Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

March 17, 2012

TURNED AWAY : Rowan County fails to reach final day

Southwestern derails Vikings’ latest run

LEXINGTON — Southwestern's Steve Wright tried not to think about Friday's state quarterfinal game against Rowan County in terms of a coaching reunion.

Rowan County head coach Shawn Thacker previously was an assistant on Wright's staff at South Laurel.

“I like Shawn a lot, but I was more more worried about (Adam) Wing, (D.J.) Townsend and (Jason) Egan,” Wright said of the Vikings' three All-Sweet Sixteen returners from last year's state runner-up team.

Southwestern, making its first State Tournament appearance in the school’s 19-year history, overcame a Rowan County surge at the end of the third quarter to win 67-57 in front of a Rupp Arena crowd of 14,181.

“It was a difficult game to prepare for because they played so well here last year,” Wright said.

The Vikings couldn't produce the same kind of magical run this time, thanks in part to an active Southwestern defense.

The 12th Region team came up with 13 second-half turnovers and put the game away down the stretch by sinking 18 of 20 free throws in a five-minute span.

“They have great hands,” Thacker said. “We knew that they were long. If you beat them off the dribble, you have to do a good job taking care of the ball because those guys are active with their hands, even if you turn the corner.”

Rowan County struggled offensively much of the game, but tried to make a move late in the third quarter. With the Vikings down eight, Egan drilled back-to-back 3-pointers and Townsend followed with a steal and layup to tie the score.

Egan sensed it was just the spark Rowan County needed.

“It felt like it was our time,” he said. “We had that run and the crowd got behind us. It just didn't last the way we wanted. Defensively, Southwestern was cutting us off and getting out on us at the three-point line.”

Rowan County led early in the fourth quarter at 47-45 on Townsend's basket off his own steal.

But the Vikings didn't score again for 4 1/2 minutes as Southwestern strung together 13 points for a 58-47 lead with 1:54 left. The Warriors made 9-of-10 free throws during that stretch, living up to one of their strengths.

Another, as Wright pointed out, is the Warriors' mental toughness.

“When someone makes a run, we answer,” he said. “We've been that way for weeks. I think our kids were confident at halftime we were going to get it together.”

Sophomore David Kapinga led the way with 18 points, six rebounds, five steals and five assists to earn National Guard Player of the Game honors in a matchup of talented point guards.

Rowan County's Townsend finished with a team-high 19 points, including four 3-pointers in six attempts.

“People have been telling me Townsend is a great player, which he is,” Kapinga said. “He's quick, changes direction real well, poised, can shoot it and get to the basket. He can kill you in many ways.”

Egan added 16 points and seven rebounds for the Vikings, who shot only 34 percent from the field and had 18 turnovers.

Wing, named at halftime as one of five Mr. Basketball finalists, had 10 rebounds and five assists but shot only 2-for-13 from the field.

“Adam's a great player,” Townsend said. “He was just not on his offensive game. He does so many things. I was disappointed in myself that I turned the ball over too much at the end.”

Sophomore Tyler Thacker came off the bench to score nine points for the Vikings and earned a spot on the All-Tournament team.

Rowan County's season ended at 26-8, with plenty of golden memories from the past two seasons.

“Coach Thacker told us, ‘It  will always be with you,’” Egan said. “What we accomplished, it's pretty special.”

Southwestern improved to 29-8 and will meet tournament favorite Louisville Trinity in the semifinals this morning. Trinity beat George Rogers Clark 62-39.

Southwestern went 28-for-37 at the foul line to offset 37-percent shooting from the field.

Justin Edwards supplied 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Cody Epperson had 13 points.

This is Wright's first season with the Warriors after 21 years at South Laurel, including six region titles and the 2005 state championship.

“The good Lord provided an opening here,” Wright said. “The kids bought into everything we said. I'm glad to be a small part of it.”   

ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at rstanley@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2671.

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