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SHIVELY – In a game that will go down in basketball lore for local historians, the Bullitt East Chargers survived an emotion packed game to beat arch-rival Bullitt Central 54-50 on Friday night at Valley High School in front of nearly 3,000 rocking home folks.
Lost at times was that this was a semi-final game in the Sixth Region Tournament. That makes it the first time in history that Bullitt County teams have met at such a late stage in the season.
This time, the contest lived up to the hype. It was a different world from Bullitt East beating the Cougars by 19 points back on Feb. 11 in Shepherdsville. This was emotion, intensity and fortitude at the highest level. This was a game in which the lead reached nine points for just a few seconds while there were three ties and a pair of lead changes.
In the final two minutes, the margin was one point at 47-46, 49-48 and 51-50 with only 15 seconds to play.
Bullitt Central’s final points came on a pair of free throws by senior Jacob Wampler after he had rebounded a missed free throw by Bailey Rakes with 16 seconds left on the clock. After the free throws, the Cougars again fouled Rakes and this time the young guard, who is the team’s leading foul shooter this season at 85 percent, hit both shots.
After the second of the two shots, Bullitt East called a time-out. Bullitt Central got the ball up the court and into the hands of senior Zack Humphrey who had connected on four earlier three-pointers. Humphrey didn’t get a clean look and his 23-foot shot hit off the side of the rim and bounded toward the corner. Bullitt East’s Tyler Sharpe grabbed the loose ball as he was going out of bounds and called a time-out at :02.2.
On the inbounds play, Bullitt East got the ball to Rhett Troutman and he was quickly fouled. The senior hit the first of the two foul shots to account for the final score.
“This was a great basketball game for Bullitt County,” Charger head coach Bob Blackburn said outside of his team’s locker room after the game. “It was great for Bullitt East and for Bullitt Central and even North Bullitt. Everyone had to be thrilled that it came in a game at this level.”
For the first time in 35 years, the situation was a big as the rivalry.
“It was the semi-final of the regional tournament,” Blackburn said. “Any uniform the other team would have been wearing and there would have been pressure. Sometimes we handled it well and sometimes we didn’t. We’ll go on from here.”
With the win a Bullitt East team without a single starter back from a year ago advances to Monday night’s championship game where they will square off with Pleasure Ridge Park, a one-point winner over Doss in the first game on Friday.
On the opposite side of the gym at Valley, there was disappointment in losing, but not the performance by the Cougars.
“What an effort,” Bullitt Central head coach Joe Pat Lee said. “I’m so proud of these guys.
“They went toe-to-toe against a very good basketball team tonight,” the coach added. “It was a special night.”
Bullitt Central wanted to slow the tempo and make the Chargers score out of the half-court. The Cougars wanted to limit the touches for Bullitt East guard Tyler Sharpe.
As it turned out, the Cougars held Sharpe to just 10 points and Rhett Troutman has his normal consistent performance with 16 points, but the Cougars could not slow Bullitt East sophomore Brandon Klefot who had a breakout performance with 19 points and 13 rebounds.
“He has blossomed,” Blackburn said of the 6-4 forward. “Some people might think I’m crazy, but I think he is just scratching the surface of his talent.”
Even in his best pre-game thoughts, Klefot probably didn’t dream of 19 points and 13 rebounds.
“I was just trying to pick up the job of Ezra (Troutman),” Klefot said of the senior who is out with a broken pelvis. “He was our main rebounder. I have tried to step up and get it done for him.”
Klefot felt that Bullitt Central played a lot better in this game than they had a month earlier.
“There was a lot more on the line in this game,” the sophomore said. “They have a lot of seniors and it could have been their last game. The students helped them a lot.”
This was a game of runs. Bullitt East had the first edge, going up 9-4 before the Cougars tied the game at 9-9. Then, at the end of the first quarter, Sharpe got free for a three-pointer just before the buzzer to make it 12-9.
Midway through the second quarter, the Cougars scored nine straight points on a pair of three-pointers from Humphrey and one by Bourland, momentarily giving the Cougars a 21-16 lead. However Humphrey was given a technical foul for celebrating after his second three-pointer. Rakes hit one of the two free throws and that started a 15-1 surge that left the Chargers up 29-22 at halftime and then 31-22 when Klefot made the first basket of the second half.
Bullitt East later had a nine point lead at 39-30, but Humphrey drained a three-pointer and with four free throws to end the third quarter Bullitt Central was within 41-37.
For the Cougars, they were playing much of the second half without Bourland who picked up his third and fourth fouls just 21 seconds apart, putting him on the bench for over six minutes. He did manage to play the final 5:53 without fouling out.
In the fourth quarter, Klefot scored six straight points for the Chargers keeping the lead at either four or six points. That ended when Bullitt Central senior Jacob Wampler turned in a three-point play at the three-minute mark. Moments later, the Cougars got the ball back on a jump ball, leading to a Bourland basket with 1:57 remaining, pulling the Cougars within 47-46.
Blackburn called a time-out at 1:50. Sharpe missed a shot, but the Chargers rebounded and then junior Tyler Bacon was fouled at 1:18, but he missed the first shot in the bonus.
Bullitt Central ran the clock down inside a minute to play, but then threw it away. The Cougars fouled Troutman and he hit both shots in the bonus. At the other end, Wampler drove to the basket and he was fouled by Troutman. Wampler again made it a one-point game at 49-48 when the senior sank both foul shots with 42 seconds remaining.
Bullitt East opted not to wait to be fouled and Troutman drove to the basket for a lay-up as the clock ticked to :32. Bullitt Central got the ball into the hands sophomore guard Cameron Dukes and he drove to the basket and would fouled. However, he missed both shots, leaving the Cougars to foul Rakes at 17.5. Rakes missed and Wampler was fouled, hitting the two foul shots that came just before Rakes did the same at the other end, setting up the final shot for the Cougars.
“We had a play set up right there,” Lee said of the final play that ended up with Humphrey’s three-pointer hitting the side of the rim. “We didn’t execute it well which is nothing new for us. That still wasn’t a bad shot. He had made some of those step back shots earlier.”
Bullitt Central got 18 points from Humphrey and 13 from Wampler while Bourland was limited to 11 points to go with his 11 rebounds. Wampler played all 32 minutes in the game while Humphrey played all but 22 seconds.
Both teams had 31 rebounds in the contest. Bullitt East had 16 more shots in the game, but shot just 37 percent to 40 percent for the Cougars. The shot differential came from the fact that Bullitt Central turned the ball over 13 times to just five for the Chargers.
At Valley HS
BULLITT EAST 54 (12-17-12-13) Tyler Sharpe 10, Bailey Rakes 5, Rhett Troutman 16, Tyler Bacon 2, Brandon Klefot 19, Jared Farris 2.
BULLITT CENTRAL 50 (9-13-15-13) Chase Craddock 6, Zack Humphrey 18, Jacob Wampler 13, Colin Trent 2, Brett Bourland 11.