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JEFFERSONTOWN – Trailing by two points at halftime, the Bullitt East Chargers felt they had the Fern Creek Tigers right where they wanted them on Friday in the championship game of the boys’ 24th District Tournament at Jeffersontown High School.
The Chargers were right. Bullitt East scored the first basket of the second half and with an 8-0 run midway through the third quarter, the red and gold took control and then pulled away with 30 points in the fourth quarter for a 73-59 victory.
The win was the fourth consecutive district title for the Charger program and the third under the present 24th District alignment. It was also the second straight year that Bullitt East beat Fern Creek for the title.
More importantly, the win gives Bullitt East a home game to open play in the Sixth Region Tournament this week. The Chargers will host DeSales on Tuesday in a game that will start at 7 p.m.
During the regular season, Bullitt East and Fern Creek had split a pair of games. The Chargers won the game in Mount Washington 53-52 on a shot at the buzzer by Rhett Troutman. Two weeks later, Fern Creek pulled out a 55-52 win in the quarter-finals of the Louisville Invitational Tournament, a game in which Troutman was hurt and missed most of the fourth quarter.
On Friday, Troutman was at full speed and the senior point guard had Bullitt East hitting on all cylinders. Even without senior forward Ezra Troutman, his cousin, in the line-up because of a pelvis injury, Troutman had a monumental linescore with 21 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.
In the past three district finals, Rhett Troutman made only cursory appearances. As a senior, he was piloting the aircraft carrier.
“It feel great, especially when I get to make an impact,” the senior said after the game. “Last year I did what I could.”
Bullitt East got the best of a Fern Creek squad that had 19 games including wins over Pleasure Ridge Park, Doss and Jeffersontown over the previous two weeks.
“We learned that they were fast and athletic and like to jump and trap,” Troutman said of the first two meetings against the Tigers. “We worked on that and how to handle the pressure. That led to some quick baskets for our offense.”
Bullitt East got off to a fast start, scoring the game’s first eight points including five by Troutman. Bullitt East was up 12-4 before Fern Creek scored 14 straight points to take an 18-12 lead after one quarter. The Tigers then pushed that margin to 25-16 midway through the second frame. Bullitt East rallied, fueled by three-pointers by sophomores Bailey Rakes and Tyler Sharpe to pull within 30-28 at halftime.
“We walked in here (the locker room) and coach was happy,” Troutman recalled of halftime. “We were in a good spot to make a run and it showed.”
Bullitt East head coach Bob Blackburn has been through tough situations before, but this was his first post-season in 11 years as he came out of retirement to coach this team for one year.
“We were fine,” Blackburn said of the situation at halftime. “We just had too many turnovers. We had nine turnovers at halftime. We only had five in the second half and a couple of those came after we got the big lead.”
Midway into the third quarter, Fern Creek still had a 38-35 advantage before the Chargers scored eight straight points including four from Troutman. A three-pointer by Daylin Johnson pulled the Tigers within 43-41 heading into the final frame.
While Fern Creek twice pulled within a point early in the last quarter, the Tigers never pulled even. The last one-point difference came at 46-44, but then Troutman drained a three-pointer. After Fern Creek answered with a basket, Bullitt East exploded for ten consecutive points including five by Rakes and a three-point play by Sharpe.
That forced Fern Creek to call a time-out with 3:32 remaining and the score 59-47. By that point, the party had started on the Bullitt East side of the gym.
“That should be a top-20 team,” Blackburn said of Fern Creek. “The only thing keeping them from the top-20 is the name.
“I knew it would be a dogfight,” the coach added. “I just wanted us to have enough fight for four quarters and we did.”
It was another balanced effort for the Chargers as four players were in double figures. Troutman led the way with 21 points while Sharpe had 18 and Rakes 14. Tyler Bacon, who controlled play around the basket, finished with 11 points.
Bullitt East also was strong on defense, holding Fern Creek’s 6-7 Joe Jackson to nine points. The only Tiger player in double figures was Demetrius Stanton with 14.
“We had Brandon Klefot on Joe Jackson. He is our defensive stopper,” Blackburn said. “He has guarded guys this season at any position – 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. He has done it all.”
Bullitt East moved to 22-7 with the win.
“The effort of the kids I just can’t say enough,” Blackburn said. “Everybody off the bench was a plus. That was a point of emphasis.”
Bullitt East made 17 of 25 shots inside the arc and shot 33 percent beyond the arc as well as having a rebounding edge of 30 to 25. Fern Creek took 11 more shots, but made just 22 of 57.
FERN CREEK 59 (18-12-11-18) Cook 3, Stanton 14, Spalding 3, Moore 6, Johnson 9, Hawkins 6, Goring 4, Jackson 9.
BULLITT EAST 73 (12-16-15-30) Rhett Troutman 21, Tyler Bacon 11, Jared Farris 2, Brandon Klefot 7, Bailey Rakes 14, Tyler Sharpe 18.
During the regular season, Bullitt East played at Whitefield Academy for the first time ever, winning 66-64 a night after beating Fern Creek. In that game, Troutman did not play because of a bad knee.
There was no worry in the rematch in the first round of the district tournament. Bullitt East opened post-season play with a resounding 82-47 win. The red and gold jumped on top 26-10 after one quarter and led 41-19 at halftime. The Wildcats never got closer than 17 points in the second half.
This was the third straight season that Bullitt East beat Whitefield Academy in the first round of the district tournament.
Blackburn used 12 players in the first half and everybody that suited up for the game played.
“We had five guys in double figures and that’s good,” the coach said. “I loved the defensive effort. We held them to 19 points in the first half and we had them flustered. They are a pretty good team.
“I knew we would play ten guys in the first half,” Blackburn added. “It’s the way we have been practicing. The younger kids are working hard in practice.”
Bullitt East got 22 points from sophomore Sharpe and 14 each from Bacon and Klefot. The Chargers also got ten points each from Rakes and Kyle McKinley.
WHITEFIELD ACADEMY 47 (10-9-18-10) Bailey 8, Adkisson 11, Getzin 3, Samples 1, Patterson 12, Jackson 12.
BULLITT EAST 82 (26-15-17-24) Rhett Troutman 5, Tyler Bacon 14, Austin Wheeler 3, Brandon Klefot 14, Kyle McKinley 10, Bailey Rakes 10, Tyler Sharpe 22, Noah Glenn Sluder 2, Cambron Burke 2.