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OKOLONA - A three-pointer from junior Hayden Sweat with three seconds remaining was the harpoon that finally lifted the Bullitt East Chargers to a 57-55 victory over Fairdale in the championship game of the 24th District Tournament at Southern High School.
It was a sweet win for Bullitt East head coach Troy Barr as Fairdale has become the great white whale to the coach’s Captain Ahab. The Chargers had lost four straight games to the Bulldogs and were just 2-7 since the two teams were thrust into the same district. Worse, Fairdale had beaten Bullitt East in three district finals including 2008 when the Chargers had beaten their new rivals twice during the regular season.
The championship was the first for Bullitt East since 2005 when they won the 29th District title and went on to win the Eighth Region crown.
This time it was Bullitt East turning the tables on the Bulldogs. Fairdale had beaten the Chargers 63-56 back on Feb. 2, a game in which the red and gold had led for much of the contest before faltering down the stretch.
On Friday, Bullitt East had a 12 point lead late in the third quarter only to see Fairdale rally for a 55-52 lead with less than two minutes to play.
This time Bullitt East had the internal fortitude to pull out the win.
“It feels good,” Barr said after meeting with his team after the game. “That’s what I just told the kids that it felt great. We threatened to blow out a few times, but I told them I preferred winning this way.”
Fairdale had taken that late lead on back-to-back hoops by Quintrell Morris and Kevin Williams. Bullitt East then missed a three-pointer and Fairdale called a time-out at 1:22. The Bulldogs got the ball to Morris, but he missed and a jump ball on the rebound went to Bullitt East at the 1:09 mark.
Instead of going for the quick tie, the Chargers got the ball inside to Corey Washburn and he scored with 50 seconds to play. Fairdale moved the ball around the perimeter but then T.J. Krages took an ill-advised three-pointer that drew nothing but air. Bullitt East then rushed the ball into the front-court and called a time-out with the clock showing :23.1
After the game, many of the key parties didn’t exactly agree on the plan drawn up during the time-out, but they all knew that the first option was to get the ball into the hands of Sweat who had already scored 20 points and leads the state in free throw accuracy.
Chase Troutman was the trigger man and he got it inbounds to Sweat. He drew the double team and gave it back to Troutman who then passed it across the court to freshman Trey Rakes. The point guard looked to the basket, but then put the ball on the court and dribbled to the baseline as the clock ticked below 10 seconds.
Rakes found himself pinned to the baseline on the right side of the basket. Somehow he found Sweat open on the far elbow and threw a pass across the lane. Sweat caught the ball cleanly and put it up, finding nothing but net on the other end of the rainbow.
It was the fourth three-pointer of the game for Sweat.
Fairdale called a time-out at :02.2 and got a long pass to Morris in the lane, but under heavy pressure from Washburn his shot came up short.
“It felt good,” Sweat said during the net cutting ceremony. “You never know for sure. I just let it fly.
“They came to double me and I had to give it up,” the junior added. “Then Trey did a good job getting it back to me.”
Barr wanted Fairdale to double Sweat early and for him to give it up and then get it back.
“We were looking for them to double him early,” the coach said. “We wanted to drive the ball and be aggressive. Trey did that and they forgot about Hayden.”
Troutman, the only Bullitt East senior starter, recalled the first three options for the final play all being Sweat.
“He called a ball screen for Hayden and let him do what he does and by God he did it,” Troutman said. “It was just Hayden all the way.”
Troutman was asked if this was the best game the Chargers have played this season?
“I don’t know about that,” he said. “But I know it was by far the most exciting.”
Sweat is Bullitt East’s leading scorer this season and he had 28 points two nights earlier in a tight semi-final win over Southern.
“Hayden Sweat doesn’t miss that shot,” Barr said later.
Bullitt East seemed in control for most of the game. The contest was tied at 12-12 at the end of the first quarter, but fueled by a pair of three-pointers by Sweat early in the second period, the Chargers pushed out to a 27-18 lead at halftime.
The red and gold were still ahead 36-25 when Washburn picked up his fourth foul with 2:54 remaining in the third frame. Fairdale picked up two free throws by Morris on the play, but when Sweat countered with a three-pointer, Bullitt East was up by 12 points.
“It wasn’t Corey’s fault,” Barr pointed out. “We started turning it over and giving up some rebounds. We stopped that in time and got some confidence back.”
But then Fairdale caught fire. The Bulldogs went on a 20-5 surge that saw them pull ahead 47-44 with just over six minutes remaining in the game. Troutman broke the run with 5:47 to play and the game was tied when Sweat hit one of two free throws. Bullitt East went back up when Troutman converted a three point play and after Williams scored, Kory Caufield twice hit one of two free throws that put the Chargers on top 52-52 before the two baskets by Fairdale made it 55-52 heading into the final two minutes.
“We did the little things we didn’t do last time,” Troutman said of pulling out this win. “We didn’t fall apart like last time. We did the right things at the end.”
In the past, Barr has been quick to point out free throw discrepancies when playing Fairdale. This time the fouls were almost even and each team attempted the same number of foul shots - ten.
Fairdale also only had a small rebounding advantage (34 to 28).
“We told them that we don’t have to beat them (on the boards) but we had to be close,” Barr said. “The first game they killed us on the boards in the second half. That was plenty good enough tonight.”
Sweat led all scorers in the game with 23 points while Troutman added ten points with five blocked shots. Washburn collected nine points and had ten rebounds.
Fairdale got 19 points from Josh Stroud along with 12 from Morris.
Both teams will advance to this week’s Sixth Region Tournament that starts on Monday at Bellarmine University.
2010 24th District Basketball Tournamnet at Southern H.S.
BULLITT EAST 57 (12-15-17-13) Trey Rakes 4, Rusty Troutman 6, Hayden Sweat 23, Kory Caufield 5, Chase Troutman 10, Corey Washburn 9.
FAIRDALE 55 (12-6-22-15) T.J. Krajes 3, Chris Biven 4, Josh Payne 6, Richard Rudolph 4, Josh Stroud 19, Quintrell Morris 12, Kevin Williams 7.