Butler County’s Alex Hall scored on a lay-up with 3.8 seconds left in the game to hand the Bears a 60-59 win over Grayson County in the championship game of the 12th District Tournament last Friday night in Whitesville.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for the Cougars who played perhaps their best game of the season. Grayson County grabbed a lead near the end of the first half and held it until Hall’s shot ended things. The Cougars led by as many as 10 points in the third quarter, but failure to convert some key free throws in the closing moments of the game cost them the district title.
The Cougars put four players into double figures on the night, led by sophomore Talon Gary’s 15 points. Senior Rance Whobrey hit four three pointers and finished with 14 points. Junior Bret Johnston played like a man possessed all evening and finished with 12 points and four assists. Senior Braxton Williams was the final Cougar in double figures with 10 points.
Gary, Johnston and Whobrey all were named to the 12th District All-Tournament Team.
The Cougars scored first on a lay-up by Williams, but the Bears responded with back-to-back threes from Hall and Brandon Thomas to grab a 6-2 lead. Two Tanner Tyra free throws with 2:26 left in the period pulled the Cougars to within a point, 7-6, but the Bears closed out the period with two free throws from Zeke Woodcock and a three from Alex Hudnall, and the Bears took a 12-6 lead into the second period.
A three-pointer by Butler’s Trevor Jenkins at the 4:45 mark of the second period gave the Bears their largest lead of the night, seven points at 17-10. But the Cougars answered with an 8-0 run, capped off by Gary’s three-point play with 1:36 left in the first half, and Grayson County led by a point, 18-17.
A lay-up by Woodcock and 1-of-2 at the line for Elijah Fleener put the Bears back up by two points, 20-18 with 56 seconds left, but the Cougars scored twice in a little over 11 seconds and Grayson County took a 22-20 lead into the half-time intermission.
When Gary opened the scoring with a three-pointer at the 7:16 mark and Whobrey followed with another three at 6:18, the Cougars had scored 10 unanswered points and led by eight, 28-20.
A Thomas three-pointer with 2:45 left in the period cut the Cougar lead to four points, 35-31, but once again the Cougars responded. Johnston hit a lay-up at 2:06, before Logan Ramsey hit a pair of free throws with 1:50 left to make it 39-31.
Following empty trips by both teams, Johnston went to the line in the bonus with 52.7 seconds left and hit both shots to give the Cougars their largest lead of the night, 10 points at 41-31.
But Butler County’s Zack Burden closed out the third quarter with a 10-foot jumper and it was 41-33 heading into the final period of play.
The Cougars led by eight points, 51-43 after Williams converted a pair of bonus free throws with 3:47 left to play, when the Bears began to turn the tide. Six straight points pulled them back to within two points, 51-49, but more importantly, Johnston fouled out with 2:44 left to play and the Cougars lost their driving force and the ball-handler that had broken the Bear’s pressure all night.
Gary hit 1-of-2 at the line with 2:21 left, then converted a three-point play at 1:48 to put the Cougars back up by six, 55-49.
Thomas followed with a key play to score with 1:36 left. After a missed Bear shot, Thomas flew in from the right side to snare the rebound and put the ball back in the basket to make it 55-51.
Gary went to the line in the double bonus with 1:13 left, but could hit just 1-of-2. Rex Henderson then brought the Bears to within two points, 56-54 with a three-pointer from the corner with 1:02 remaining.
Gary hit a pair of free throws with 53.7 seconds left to make it 58-54, but Thomas matched that with two from the line with 47.7 seconds left and it was a two-point game again at 58-56. That’s when things began to go south for the Cougars.
Whobrey went to the line in the double bonus with 37 seconds left, but missed both shots. That allowed the bears to come down and tie the game 58-58 on a put-back basket by Jenkins with 25.8 seconds to go.
Williams was fouled with 12.5 seconds left, but he could hit just 1-of 2 and the Cougar lead was just one, 59-58 and the Cougars called a time out.
Back on the floor, Thomas quickly brought the ball up the floor and drove into the lane. As the Cougar defense converged on the ball, Thomas slipped itl to a wide-open Hall at the left side of the basket, and Hall’s left-handed lay-in broke the Cougars’ hearts
The Cougars had the ball out of bounds with 2.3 seconds left, and Gary was able to take it up the left side and launch a shot from near half-court. As the buzzer sounded, the ball hit off the front of the rim and bounded away,
The Bears began celebrating as if they had won the state tournament, and why not. It marked the first time since 1963 that they had won a district title.
Butler County put three players into double figures, Thomas, Woodcock and Hall, all of them with 10 points.
In addition to his 15 points, Gary added six rebounds. Williams had seven boards, while Whobrey made it a double-double night with 10 rebounds. Ramsey finished with five points, Tyra had two, and Lane Rackley had one to close out the scoring.
Following the game, district honors were handed out. In addition to the Grayson County trio, Thomas, Fleener, Woodcock and Jenkins were named to the All-Tournament Team from Butler County. Hall took home the tournament MVP Award.
Others named to the All-Tournament Team were Zach Boehmann and Max Lanham, from Whitesville Trinity, and Dakota Woodcock and Cole Bedwell, from Edmonson County.
The 12th District All-Academic Team was made up of Ethan Saltsman, from Grayson County, Max Bickett, from Trinity, Hall, from Butler County, and Brandon Hinkley, from Edmonson County.
Named to the Regular Season All-District Team were Fleener, Jenkins and Zeke Woodcock, from Butler County, Cody Hymer and Dakota Woodcock, from Edmonson County, and Gary, from the Cougars.