By MICHAEL CHILDERS, CJ Correspondent
For the third consecutive year, Southwestern and Wayne County will be meeting in the finals of the Boys 48th District Tournament.
And for the third straight season, the Southwestern Warriors will be looking to hold the championship trophy when the final buzzer sounds.
Thanks to a 74-54 victory over McCreary Central last night in the first round of the district tourney at Monticello High School, Steve Wright’s Warriors earned themselves a spot in Friday evening’s championship game, where they will square-off with the Wayne County Cardinals.
The Raiders of McCreary Central got off to a hot start in the opening frame, but Southwestern would rally back in the second quarter to push them out to a double-digit lead. From that point, the Warriors would stay out in the lead and win by a 20-point margin.
“(McCreary) hit a couple of shots early, but we didn’t let that bother us,” began Wright. “They’re going to make some shots because they’re trying to win, too. We made a couple of mistakes defensively early that gave them a few shots, but we got that corrected.”
Led by the hot hand of Tyler Strunk, who hit three three-pointers in the frame, the Raiders ran out to a three-point, 14-11 first quarter lead over the Warriors. In the period, McCreary led by as much as six points.
Wright liked having a challenge in his team’s opening round match-up with the Raiders, as he explained that it will pay dividends for Friday’s match-up with the Cardinals.
“We got challenged, and I like that - it helps us get ready for Friday,” explained the second-year Warrior hoops coach. “I don’t like having an easy first-round game and then going on to the finals. It wasn’t our best game, but we got that first one out of the way.”
The second quarter was all Southwestern, as they took advantage of 14 Raider turnovers to outscore McCreary by a 29-10 margin. At the intermission, Southwestern led the Raiders by 16 points at 40-24.
Southwestern kicked off the second period with a 12-0 run to grab a 23-14 advantage. After junior Justin Edwards started the run with five consecutive points, fellow junior David Kapinga got a lay-up and sophomore Adam Isaacs knocked down a trey. Two free-throws from sophomore Isaiah Collier would be the final points on the run.
Halfway through the frame, the Warriors would go on another run, this time of a 10-0 manner. After senior Javonte Groves began the 10-point run with back-to-back lay-ups off of a pair of McCreary turnovers, Edwards made a free-throw, Kapinga tallied a lay-up, and senior Justin Schulz got himself an old-fashioned three-point play.
Southwestern outscored the Raiders by a lone point at 19-18 in the third quarter. In the fourth period of hoops action, Edwards (10 points) and Gaskin (5 points) combined for all of the Warriors’ fourth quarter points to outlast McCreary, 15-13.
Edwards led all scorers with a game-high 22 points, as well as, six rebounds. Joining Edwards in double figures were Kapinga and Gaskin, as Kapinga chimed in with 16 points and Gaskin tallied 12.
Collier finished one point short of a double-double, as the sophomore had nine points and ten boards in the contest. Schulz had six points in the game, while Isaacs had five and Groves scored four.
McCreary was led in scoring by Cody Ross, who poured in all of his team-high 16 points in the second half. Strunk, who had the big first period for the Raiders, finished the contest with 15 points.
The big second quarter would play a pivotal role in catapulting the Warriors to victory, allowing them to earn a spot in the district championship game and a berth in next week’s Boys 12th Region Tournament, which will be held at Lincoln County High School.
Wright’s club is more than ready for another chance to beat the Cardinals, which is something that they have failed to do in their two meetings in the regular season. Rodney Woods’ team took both match-ups by scores of 79-68 and 65-60.
“(Wayne County) beat us earlier in the year, so we know that we’ve got to play a little better,” Wright stated. “I think our guys are up for the challenge, because I think they’ve been waiting on this opportunity.”
The Warriors will be looking to garner their third straight 48th District title in a row, as they beat Wayne County on their home floor two years ago, and just last season, defeated the Cardinals in what was Wright’s 600th victory as a head coach in the state of Kentucky.
Southwestern, now 21-8 on the year, will go up against the Cardinals, who have a 12th Region-best record of 24-6, on Friday night at 7 p.m. at Monticello High School.
MC - 14 10 18 13 - 54
SW - 11 29 19 15 - 74
MCCREARY CENTRAL (10-18): Ross 16, Strunk 15, Tucker 7, Duncan 6, Gregory 6.
SOUTHWESTERN (21-8): Edwards 22, Kapinga 16, Gaskin 12, Collier 9, Schulz 6, Isaacs 5, Groves 4.