FAIRDALE - The Bullitt East Chargers suffered the first loss of the season on Sunday in the opening round of the King of the Bluegrass Holiday Tournament at Fairdale High School.
Heading into the state’s most impressive regular season tournament for the second time in three years, the Chargers still had some questions about just how good this team could be. There is no better way to answer those type questions than playing top-flight competition.
Bullitt East could not have found a higher-flyer opening foe than Eastern High School, the second-ranked team in the pre-season state coaches’ poll and one of the top-30 teams in the country. Four of the Eagle starters were ranked among the top-25 players in the state and each has signed with a Division I college for next season.
After falling to the Eagles 76-59, what the Chargers learned is that they can compete with the top teams, but that they need to fill in some gaps to get over the top. Coach Troy Barr’s team had runs of ten- and nine-points in the first half and only trailed 38-37 at halftime. That surge ended when the red and gold were held to six points in the third quarter.
Bullitt East did bounce back 24-hours later to pick up a win in the consolation bracket as they beat Fairdale 81-58. The Chargers were scheduled to play Christian County, the state’s third-ranked team, on Tuesday night.
Third Quarter Woes
Bullitt East won’t lose many games this season by 17 points and not feel awful about their performance, but that was the case on Sunday. Eastern is just that good. While a loss is a loss, there were a lot of positives and learning experiences to be taken from this encounter with a mega-talented team.
“The first half was good, the second half was not,” Bullitt East head coach Troy Barr said outside his team’s locker room after the game. “I thought our kids battled. I’m proud of them. We have some things that need to be fixed and rebounding is one of them.”
The Chargers looked like they could pull the upset when they scored the last nine points of the first half to pull within a single point. That dream ended when the Eagles opened the second half on a 13-2 run.
“I thought we had them tired going into the half,” Barr said. “They were sucking air. I thought we were well rested, but obviously we were tired. We didn’t have that bounce in the second half.”
Bullitt East shot 52 percent in the first half, but then converted just 36 percent of its shots after halftime. The Chargers were also out rebounded 35-28.
Barr ranked this Eastern team as one of the best high school squads that he has seen.
Eastern looked like that and more when they shot out of the starting gate with a 13-4 run that forced Barr to call a time-out four minutes into the contest. The Eagles were still up 22-10 when Hayden Sweat scored the final two baskets of the first quarter.
Suddenly Bullitt East was hot. On two straight trips down the floor, the Chargers got the ball into the corner to sophomore Rusty Troutman who nailed a pair of three-pointers to pull the Chargers within 22-20. The Chargers were still within 25-24 before the Eagles moved back ahead 38-28.
Bullitt East wasn’t done in the half. The Chargers got a basket from Reecie Hardin and then Derek Willis stepped out and drained a three-pointer. The half then ended when Cody Mattingly and then Brett Hatfield each hit a pair of free throws to pull the red and gold within 38-37.
That was the high water mark for the Chargers. Eastern just dominated the third quarter. Bullitt East’s only basket for almost six minutes was a lay-up from Sweat. The rest of the offense when to Eastern during the 13-2 run to start the second half.
Bullitt East never got closer than 12 points over the final ten minutes of action. Eastern’s lead grew too as many as 20 points before the final 17-point margin.
“Obviously, we haven’t played Jeffersontown yet, but Eastern and Jeffersontown are a notch above everybody else in the state,” Barr noted.
Eastern (7-0) got 24 points and eight rebounds from Lyonell Gaines as well as 19 points from Remy Abell and 16 points from Byron Sanford.
Bullitt East (6-1) was led by Corey Washburn with 18 points while Sweat scored 16. Willis finished with 11 rebounds.
On Monday, the Chargers exploded for 31 points in the first quarter and then coasted past Fairdale 81-58 in a consolation bracket contest.
Bullitt East was a well-oiled machine in the first quarter against their 24th District rivals. The red and gold had a 12-3 lead just three minutes into the contest and the red and gold were up by 17 points after the first quarter.
The pace slowed a little in the second quarter, but the lead continued to grow as Bullitt East built a 52-28 lead by halftime. Barr took the press off in the second half and the Chargers pushed the margin to 29 points before Fairdale scored late.
“The first half was exactly what we wanted,” Barr said. “We didn’t work much on them, but we did talk about what we wanted to do.
“The number one object we to speed the game up and then shut down (Josh) Stroud and (Josh) Payne,” the Charger coach added. “Payne had 26 last night and only two free throws tonight.”
The two teams will meet in a more important district seeding game on Feb. 1 in Mount Washington.
Washburn led the Chargers with 21 points and the red and gold also got 15 points each from Willis and fellow sophomore Trey Rakes. Sweat, who didn’t start because of a minor team infraction, finished with ten points.
Richard Delaney led Fairdale with 16 points and they also got 14 points from Boo Crabtree. Stroud, the Bulldogs’ top player, picked up four fouls in the first half and scored 13 points.
King of the Bluegrass Holiday Tourney
At Fairdale HS
BULLITT EAST 59 (14-23-6-16) Cody Mattingly 4, Rusty Troutman 6, Hayden Sweat 16, Reece Hardin 6, Brett Hatfield 2, Derek Willis 7, Corey Washburn 18.
EASTERN 76 (22-16-17-21) Davis 1, Abell 19, Sanford 13, Gaines 27, Blade 2, Woods 8, Marks 4.
BULLITT EAST 81 (31-21-10-19) Luke Francke 1, Trey Rakes 15, Cody Mattingly 7, Rusty Troutman 8, Hayden Sweat 10, Derek Willis 15, Reecie Hardin 4, Corey Washburn 21.
FAIRDALE 58 (14-14-15-15) Sweat 2, Small 2, Payne 2, Thomas 2, Stroud 13, Rudolph 2, Gonzalez 4, Delaney 16, Crabtree 14, Thompson 1.