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SHIVELY – Bullitt East’s magical season of rebuilding and reinvention went down to the final seconds on Monday against Pleasure Ridge Park in the championship game of the Class Act Boys’ Sixth Region Tournament at Valley High School.
The Chargers pulled to within 57-56 with :07.8 left in the game when sophomore Bailey Rakes hit three free throws. The Panthers answered by getting the ball into the hands of their top player and Bullitt East was forced to foul Antonio McDaniels after he took the inbounds pass at :06.5. McDaniels, who seemed to hit a big basket each time PRP needed one, sank both free throws.
Bullitt East, out of time-outs, quickly got the ball into the front-court, but any play that had been drawn up failed to materialize. In the end, Rakes was forced to take a 25-foot shot that went long. The horn then sounded as the teams battled for the rebound.
The 59-56 defeat marked the second straight season that Bullitt East lost to PRP in the Sixth Region Tournament. A year ago, the Panthers beat the then number one team in the state 40-33 in the tournament semi-finals. Bullitt East had won the two previous Sixth Region finals with wins over the Panthers.
Bullitt East returned no starters and only one coach from a year ago so getting back to the championship game was a major accomplishment.
“We have the highest quality young men I’ve ever been associated with on and off the floor,” Bullitt East head coach Bob Blackburn said after emerging from his team’s dressing room after the game. “That is why we have so much community support and why we are successful on the court.”
Blackburn took over the team just a few weeks before the season started after John Hunt resigned from a job he had only taken during the previous summer. Blackburn had a lot of successful seasons at Bullitt East, but he had not been the head coach in 11 years. This was his first time coaching in a regional championship game since taking the Chargers to back-to-back 8th Region title games in 1992 and 1993, games that the red and gold could not win.
Still, Bullitt East overcame the odds this season and posted a 26-7 record for the season and reached the regional final after winning a fourth straight district title.
But PRP was a major hurdle. The Panthers are the state’s 7th-ranked team and were the defending regional champions. PRP had won the Boys’ Louisville Invitational Tournament on the same Valley court back in early January.
In the end, PRP just had a little more experience, mostly in the form of McDaniels who hit all eight of his free throws in the game as well as drilling a pair of three-pointers early in the fourth quarter that shifted the tide back to the Panthers after Bullitt East had surged ahead 43-38.
Unfortunately for the Chargers, just after Tyler Sharpe had nailed a three-pointer to give the red and gold that five point lead, Bullitt East senior leader Rhett Troutman had picked up his fourth foul at the 6:34 mark. That sent the senior to the bench for the next two minutes.
During the time Troutman was out of the game, PRP went on an 8-2 run including the two three-pointers from McDaniels. Troutman returned to the game at the 4:31 mark and moments later the Chargers moved back in front when junior Tyler Bacon connected on two free throws. Moments later, Sharpe stole an inbounds pass and drove to the basket for a lay-up that put the Chargers up 49-46 with less than four minutes remaining.
But then Bullitt East went cold from the field. The Chargers missed a short jumper as well as two free throws while PRP scored six straight points. That forced Blackburn to call a time-out at 1:07.
Coming out of the break, Bullitt East got the ball to Troutman, but his jumper from near the foul line hit off the front of the rim. In the scramble for the ball, PRP’s Khalid Raheem came out of the pack on a fast-break. Raheem fed the ball to Deshan Rushin who was fouled by Troutman as he made the lay-up.
That was the fifth foul on Troutman who was out with 53 seconds remaining on the clock. Rushin missed the foul shot, but PRP was up 54-49.
At the other end, Bullitt East got the ball to Sharpe and near the top of the arc he drained a three-pointer at :38 to end the scoring drought. Bullitt East opted to foul and they sent McDaniels to the line at :35 and the senior hit both shots.
Bullitt East missed two shots on the offensive end before Rakes was fouled. The sophomore made the second of the two shots and at the other end, D’Angelo Hunter hit one of two free throws for the Panthers to make it 57-53 with 19 seconds remaining.
Again, the Chargers struggled to get a good shot, but this time Rakes was fouled when he attempted a three-pointer in front of his own bench as the clock ticked to :07.8. That led to the three free throws that pulled the Chargers to within 57-56 and led to the fouling of McDaniels.
“We had a play, but it broke down,” Blackburn said of several of the late chances. “We got the best shots that we could.”
McDaniels just made the big shots when PRP most needed him.
“Those were big shots,” Blackburn noted. “PRP gets the credit. Those were all big shots.”
The coach felt the flow of the game shifted to PRP when Troutman picked up his fourth foul.
“We were up five at the time,” the coach pointed out. “But, it wasn’t a good situation to be in.”
Blackburn said that the Chargers were not running any special defenses in this game to stop any particular Panther player including McDaniels. The coach said that philosophy had not changed when PRP’s Lamontray Harris, the Sixth Region Player of the Year, was ruled out for Monday’s game after being ejected from the 64-63 semi-final win over Doss after being assessed two technical fouls.
For the game, PRP shots 47.5 percent from the field including 61 percent shooting in the second half. The Panthers also connected on 15 of 21 foul shots while the Chargers were 13 of 21. Bullitt East countered that by taking seven more shots and pulling down two more rebounds (29 to 27).
For the game, Bullitt East only turned the ball over five times.
Sharpe paced the Chargers with 17 points while Rakes finished with 14 points. Bullitt East’s top rebounder was Brandon Klefot with eight while Backon had six.
For Bullitt East, 48 of the 56 points and 27 of the 29 rebounds came from players that will return to the program next season.
McDaniels was the high scorer in the game with 18 points while the Panthers also got 10 points each from Hunter and Rushin. Hunter was the top rebounder for PRP with eight.
The win moved PRP to next week’s Kentucky State Tournament at Rupp Arena. The Panthers will open against the winner of the Fifth Region Tournament.
Class Act Boys’ Sixth Region Tournament at Valley HS
PLEASURE RIDGE PARK 59 (14-12-12-21) Antonio McDaniels 18, Khalid Raheem §, D’Angelo Hunter 10, Hunter Stevenson 9, Deshan Rushin 10, Richard Gaines 3, Drew Glass 3.
BULLITT EAST 56 (12-16-10-18) Tyler Sharpe 17, Bailey Rakes 14, Rhett Troutman 8, Brandon Klefot 3, Garrett Wilson 3, Jared Farris 4, Tyler Bacon 7.