LOUISVILLE - It wasn’t a flawless performance by the Bullitt East Chargers on Monday in the championship game of the Sixth Region Tournament at Bellarmine University’s Knights Hall, but the final 10 minutes were as close to perfection as any high school team is likely to get.
Trailing 48-41 with just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter against Pleasure Ridge Park, the state’s ninth-ranked team, Bullitt East was looking at an uphill battle.
Turning in surges of 9-0, 11-0 and 6-0 over the next eight minutes, the Chargers blew past the Panthers en route to an 81-58 victory that was the 15th straight for the red and gold this season.
With the win, Bullitt East (28-5) advances to the Boys’ Kentucky State Basketball Championship Tournament that begins next Wednesday in Lexington at Rupp Arena. It will be the second trip to the big show for the Charger program and the first since 2005 when they won the Eighth Region title with a win over Scott County.
“The main thing that I saw was that they were getting tired and we weren’t,” Bullitt East head coach Troy Barr said of the third quarter when the Chargers were down 48-41. “They hit everything and played on emotion. I knew the tide would turn.”
“We isolated Corey (Washburn) on the block and he hit some big shots,” the coach added. “It snowballed from there.”
It was an iron man effort for Bullitt East. All five starters played at least 29 of the 32 minutes. Hayden Sweat and Rusty Troutman never came off the floor.
“We subbed for foul trouble and didn’t have to do it much,” Barr said. “We did a different type of conditioning this season and it paid off. Our guys were great tonight. I guess they were used to it.”
There was plenty of energy left to celebrate after the game.
“It is unbelievable,” Sweat said. “I can’t describe the feeling. This is the reason that I came back (he played at Trinity as a freshman) was to win the Sixth Region with a Bullitt County team.”
Pleasure Ridge Park (21-9) shot 60 percent from the field in the first half and then stayed hot early in the third quarter as they built the seven-point advantage.
“Definitely, I was concerned,” Sweat said of the deficit. “PRP came out and smacked us in the mouth and then we toughened up. We got them on the defensive and got some big baskets.”
Just at the end of the third quarter both Sweat and Troutman missed three-pointers that might have indicated a little weariness.
“My legs went a little right there,” Sweat admitted. “Then I was on adrenaline. Then I knocked down a couple more.”
Bullitt East’s other senior starter, Washburn, missed only two shots in the game and finished with 16 points.
“I had no idea the feeling would be like this,” the big center said. “This is the greatest thing I have ever felt.”
Washburn was not concerned when the Chargers were down 37-32 at halftime.
“I just kept telling the guys it was our game,” the senior said. “I thought it would be closer. We took over and they sort of gave up.”
Bullitt East sophomore point guard Trey Rakes only turned the ball over twice against almost constant PRP full-court pressure.
“They were rough,” Rakes said. “PRP is known for that. They were physical. We responded well in the second half.”
And the feeling right after the game?
“I’ve been dreaming about this,” Rakes admitted with a smile. “It wasn’t anything compared to what it is really like.”
If not for the break between the third and fourth quarters, Bullitt East would have blown past the Panthers without needing to blink. The Chargers scored seven straight points, including a three-pointer by Sweat and four points by Rusty Troutman to tie the game at 48-48 with 1:10 remaining in the third quarter.
Pleasure Ridge Park did get a free throw from Max Clemons to end the third quarter, but then Bullitt East isolated Washburn inside on the first play of the fourth quarter and the senior scored to give Bullitt East the lead. PRP answered with a basket by Cortez Macklin, but then Sweat drained another three-pointer. When the Panther’s Antonio McDaniels hit two free throws, the game was tied at 53-53.
That was the end of the line for Pleasure Ridge Park and the start of the celebration from Knight’s Hall all the way to Mount Washington. The Chargers scored the next 11 points in the game and continued on a 17-2 run that secured the victory.
Washburn started the big surge with a lay-up and then Sweat nailed his fifth three-pointer of the game with 5:53 remaining. On the next trip down the floor, point guard Trey Rakes knocked the ball loose and then raced in for a lay-up that forced PRP to call a time out with 5:38 remaining.
Not content with that margin, Bullitt East added four more points by Sweat to make it 64-53 before the Panthers were finally able to score on two free throws. Rakes matched that at the other end and then when the Panthers missed the front end of the bonus, Bullitt East sealed the win with a basket by Washburn and two free throws by Derek Willis that made it 70-55.
Pleasure Ridge Park hit one free throw at the 2:19 mark, but when Rakes dribbled up the sideline he was pushed by the Panthers’ Spencer Sumpter who then pushed again after the initial whistle, drawing a technical foul. Rakes hit his two free throws and then Sweat put the final nail in the coffin with two more free throws.
Barr admitted after the game that he could smile following the free throws from the technical foul as he knew the game was in the bag.
“On Oct. 15 we thought we were the best team in the region,” Barr recalled of the first day of practice. “Then we had the same feeling on Jan. 15 and Feb. 15. We were confident we would win this game. My only concern was that maybe we were too confident.”
Bullitt East ended up shooting 59 percent (27 of 46) from the field with almost identical numbers for each half. Pleasure Ridge Park shot 60 percent in the first half and then hit some shots early in the third quarter only to finish shooting 27 percent for the second half. That total included missing all six of their three-pointers after halftime.
“We really felt good,” Barr said of the fact that the Chargers were down at halftime. “It was very positive at halftime from the players and coaches. We knew our time would come. We just had to wait it out.
“They got after us a little more in the first half. They were tougher than us early,” the Bullitt East coach admitted. “We had to hunker down and get more tough in the second half.”
Willis was the leading rebounder for the Chargers with nine boards, but the final stats did show PRP with a 29-24 advantage on the glass. Willis finished with 16 points while Rakes added 10 and Troutman had six.
The only two subs that entered the game for the Chargers were Brett Hatfield and Reese Hardin and they each had one basket.
Clemons led PRP with 21 points and eight rebounds while the Panthers also got 15 points by Jeril Taylor and ten points from McDaniels.
Sixth Region Tourney At Bellarmine University
BULLITT EAST 81 (18-14-16-33) Trey Rakes 10, Rusty Troutman 6, Hayden Sweat 29, Brett Hatfield 2, Derek Willis 16, Reese Hardin 2, Corey Washburn 16.
PLEASURE RIDGE PARK 58 (18-19-12-9) Antonio McDaniels 10, Jake Simpson 5, Jeril Taylor 15, Max Clemons 21, Cortez Macklin 4, Corey Anderson 3.