Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

February 19, 2012

Prime Time To Shine

Rowan County's Townsend leads repeat hopefuls

ASHLAND — D.J. Townsend struggled to punctuate his thought.

The slideshow of surreal moments still prove difficult to sum up, much like after an overjoyed kid visits Disney World for the first time. There’s too much magic to put into words.

Thinking back to his few life-changing days in Rupp Arena last March, Townsend used phrases such as “it was a dream come true.” He said he “wouldn’t take it away for anything.” He called it a “fun experience.”

But, like a patient hitter waits for his pitch, Rowan County’s senior point guard found it appropriate to finally cut loose.

“It’s still in the back of my head,” he sighed in relief. “Especially knowing we have a chance to do it again.”

Not that Townsend was lying. For him, Adam Wing, Jason Egan, Tyler Thacker and others who remain on the team that fell excruciatingly short of a state championship, it was indisputably a dream come true and a fun experience.

The fact is, though, they want more. They’ve wanted it since Christian County dashed the Vikings’ ultimate dream in the form of a Veontae Lewis buzzer-beating jumper in double overtime, the one that carved the score 65-63 into the history books.

Rowan County saw five tearful seniors play their final game that night, opening the door for three returning starters to find their way back.

“This year, it’s mine, Egan’s and (Wing’s) turn,” Townsend said firmly. “There was a little pressure from that at the beginning (of the season), but it’s died down a lot now.”

Get the point?

Townsend has played his role to near perfection. After transferring to Rowan County from Somerset after his sophomore season, he’s blossomed into one of the best point guards in recent 16th Region history.

Townsend’s elusiveness in the lane, improved shooting and overall awareness have helped him lead his team in scoring (18.7 points per game) and passing (3.9 assists per game).

A true competitor, the 5-foot-11 Townsend relishes the grand stage. In front of Kentucky coach John Calipari, who was in attendance to watch Bullitt East forward and UK commit Derek Willis in this year’s Joe B. Hall Prep Classic at Montgomery County, Townsend motored his team back into the game with an outstanding fourth quarter. He finished with 27 points, and the Vikings were saddled with a two-point loss.

“He hits that I-don’t-want-to-lose button,” said Vikings coach Shawn Thacker.

The button was stuck on repeat during last season’s regional final game as Townsend fiercely led an attack to put away Ashland, 64-58, after trailing 54-53. He had 23 points, five assists and sank seven of seven free throws to polish off his MVP award-winning tournament.

“That was huge for me. Being in the region championship, and being the point guard, I knew I had to make plays,” Townsend said. “I did what I had to do at the end of that stretch to help my team fight through adversity and win.”

Under the Wing

Wing became the household name around the Bluegrass less than two weeks later, as the junior reached a boiling point normally only seen in pre-game shootaround. A 12-for-13 effort from three-point range to go along with superb rebounding magnetized most of the oooh’s and aaah’s, but Thacker said the much-deserved attention for Wing could have easily carried over to Townsend as well.

“He did get overshadowed by the success Adam had at the state tournament,” Thacker said. “But (Townsend) played a big part in getting us there. He was the MVP of the district tournament and MVP of the regional tournament.

“When you get on that big stage, everybody’s got good guards,” continued the coach. “The job he did at the state tournament, handling Anthony Hickey (of Christian County), (Trey) Rakes (of Bullitt East), and all those guards, he did a great job for us.”

Controversy surrounded one particular Townsend moment in last year’s final. With his team trailing 61-56, Townsend pulled up from just behind the three-point line — as replay later seemed to indicate — and buried a jumper with nine seconds left. The officials immediately ruled it a two-pointer, which paved the way for Darrell Cross to send the game to double OT with a triple.

“When the ref came over and said two, I kinda freaked out a little bit,” Townsend said. “I was just like, what? I wish it would’ve counted.”

Thacker said both Townsend and Wing “tend to rise to the top when more money is on the table.”

Added Thacker: “And Jason Egan’s the best shooter on the team.”

Repeat run?

Highly dangerous, but not necessarily unbeatable, are the Vikings. The perimeter thermometer can reach flammable levels, such as when Wing did it last March or when the team buried 25 long balls in two games this past week. Townsend has even found his stroke from deep — he’s shooting right at 36 percent after recording a 26-percent clip last season.

The defending region champions have emerged relatively unscathed after enduring a strenuous out-of-region schedule, but it was the Tomcats who prompted a heart-to-heart team meeting just last week. Ashland beat Rowan County, 73-58, on Feb. 7.

“That was the biggest wakeup call,” Townsend said. “We had a big discussion the next day in practice. We huddled at the middle of the court for about 45 minutes, and it kinda kicked in, that this is our last run at it.

“We can’t take anything for granted because teams like Ashland are working just as hard to get there.”

Townsend, whose college list consists of Lipscomb, Austin Peay and Western Kentucky, among others, knows he must be at his best as the 61st District tournament begins this week. Rowan County faces Bath County on Tuesday at 6 p.m. with a regional tournament berth on the line.

AARON SNYDER can be reached at asnyder@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2664.

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