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LOUISVILLE - It was a shot that will go down in Bullitt East basketball lore forever.
Junior point guard Trey Rakes nailed a 40-foot shot at the buzzer to clinch the Sixth Region titla and a return trip to the PNC Sweet Sixteen.
Rakes’ three-pointer as time expired Tuesday night led Bullitt East to a 47-44 thriller over Pleasure Ridge Park, the state’s second-ranked team.
It was the second time in as many seasons that Bullitt East (26-4) has beaten the Panthers for the right to advance to Rupp Arena for next week’s Kentucky State Tournament.
It was a little easier a year ago as the Chargers pulled away in the second half for an 81-58 victory.
Nothing was decided this time against PRP (26-7) until Rakes drove from inside one foul lane until he pulled up for a shot three seconds later that hit nothing but net as the horn sounded.
“We didn’t really have time for a play,” Rakes said on the floor after getting a ride on the shoulders of his schoolmates who rushed the floor after the game. “I knew we had to get a shot up. We were just looking to get the ball in(bounds). I just threw it up and God put it in.”
Did he feel it was a winner when it left his hand?
“I really couldn’t tell,” the junior said. “I was just looking to get it up. I was really falling to the right so I couldn’t tell. When it went in, it felt good.”
It was the feeling of a lifetime for Rakes who has hit game-winning shots before -- but never in a game of this magnitude.
“Nah, I’ve always dreamed of this as a kid,” he said with a big smile. “You dream of it as a kid. It’s great.”
The first thought by Bullitt East head coach Troy Barr was to throw a long pass and try to find 6-9 Derek Willis near the basket for the final shot. At the last minute, he changed his mind and opted to let Rakes make the long dash.
Barr had wanted for Rakes to get the ball at least at the free throw line, but because of PRP’s pressure, Rakes was well inside the painted area when he took the pass. He drove straight up the court and quickly saw that PRP’s defense was staying back to cover Willis and Rusty Troutman. That left only PRP guard Antonio McDaniels on Rakes.
Well behind the three-point arc, Rakes pulled up and launched the shot that will never be forgotten. The horn sounded as the ball arced through the humid air before swishing through the net.
Rakes felt he had to do something to make up for the missed free throw moments earlier. The last shot was the only three-pointer Rakes made in the game as he had two earlier long misses.
“I just wanted one more shot,” Rakes said. “Nobody came to me so I put it up.”
“That’s the exact play we drew up,” Barr said inside the team’s locker room after the trophy presentation. “He took it lower than we expected. First off, he had to get it in. We thought he could get to the foul line in 3.5 seconds and try to find Derek or Rusty but all the time he had was to put it up.”
This time it was a war from the word go. Over the final five minutes the two squads, who did not meet during the regular season, were never separated by more than three points. In fact, PRP’s only lead over the final 15 minutes came when McDaniels nailed a three-pointer with 1:23 remaining that put the Panthers up 44-43.
Bullitt East ran the clock down to 26 seconds where Rakes was fouled as he drove to the foul line. The point guard made the first free throw, but then missed the second only to have teammate Chris Embry rebound the ball under the basket. Embry tried to dribble it out of pressure but PRP stole the ball and then called a time-out with 18 seconds remaining.
Everybody knew that PRP would put the ball into the hands of senior Max Clemons who has already signed to play next season at Bellarmine. Derek Willis got the defensive assignment on Clemons. PRP spread the floor and with eight seconds remaining Clemons made his move down the left side of the lane.
Clemons got past Willis but Bullitt East junior Chris Embry slid over into his path and drew the charge call as the clocked stopped at :03.5.
“Those were two big plays by Chris,” Rakes pointed out. “He had a lot to do with how the final few seconds turned out.”
“We talked about that charge,” Barr said. “We knew that Clemons would get it and drive it. A lot of kids don’t want to take that charge because Clemons is so big.”
A year ago, Bullitt East trailed PRP by seven points at halftime before dominating the second half. This time they were only down one point at halftime and were confident they could get the victory.
“We were very calm in the locker room at halftime,” Barr said. “We asked them what they thought PRP would be feeling in the other locker room with it being a one-point game after it was seven points last year.
“They were having trouble with our defense,” the coach added. “They did everything we asked tonight.”
The game had nine lead changes and six ties. Bullitt East’ biggest lead of the game came at 34-27 when Derek Willis converted two free throws to start the fourth quarter. PRP roared back and were within one point when Cortez Macklin hit one of two free throws with 4:28 remaining.
Bullitt East answered when Willis got free under the basket for a dunk, but the Panthers pulled even when McDaniels nailed a three-pointer. At the other end, Willis answered with a short jumper with 1:47 remaining. That led into PRP’s only lead in the fourth quarter when McDaniels drained a three-pointer at the 1:23 mark.
Those were the final points for the Panthers and set the stage for the excitement to come.
Willis had a monster game for the Chargers as the All-State player scored 22 points and pulled down 14 rebounds. That rebounding tally helped Bullitt East have a 32-30 rebounding edge against a big and physical PRP squad.
Only four players scored for the Chargers as Rakes finished with 10 points, Troutman with eight and Kory Caufield had seven. Rakes and Willis each played all but 30 seconds in the game.
Clemons was the top scorer for PRP with 15 points and McDaniels finished with 13 points.
Boys’ Sixth Region Tournament Championship Game at Bellarmine University
PLEASURE RIDGE PARK 44 (13-8-6-17) Antonio McDaniels 13, Taywan Taylor 2, Jeril Taylor 6, Max Clemons 15, Cortez Macklin 6, Lamontray Harris 2.
BULLITT EAST 47 (13-7-12-15) Trey Rakes 10, Rusty Troutman 8, Kory Caufield 7, Derek Willis 22.