Pulaski denies Lincoln’s bid for regional repeat
Published 2:54 pm Wednesday, March 8, 2023
By MIKE MARSEE
STANFORD — Lincoln County’s seniors achieved many things during four stellar seasons, but they couldn’t write the ending they wanted.
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Lincoln found itself on the wrong side of the line between repeat and defeat Tuesday night when Pulaski County pushed its way past the Patriots for a 57-50 victory in the boys 12th Region Tournament championship.
Pulaski outshot, outrebounded and generally outplayed the Patriots before a standing-room only crowd at J.C. Eddelman Gymnasium to deny them a second straight trip to the state tournament.
Host Lincoln fell behind by 10 points early in the fourth quarter and was unable to make a run that would make a difference, which made for a dissatisfying final act for one of the most successful senior classes in Lincoln history,
“They outplayed us, outworked us, outcoached us. They came in here with a purpose,” Lincoln coach Jeff Jackson said. “You’ve got to give them credit, they came in here and played better than we did tonight. They earned it.”
Lincoln (24-10) was making its third consecutive appearance in the regional finals and was trying to become the first team to repeat as regional champion since Wayne County in 2014.
Instead, the Patriots’ four seniors were being consoled by coaches, classmates and family members while the Maroons and their fans celebrated on their half of the floor.
“I’m hurting for our whole team, our seniors especially,” Jackson said.”
Pulaski (27-6), lost last year’s title game to Lincoln in overtime and lost 76-49 at Lincoln earlier this season, flipped the script to earn its first trip to the Boys Sweet 16 since 2017.
The Patriots went toe to toe with the Maroons for the first two periods and half of the third, but Pulaski scored six straight points to break a 31-all tie at the front end of a 12-2 run.
Cayden Lancaster hit a 3-point shot with nine seconds left in the third quarter — Pulaski scored in the final 10 seconds of each of the first three periods — and Kameryn Hargis hit another in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter to give the Maroons a 43-33 lead.
A three-point play by Carson Fraley and a free throw by Barek Williams gave Pulaski its largest lead at 50-39 with 2:45 remaining.
Lincoln scored seven of the next eight points to stay alive, but the Patriots missed six of their last eight shots from the field.
The Patriots had one last glimmer of hope when Colton Ralston, the hero of last season’s regional final, buried one last 3, drew a foul and converted a four-play with 29 seconds left to make it 54-50. But Pulaski hit three of four free throws after going just 6 for 12 at the line to that point to finish them off.
“They wanted it more than us tonight,” Ralston said. “They took it more personally than we did. They came in here and got after us and we didn’t really respond.”
Defense and rebounding are so often key factors in Lincoln’s wins, but they were factors in its defeat in this game, not because of what the Patriots did but because of what they didn’t do.
“You can’t win region championships by getting outrebounded by 13 and not doing a very, very good job on the defensive end, and we didn’t do that tonight,” Jackson said.
Pulaski shot 55 percent from the field and went 6 for 10 from 3-point range. The Maroons were 7 for 11 in the first quarter, when they erased a 5-0 deficit and took a 16-12 lead, and 7 for 11 in the third quarter, when they took control of the game.
The Maroons also dominated the boards, outrebounding Lincoln 33-20 overall in the first half and 14-7 in the fourth quarter and getting 12 offensive boards.
“We preach on contesting shots, and we didn’t do that tonight, but when they took the shots and missed we didn’t get the rebound, either, so that’s how we got beat,” Ralston said.
Lincoln shot 38 percent from the field — five percentage points below its season average — and was just 4 for 15 from 3-point range.
“Our shot selection at times was not the best in the world, and we forced some things,” Jackson said. “We never got in a good flow offensively where we moved the ball and made hard cuts.”
Ralston scored 17 points, Tramane Alcorn had 14 and Connor Davis had 10 for Lincoln, which fell to 6-5 in regional finals, including 1-4 on its home court. Alcorn had six rebounds.
Williams scored 21 points and Lancaster had 11 rebounds for Pulaski.
Lincoln led for almost five minutes early in the game, and its last lead was a 25-24 early in the third quarter. There were two ties and eight lead changes, all in the first 20 minutes.
Lincoln’s seniors — Alcorn, Ralston, Jackson Sims and reserve Jalen Smith — went 96-33 during their four-year career, reaching heights the program had never seen before.
The Patriots won a school-record 31 games and reached the Boys Sweet 16 semifinals for the first time in school history last season, and in four seasons they were regional champions once, regional runners-up twice and 45th District champions four times.
“They’ve had a heck of a run, and they’ve represented our school and our community in a first-class manner,” Jackson said.
Jackson said the seniors have extended a continuity of strong leadership in the program, and he said their leadership and the chemistry it espoused is one of the things he’ll remember most about this team.
“I just think it’s the good chemistry that we had, the leadership from our seniors, how they pick everybody up and they really work with our young kids and try to help define the culture that we’re trying to have here and maintain that,” he said. “These kids care about the program, they care about the name on the front of the jersey, they care about each other.”
Ralston said he’ll have a host of memories of playing with friends he has known since early childhood.
“I remember playing with these guys since I was 5 and 6 years old, growing up with them and playing every day,” he said. “I’ll always love my teammates.”
Lincoln County — Tramane Alcorn, Colton Ralston, Jackson Sims; Boyle County — Kason Myers; McCreary Central — Brady Corder, Kyle Stephens; Mercer County — Trevor Ellis; Pulaski County — Brysen Dugger, Carson Fraley, Cayden Lancaster, Barek Williams; Rockcastle County — Walker Craig; Wayne County — Kendall Phillips; West Jessamine — Jacob Jones, Daniel Waters.
Tramane Alcorn of Lincoln County reacts following the Patriots’ loss to Pulaski County on Tuesday. Alcorn finished the game with 14 points. Photo by Mike Marsee