Colts defeat Jaguars in district semifinals
East and West Jessamine faced off Tuesday night at Burgin High School in the 46th District Boys Basketball Tournament, and it was a fight from start to finish.
Emotions run high during tourney time, especially for the seniors; while some will advance to the championship, others realize they’ve played their last high-school game.
Though the Jaguars made it close at several points in the game, the Colts pulled away at the end, winning the match-up, 65-54.
The two rivals split their match-ups during the regular season. West Jessamine (14-12) beat the Jaguars on January 11th at home, then took the loss at East Jessamine on February 1st on the road, 67-63. East Jessamine (11-18) entered the tournament having gone 4-2 in February, righting the ship after a winless January that saw them lose eight in a row. West was 9-5 through the first half of the season, then went 5-7 the rest of the way, including a four-game losing streak during which three of the four losses were of four points or less. The Jaguars were twelfth in the 12th Region standings, while West finished eighth.
Colts senior Dalton Bruner dropped 19 points to lead team scoring, while DeAjuan Stepp added eleven and Yallen Woods had nine. Senior guard Michael Thalacker had eight points, while fellow seniors Braeden Fomas and Brandon Childers had six and five, respectively. Nate Breeden added three points and Jackson Green had two to round out the scoring for West.
For the Jaguars, sophomore Zion Thomas led the scoring with fourteen points largely on his 10-13 shooting from the free throw line, while Kenzel Wadkins had thirteen points and Tyler Pitney added twelve on 6-12 shooting. Sophomore guard Ben McNew had seven points on the night, Cam Thompson had five points and Jalen Bietz scored three. Thomas and Pitney each finished with a double-double, as Thomas pulled down eleven boards, and Pitney had twelve.
McNew had the Jags’ only three-pointer, as the team finished 1-11 beyond the arc. The Colts sank seven treys, four of them coming in the first quarter and helping to set the tempo.
Indeed, West led throughout the game, though East cut their lead to four points with 1:30 remaining in the game. After Stepp drew the foul, sinking both shots at the line, East missed a three-point attempt on the fast break, and Stepp would take a long pass from Bruner for the layup, as well as drawing another foul, making it 60-54 with less than a minute remaining.
After Bruner drew a hard foul on a drive to the basket with :33 remaining, the win was all but assured for West. Bruner sank both free throws,
accounting for the final points in the game.
“I thought we started the game really well,” said West Coach Damon Kelley. “I actually thought that making those ‘threes’ right off the bat got us in the mindset that we were shooting too quickly for a stretch there, in the first half. We did a really good job, defensively, with the exception of our defensive rebounding in the first half. I thought that improved in the second half.”
“I give East credit. Anytime there’s a rivalry, they’re gonna fight just like we’re going to fight,” Coach Kelley said of the Jaguars. “I just thought we were pretty solid all the way around, tonight. If we had cleaned up some things like rebounding in the first half, and making our free throws in the second half, I think we would have had a little bit more comfortable margin toward the end.”
Coach Kelley pointed out East’s Pitney and Thomas for dominating the boards. “They hurt us on the boards in the first half. We did a much better job in the second half, but they played really tough.”
Though the Jaguars’ season ended tonight, Coach Nick Barton had nothing but praise for his team.
“We split during the season. We had a great regular season match-up between the both of us, so this was kind of the rubber match,” said Coach Barton. “Anytime you get into postseason play, everything is multiplied by ten; physicality is multiplied by ten, intensity is multiplied by ten. And the reason for that is that you have kids playing their last game. That’s it.”
Coach Barton praised his team’s effort, pointing out the energy with which they played throughout the game. “I’m so proud of our guys. If we hit some threes, early on, don’t miss some of those free throws, who knows what could have happened? But my guys did everything that we asked them to do. They were on the floor after loose balls. They were taking charges. They were defending well.”
“Both teams laid it on the line, tonight.”
Barton said he admired Tyler Pitney’s toughness and unwillingness to leave the game after a late-game blocking foul was called against Pitney who appeared to have been set to take the charge against DeAjuan Stepp.
“Obviously, we disagree with that call, but the official saw it differently,” he said. “And that’s fine. But he’s a warrior; Tyler’s tough. He’s been injured earlier this year. He’s had a concussion. He’s been split wide open, bleeding everywhere,” Coach Barton continued, “but he wasn’t going to let us sit him on the bench.”
“He’s got a lot to be proud of. The whole team does. They all played really hard. Zion (Thomas) played his butt off. He was rebounding well. Kenzel (Wadkins) played really well, hit some buckets late to keep us in the game, and gave us a chance when he cut the lead to four with a couple of minutes to go.”
“No, I’ve got no complaints about anybody’s play, tonight.”
“The good thing is, we’re young,” Coach Barton added, looking to next season. “We’ve got a lot of young guys coming back, next year. But we will miss our seniors. We really appreciate what they’ve done for the program, here. And that’s the most important thing: nobody’s bigger than the program.”
West Jessamine moves on to face Mercer County (18-10 overall, 10-6 region, 5-1 district) on Thursday night at Burgin High School. Game time is 6:30pm.
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