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Maroons defeat Colts

By DOUG EADS
COMMONWEALTH JOURNAL
The Pulaski County Maroons came into the 2017-’18 season as the defending 12th Regional champions with the intent on making history.
To do that, John Fraley’s club would have to repeat history, taking on a team where PC’s title run began last season.
The Maroons — 21-9 on the year entering the Boy’s 12th Regional Basketball Tournament on Wednesday night at Pulaski County High School — faced the same West Jessamine team that Pulaski County defeated in last season’s opening round of the tournament.
On Wednesday night as the Maroons began their quest to repeat as regional champs for the first time in school history, the Colts proved to be a very worthy and pesky opponent.
However, thanks to a game-high 31 points from Danny Butt, and 23 points from Steven Fitzgerald, the Maroons survived and advanced, with a hard-fought, 90-83 victory over West Jessamine.
“It was a very hard-fought game and I’m very proud of our kids for gutting one out tonight,” stated a very relieved John Fraley, after his team moved on to the semi finals of the tourney with the victory.
“It’s a hard game to play in here, because it’s at your place and you’re the favorite, and you’ve got the crowd and all the jitters that go with it,” added the Pulaski County coach. “To our kids credit they did settle down eventually, and they hung in there and did what it took to win.”
Indeed, PC won the game, but it didn’t come easy by no means.
West Jessamine — behind the play of Dalton Bruner and Jayden Preston — came out like a house on fire.
The Colts led PC 13-4 early on, forcing Fraley to call a timeout with 3:50 remaining in the first quarter.
At that juncture — despite the fact it was very early in the contest — the Colts had Pulaski County rattled.
But, the Maroons would respond.
Butt would tally 21 of his 31 points in the opening half of play, and thanks to his off balance three-pointer just before the horn sounded ending the first half, the Maroons went into the intermission with a two-point lead over the Colts at 40-38 in a very high-scoring affair.
“I thought we really played well tonight, and I thought we did a lot of good things,” stated West Jessamine head coach Damon Kelley, who saw his club’s season end with an 18-11 record with the loss to the Maroons.
“We had that stretch there in the third quarter when they started knocking down some shots and we got into some foul trouble,” Kelley added. “They did a good job of stepping up the lead on us, but my guys did a good job — they never quit and they fought hard, but we just never could get over that hump. Every time we got it down to a three or four point game, it seems like Pulaski would come down and hit a big shot.”
As coach Kelley eluded to, the Maroons came out of the locker room and punched West Jessamine in the mouth, putting the Colts in dire straits early on in the third period.
A three-point basket by Colton Fraley late in the third frame gave the Maroons their first double digit lead of the night over the Colts at 64-52, but West Jessamine would respond, just as Pulaski County did in the first half of play.
The Maroons led 69-59 headed into the fourth quarter, and that’s when West Jessamine made things very interesting.
A three-pointer from Skyler Cannady midway through the final stanza cut the PC lead down to just two points at 76-74, but West Jessamine would get no closer.
After a PC timeout, Jake Combs nailed a huge trey on the Maroons next trip down the floor which eased the lead back out to 79-74, and the Maroons would hit their free throws from there coming down the stretch to nail down a hard-fought victory on opening night in the regional tourney.
“I told our kids at halftime that we were a step slow in everything in the first half,” stated Fraley.
“We were a step slow in rebounding, we weren’t boxing out, and they (Colts) were getting every loose ball,” pointed out the Pulaski County head coach. “Yet, we were up two at halftime, despite the fact that we hadn’t done anything that we had talked about at practice. Down the stretch, we did give them a few offensive boards, but we didn’t give them near as many as we did in the first half.”
Butt led everybody with his game-high 31 points, as he was one of four PC players to hit for double figures in the game.
Fitzgerald added 23 points, Colton Fraley — who hit that big three and made some huge free throws at crunch time — chipped in with 13 points, while Hagan Elmore added 12 points.
Bruner led West Jessamine with 26 points, while Preston tallied 17 points, Drew Cook chipped in with 11 points, and Kyle Anderson added 10 points.
“We just have some great kids,” noted Kelley after the contest.
“I knew last summer  watching us play some games that we had a chance to be pretty good this year,” Kelley added. “We had seven seniors on this team, and they’re all going to be successful no matter what they do after they leave here. We didn’t have a lot of physical size, but we made up for it with heart and scrappiness.”
With the win, Pulaski County moves on to Monday night’s semi finals, where the Maroons will meet up with arch-rival Southwestern for the fourth time this season.
The Warriors punched their ticket to the semi finals with a 62-60 overtime win over Boyle County in Wednesday night’s first game.
Tip off for the PC-Southwestern game is set for Monday night from The PC Gym beginning at 6;30 p.m.
WJ — 16 22 21 24 — 83
PC — 16 24 29 21 — 90
WEST JESSAMINE — (18-11) Bruner 26, Preston 17, Cook 11, Anderson 10, Stepp 9, Cannady 6, Fomas 4.

PULASKI CO. — (22-9) Butt 31, Fitzgerald 23, Fraley 13, Elmore 12, Combs 5, Heath 4, Oakes 2.