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SHEPHERDSVILLE - The dream of winning the King of the Bluegrass Holiday Classic will have to wait another year as the Bullitt East Chargers suffered a heartbreaking 52-51 loss in Saturday’s semi-finals to defending champion Christ Presbyterian Academy from Nashville, Tennessee.
This was the third time since 2004 that coach Troy Barr’s program had reached the semi-finals of the prestigious event only to come up short of a spot in the championship game.
It appeared that Bullitt East was ready to put those demons to rest as they surged ahead of the defending Tennessee Class 2-A champions from last year 42-37 with just over a minute remaining in the third quarter.
Suddenly, the momentum swung to the Lions as they connected on a pair of three-pointers to close out the third quarter. The run continued at the start of the fourth frame and it reached it’s zenith when Jake Allsmiller drained a pair of three-pointers from the right side that put his team up 49-46. The situation then looked dyer when 6-6 junior Jalen Lindsey drove down the lane for a dunk to push the margin to five points.
But the Chargers didn’t wilt. Elliot Young connected on two free throws at 1:08 and after CPA turned the ball over on a short 10-second call, Bullitt East tied the game when Derek Willis drained a three-pointer with 30 seconds to play.
The Lions then held the ball for a final shot. They put the ball into the hands of Braxton Blackwell who started his drive beyond the arc and was on the left side of the foul lane when he was fouled at :04.1.
Blakewell, a talented freshman, had missed five previous free throws in the game but this time he connected on the first shot in the bonus situation. Bullitt East had used its last time-out before the first foul shot. When the second attempt bounced out, Willis rebounded and got the ball to point guard Trey Rakes. After a couple of dribbles, Rakes passed the ball to Young who was just over mid-court. Young’s shot beat the buzzer, but circled around the rim before rolling off.
“We stopped doing what we were doing,” Barr said in a hallway outside his team’s dressing room after the game. “We turned it over a couple of times and that gave them the momentum and then Allsmiller got hot. We missed some assignments on defense.”
That eight-minute surge for the Lions amounted to a 24-4 run that turned the game around.
“They obviously stepped it up with the intensity. They had too,” Barr said. “We kept talking about not being jump shooters and attacking the basket and we didn’t do that. We had a 15 point lead and they had six team fouls. We should have been shooting free throws at that point. I thought we were where we needed to be.”
Barr said that he had the shortest scouting report for his team that they have seen this season.
“What they run, they run well,” the coach said. “I just told our guys they were a little tougher than us in the second half.”
Still, against a team with two Division I caliber players, the Chargers did a lot of things right for three-quarters of the contest.
“First off, they don’t let you play perfect,” Barr pointed out. “But we played well.
“We had 12 assists and 12 turnovers against that team,” the coach added. “We hit all nine of our free throws. We got five more shots and had more rebounds.
“We did what we needed to do,” Barr continued. “In my eyes we were the better team.”
Bullitt East trailed for most of the first quarter, but managed to get back within 14-10 at the first stop. The Chargers then roared past the Lions with a 19-6 run in the second quarter. Bullitt East was up 21-20 when they scored the last eight points of the half including a three-pointer by Hunter Noffsinger and a three point play by Rusty Troutman before Willis closed out the half with a jumper.
The third quarter was more of the same, but the first bump in the road came when Willis picked up his third foul at the 2:35 mark. The only two fouls that the Chargers committed in the third quarter were whistled on Willis. Bullitt East led 38-26 at the time and even with Willis on the bench pushed the lead to 15 points on two free throws by Troutman and a short jumper by Noffsinger.
That was the high water mark for the Chargers as the CPA rally started at that point on the back-to-back three-pointers by Braxton Bonds and Allsmiller to end the third quarter.
Allsmiller, who connected on four of his nine three-pointers, finished with 14 points for the Lions. They also got 13 points from Bonds and 12 by Lindsey.
Bullitt East was led by Troutman who pumped in 16 points, but he was only one of seven on three-pointers. Both Young and Willis finished with 13 points.
For the first time this season, all of the Bullitt East points in this game came from the five starters.
The Chargers had a 40-28 rebounding edge led by Young with nine while Noffsinger and Troutman each had seven.
After shooting over 50 percent in each of the first two games of the tournament, Bullitt East converted on 34.5 percent of its shots in this game. CPA shot 42 percent in the win including an 11 of 23 mark in the second half.
“I’m happy with our guys, but not with the loss,” Barr concluded. “I thought we proved a lot of people wrong with the way we played tonight.”
The loss was the first of the season for the Chargers after nine straight wins. Bullitt East was to play Madison Central on Sunday night in the third-place game. The two squads played just eight days earlier in Louisville with the Chargers winning 69-63.
King of the Bluegrass Holiday Classic At Fairdale HS
CHRIST PRESBYTERIAN ACADEMY 52 (14-6-13-19) Braxton Bonds 13, Braxton Blackwell 6, Thkomas Richard 7, Jalen Lindsey 12, Jake Allsmiller 14.
BULLITT EAST 51 (10-19-13-9) Trey Rakes 2, Rusty Troutman 16, Hunter Noffsinger 7, Elliot Young 13, Derek Willis 13.