FAIRDALE - Despite not reaching the championship game, the Bullitt East Chargers got the ultimate consolation prize on Wednesday as the red and gold bounced back from a frustrating loss to Butler a night earlier to knock off Ballard 73-66 in the King of the Bluegrass Holiday Tournament at Fairdale High School.
Before the tournament started, many people had penciled a Bullitt East-Ballard contest into the championship game, but that just didn’t happen. Bullitt East lost to Butler 62-53 while Ballard fell 85-59 to the eventual tournament champions Christ Presbyterian Academy from Nashville, Tenn.
Instead the two powerhouses met in the first to last game on Wednesday. Despite the disappointment of not reaching the final, the second- and fourth-ranked teams in the pre-season coaches’ poll put on a spectacular show that wasn’t decided until the final four minutes of the game when the Chargers rallied from a 59-57 deficit.
“Going 3-1 here is very difficult to do,” Bullitt East head coach Troy Barr said after his team picked up the third-place trophy, matching the finish the Chargers had in the 2004 event. “Our goal is to go 4-0 here, but that is very difficult. Looks like we’ll have to come back and try next year.”
Bullitt East (8-1) had shot 33 percent the night before against Butler and at times appeared to sleep walk through a game against a team that they had beaten by 10 points two weeks earlier. That seemed to be a wake up call for the Chargers.
“There was no pep talk,” Barr admitted. “We talked about being a man when you don’t show up. We didn’t show up last night. Last night seems like five years ago now.”
Troutman was named the Player of the Game after scoring 22 points and grabbing 11 rebounds against perhaps the only team that Bullitt East will face this year that will be taller and beefier on the front line.
“We didn’t play our game last night and that was obvious,” the 6-5 Troutman said after the Ballard win. “We were three of 22 on threes last night and that’s not our game.”
Against Ballard (6-3 with two of losses to teams from Tennessee), Bullitt East hit on 54.2 percent of its shots. After missing all eight of its attempts from beyond the arc in the first half, the Chargers rallied to hit six of nine of the long shots in the second half.
The coaches didn’t have to say what the players already knew about the performance against Butler.
“We both agreed,” Troutman said. “You saw what we did tonight. It was totally different from what you saw last night.”
It helped that the Chargers had to come right back and take on the second-ranked team in the state 24-hours after the Butler letdown.
“Ballard is a top-five team,” Troutman pointed out. “It was a good game for us to come back with.”
Bullitt East won despite Ballard exploding for 31 points in the third quarter. That surge included five three-pointers from sophomore guard Quentin Snider. The University of Louisville commitment finished the game with 29 points.
The Chargers answered with balanced scoring. Junior Rusty Troutman finished with 22 points while Bullitt East also got 15 points from Derek Willis and Elliot Young as well as 12 from senior Kory Caufield.
The 6-6 Young scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half including 11 points in the fourth quarter.
Ballard’s last lead was at 59-57 on a free throw by Lavonne Holland. Bullitt East then moved ahead when Caufield nailed his second three-pointer of the game. Moments later, Troutman connected on two free throws and then junior Chris Embry hit one free throw to make it 62-59.
The final gasp for the Bruins came on the next trip down the floor when David Martin won a rebounding battle and then scored his only basket of the night to pull Ballard within 62-61. Young then made his biggest baskets of the season, drilling a three-pointer and then connecting on a short baseline jumper that pushed the lead out to 68-61.
In the final minute, Ballard could get no closer than five points. Young closed out the scoring with two free throws with 31 seconds remaining.
Scoring isn’t everything in big games. The only Bullitt East starter not to score in double-digits was point guard Trey Rakes who had only three points. Instead, the junior dished out ten assists and did not have a turnover against one of the quickest teams in the state.
Bullitt East is a better team after facing the high-level of competition at the King of the Bluegrass, but Barr wasn’t quite ready to say how much better his team might be.
“I’m not sure yet,” the veteran coach said. “I’ll have to reflect on that a little. We came out of a big time tournament at 3-1 and had the one speed bump. The kids showed that they learned from that and I’m excited about the rest of the season.”
After taking a few days off for Christmas, Bullitt East will board chartered buses on Monday morning for a trip to Fort Walton Beach, Florida where they will play three games in a tournament. They will not return to Mount Washington until New Year’s Eve.
King of the Bluegrass Holiday Tournament at Fairdale HS
BALLARD 66 (10-11-31-14) Kelan Martin 3, Quentin Snider 29, David Martin 2, Ronnie Baker 2, Braxton Dunbar 2, Lavonne Holland 16, Rijad Kovacevic 6, Cam Lewis 6.
BULLITT EAST 73 (12-18-20-23) Luke Francke 3, Trey Rakes 3, Rusty Troutman 22, Kory Caufield 12, Elliot Young 15, Chris Embry 1, Derek Willis 15, Reese Hardin 2.