Grayson County saw its season come to an end Monday night as the Muhlenberg County Mustangs used a 14-0, third-quarter run to down the Cougars 69-51 in the semi-finals of the 3rd Region Championship at the Owensboro Sportscenter.
The Cougars had reached the semis courtesy of a thrilling 74-69 upset win over 11th District Champion Hancock County Saturday afternoon, with Talon Gary scoring a game-high 27 points and Alex Shellhart coming off the bench to score 23.
Just two weeks before, in the final game of the regular season, the Hornets had jumped all over the Cougars in Hawsville, beating them by 21 points, 80-59.
Saturday’s game was completely different, with neither team holding a lead larger than five points throughout the game. The Cougars shot a remarkable 84 percent from the free-throw line on 21-of-25 shooting. Until Alex Shellhart missed the second of two shots with 2:50 remaining to be played in the game, the Cougars were a perfect 19-of-19 at the line.
The Hornets scored the game’s first four points, but the Cougars went on an 8-1 run to lead 8-5 at the 3:43 mark of the first period.
A three-pointer by Garrett Pate gave the Hornets their largest lead of the day, five points at 15-10 with 39 seconds left, but Gary closed out the scoring with a three of his own to beat the buzzer and the Cougars trailed by just two points, 15-13 at the start of the second period.
There were five lead changes and two ties in the second period before the Hornets took a one-point lead, 37-36 into the halftime intermission.
The teams traded the lead six more times in the third period, but four straight Hancock free throws with 1:22 left saw them leading by three points, 50-47. Grayson County then got an old-fashioned three-point play from Shellhart to tie it again and a lay-in from Gary with six seconds left to put the Cougars on top 52-50 heading into the fourth quarter.
The two teams traded blows the whole fourth period. A Kolton Keown three at the 5:22 mark tied things at 58-58, but Shellhart came right back with a 16-footer to put the Cougars back up by two.
Two Cole Akridge free throws at 4:08 made it 62-58 in favor of the Cougars, but the Hornets kept battling, eventually tying the score one last time, 65-65 with 1:58 left to play.
Grayson County went on top to stay with 1:45 left on a Gary lay-in, then Shellhart added two free throws with 1:23 remaining to make it a four-point advantage, 69-65.
Shellhart hit 1-of-2 at the line with 24 seconds left to give the Cougars their largest lead of the game, 72-67. Jake Ogle scored with 17 seconds left to make it a three-point game, but that would be the Hornets’ last gasp. The Cougars added two more free throws for the final five-point winning margin.
The Hornets (19-8) put three players into double figures, led by Keown, with 22 points. Ty Ogle and Jake Ogle finished with 11 points each.
Gary made it a double-double day with a team-high 10 rebounds, while Shellhart added six boards. Cole Akridge scored eight points and led the Cougars with four steals. Tanner Tyra scored six points, while Bret Johnston and Gage Akridge had four apiece. Johnston led the team with four assists.
Colton Williams scored two points to complete the Cougar scoring.
As they had done so many times this season, the Cougars played right with the Mustangs into the second half before giving up the big, 14-0 run that buried their chances.
The Mustangs turned the ball over on their first four possessions and had two misses on their next two, but the Cougars could manage only four points in that span, keeping the Mustangs in the game. There were five lead changes in that first quarter before Muhlenberg County opened up a three-point lead, 12-9 heading into the second period.
A three-point play by Cole Akridge at the 5:36 mark made it a one-point game, 17-16, but the Mustangs scored the next seven points to lead 24-16 with 4:05 left, forcing the Cougars to call a timeout.
On the next Cougar possession, Colton Williams appeared to be hammered on a lay-up attempt, but no foul was called. In frustration, Williams was whistled for a foul, sending Jordan Terry to the line in the one-and-one. Terry hit both free throws to complete a 9-0 Mustang run and give his team a 10-point lead, 26-16 with 3:45 left in the half.
The Cougars later scored six straight to pull to within four points, 28-24 with 1:28 left. They still trailed by four, 30-26 at the half.
A Shellhart lay-up with 5:55 left in the third quarter made it a five-point game, 35-30, and that’s when the Mustangs put the game out of reach. Grayson County came up empty on eight straight possessions, including three turnovers, and the Mustangs reeled off 14 unanswered points to lead 49-30 at the 1:54 mark. The Mustangs still led by 19 points, 51-32 as the fourth quarter began.
The Cougars whittled away at the lead in the fourth period, but could get no closer than 14 points, 63-49 following a Cole Akridge three with 2:19 left to play.
The Mustangs put four players into double figures, led by Kaleb Rolley’s 16 points. Hunter Nofsinger scored 14, Kobe Drake had 13, and Zack Tarter scored 12. The Mustangs outrebounded the Cougars in the game 27-14.
Gary led the Cougars with 14 points, while Shellhart had 12. Cole Akridge also scored in double figures, finishing with 10 points.
Gage Akridge scored five points, Zac Williams and Tanner Tyra both had four, and Colton Williams had two to complete the scoring.