was a really good win for our program, and we get to enjoy it tonight,” pointed out Fraley.
“Now, we have to get ready to face one of the top teams in our region on Friday at West Jessamine, and then face another top team in our region back home on Saturday against Danville,” added the Maroons coach.
For the game, Pulaski County shot 53.5% from the field, connecting on 24-45 field goal attempts, and held its own with Madison Central on the glass, with each team pulling down 29 rebounds.
The Maroons were led by Williams with his game-high 29 points, while Lancaster added 17 points, and Carson Fraley chipped in with 10 points.
Madison Central meanwhile was led by Robby Todd and Harrison, as they each paced the Indians with 21 points.
The Maroons — 1-0 on the season — will travel to West Jessamine on Friday night, before returning home to host the Danville Admirals on Saturday afternoon at The PC Gym at 4:30 p.m.