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VALLEY STATION – The old saying claims that the third time is supposed to be the charm.
For the Bullitt East Chargers, the third time turned out to be a nightmare on Thursday in the semi-finals of the Class Act Federal Credit Union Boys’ Sixth Region Tournament at Valley High School.
The showdown with Pleasure Ridge Park was the third time in as many years that the two state-powers had clashed in the post-season. In each of the two previous encounters, Bullitt East had won both times, albeit, last season it took a 35-foot running shot by Charger point guard Trey Rakes to keep the game from going to overtime.
Bullitt East (29-5) had even built on their success against Pleasure Ridge Park, beating the Panthers 74-54 before Christmas in the second-round of the King of the Bluegrass Tournament at Fairdale High School.
But on Thursday in the new gym at Valley, PRP carved out a 40-33 victory. That brought to an end a Golden Era of Bullitt East basketball that included 108 victories and two state tournament appearances.
It was a bitter pill for the Charger Nation to swallow as the red and gold went down, not fighting, but frustrated as their worst offensive performance of the season. Bullitt East had scored at least a dozen more points in every game this season.
Worse, the end came with Bullitt East firing blanks. For the game, the normally fluid offensive machine went down shooting just 26.8 percent on 11 of 41 shooting. It started out horribly wrong as Bullitt East shot 14 percent in the first half, scoring only eight points and trailing 16-8 at halftime.
“We may have had our best practice of the season yesterday,” Bullitt East head coach Troy Barr said as he searched for answers to the crushing defeat. I felt confident going into this game. We just didn’t shoot it. That’s what did us in tonight.”
The big change between this game and the one back at Christmas was that PRP dropped their full-court pressure and fell back into a though defensive posture. That slowed the pace, but it wasn’t something that the Chargers hadn’t seen before this season. The poor shooting just allowed PRP to pack more bodies around the basket.
“They saw in that first game that we could break their press,” Barr noted. “They took that away. They couldn’t beat us in transition. Then we didn’t execute well in the half-court.”
Even after scoring just eight points in the first half, there was no panic in the Chargers at halftime. They had trailed PRP at halftime of both of the previous two post-season games and rallied to win.
“The first thing we talked about was that we had done everything right on defense,” Barr said of the halftime talk. “We felt good. We thought if we took good shots and got to the free throw line that things would work out. We just didn’t get a call there late.”
Bullitt East scored the first six points of the second half as PRP was held scoreless until the 3:46 mark. Mr. Basketball finalist Derek Willis then converted a three-point play that pulled the Chargers within 18-17. After the two team’s exchanged baskets, Bullitt East’s other Mr. Basketball finalist, Rusty Troutman, scored at the 1:15 mark to put the Chargers up 21-20.
At the other end, the Panthers got a big finish to the quarter when Richard Clemons nailed a three-pointer that PRP back in the lead.
Again, Bullitt East struggled to generate any offense. Over the first four minutes of the final quarter there was only a single basket by Willis to show for their hard work. When PRP scored on a goal-tending call, the Panthers were up 29-23.
The huge Bullitt East contingent in the near sell-out crowd at the 3,200-seat new gym at Valley High School easily thought that the red and gold had shaken off the rust as the team scored the next eight points. Troutman started the run with two free throws and then Elliott Young and Troutman connected on back-to-back three-pointers, the only two treys the team made in the game, to surge ahead 31-29 with 2:30 to play.
Unfortunately, the rally was short-lived. In fact, Bullitt East would not score again until the outcome was well decided.
PRP called a time-out after Troutman’s basket and when they returned to the court, got the ball inside to LaMontry Harris and the burly center was fouled. He connected on both free throws at 2:02.
Bullitt East came down and got the ball into the hands of Willis. The University of Kentucky signee dribbled into the lane, but his shot bounced off the right side of the rim and PRP grabbed the rebound. At the other end, Taywan Taylor was fouled and he put the Panthers ahead for good with two free throws.
When Troutman missed moments later, the Chargers were on their heels. The only free throw that PRP missed in the final three minutes came at 1:06 but then Taylor stole the ball from Willis and he was fouled and he hit both free throws. The final six points of PRP’s 11-0 surge to get the win was capped by a dunk by Harris.
“Derek came down and I thought he got hit and they didn’t call it,” Barr said. “Derek shooting a 12-footer is good for us. The no call hurt. That’s the way it goes.”
Barr was the first to admit after the game that scoring 33 points isn’t going to win any post-season games.
The veteran coach said he never felt his team was pushing or backing off shots.
“I didn’t see them as uncomfortable,” the coach said. “We did everything we wanted to do. We just didn’t hit shots. If you don’t score 40 points you aren’t going to win a Sixth Region semi-final.
Two nights later, Pleasure Ridge Park (25-7) pulled away from Butler in the closing minute to win the Sixth Region title. The Panthers will now advance to this week’s Kentucky State Tournament at Rupp Arena.
Class Act FCU Boys’ Sixth Region Tournament At Valley HS
BULLITT EAST 33 (4-4-13-12) Tyler Sharpe 2, Trey Rakes 2, Rusty Troutman 13, Elliott Young 3, Derek Willis 13.
PLEASURE RIDGE PARK 40 (5-11-7-17) McDaniels 3, Taylor 14, Hunter 3, Clemons 6, Byrd 2, Harris 10, Sawyer 2.