Before meeting in the championship game of the Sarah Major Barger Memorial Tournament at North Bullitt on Wednesday, the Bullitt Central Cougars and the North Bullitt Eagles each had to win two games to reach the final of the 8-team tournament.
For Bullitt Central, the first two games of the tournament had a similar pattern - jump out on top early, struggle a little in the middle and then put it away in the end.
On Monday, the Cougars jumped out to a 17-8 lead in the first quarter against Collegiate. However, the lead shrank to as little as six before Bullitt Central closed out the 70-58 victory.
The Cougars shot 50 percent for the game including 12 of 24 on two-point attemts and 11 of 12 from beyond the arc. The team was even better at the foul line, missing just one of 14 attempts.
Down the stretch, Miciah Ocasio hit four clutch free throws and Luke Whitmore hit a pair to ice the victory.
Schnellenberger had the hot hand hitting five three-pointers en route to a game high of 23 points.
In the semi-finals, Bullitt Central faced a much more athletic team in Waggener. Once again, the Cougars jumped out to an 11-6 first quarter lead.
With 1:46 left in the game, the Wildcats had sliced the lead to 44-40.
Craddock hit two free throws and Shepherd hit four straight to preserve the 50-42 victory.
“We played great offense and no defense,” Bullitt Central head coach Joe Pat Lee said of the first two games of the tournament. We allowed the games to get close in the fourth quarter. Both games were closer than they should have been.”
For North Bullitt, Monday’s 95-36 defeat of St. Francis was impressive. But the play of the younger players off the bench was spectacular.
With pressure defense, the Eagles jumped out to a 26-10 lead at the end of the first quarter. From that point on, Barger substituted liberally and the team was still able to score at will.
As it turned out, the leading scorer for the Eagles was Lucas Johnson who scored 18 points in his first extensive varsity action. The Eagles also got 13 points from starter Brandon Goeing as well as 11 points off the bench from Alan Crowe.
In Tuesday’s semifinal against Whitefield Academy, North Bullitt appeared like the defensive pressure early in the contest would generate another route. The Wildcats had a different idea.
The pressure defense and the inside play of Ryan Collins pushed North Bullitt to a 15-9 advantage at the end of the first quarter.
When Cody Montgomery hit a three-pointer and a foul shot with two seconds left in the half, the Eagles went into the locker room with a 27-20 lead.
Barger turned up the heat in the third quarter and North Bullitt outscored Whitefield 13-4.
However, an 18-point lead quickly evaporated.
Charlie Freed got hot for the visitors and scored nine points as Whitefield outscored North Bullitt 7-1 over the first two minutes of the fourth quarter.
With North Bullitt putting its opponent on the free throw line and with Hull on the bench in foul trouble, the lead evaporated to just 41-39 with 2:41 left.
After Tony Majors hit a free throw, Hull re-entered the lineup and hit a free throw. Hardy followed with another free throw as the lead grew to 44-39. Hull would score the final six points for the Eagles to close out the 50-41 victory.
North Bullitt was outscored 17-10 in the fourth quarter. The green and gold did convert eight of 13 attempts at the foul line in the final frame. The only basket over the final eight minutes was by Hull.
“I was concerned with Whitefield,” North Bullitt head coach Lee Barger said later. “We did force them into 30 turnovers. Still, they had a dunk to get within two points before we hit free throws to win by nine.”
Sarah Major Barger
BULLITT CENTRAL 51 (11-13-14-13) Damon Shepherd 12, Caleb Craddock 12, Ryan Schnellenberger 11, Cody Smith 5, Miciah Ocasio 5, Luke Whitmore 4, Randy Hurst 2.
WAGGENER 42 (6-16-10-10) Mayberry 9, Anderson 9, Stoess 8, Mozee 6, Thomas 4, Mumphrey 4, Overall 2.
NORTH BULLITT 50 (15-12-13-10) Marcel Hull 16, Ryan Collins 16, Blake Hardy 6, Cody Montgomery 6, Brandon Goeing 4, Alan Crowe 2, Tony Majors 1.
WHITEFIELD ACADEMY 41 (9-11-4-17) Freed 20, McNary 9, Fulkerson 5, Brookshire 4, Johnson 2, Stoltz 1.
BULLITT CENTRAL 70 (17-16-19-18) Ryan Schnellenberger 23, Damon Shepherd 13, Caleb Craddock 11, Miciah Ocasio 9, Cody Smith 7, Ryan Hurst 5, Luke Whitmore 2
COLLEGIATE 58 (14-19-15-10) Burge 17, Schutte 12, Abu Ali 9, Townsend 9, Keyer 9, Bryant 2
NORTH BULLITT 95 (26-25-24-20) Brandon Goeing 13, Blake Hardy 8, Ryan Key 7, Ryan Collins 9, Marcel Hull 8, Zach King 4, Brandon Wilder 7, Zac Lamkin 8, Alan Crowe 11, Lucas Johnson 18, Evan Simms 2.
ST. FRANCIS 36 (10-7-7-12) Patterson 7, Perry 4, Schneider 6, Harris 7, Muslim 1, Adams 11.