Not even the hit reality TV show “Big Brother” could match the drama of Greenup County’s 62-60 win over Lewis County in the 63rd District championship game on Friday night.
Freshman Jherrell Jackson zoomed toward the basket, twisting as he tossed up a shot with seconds winding off the clock. As the ball bounced off the glass too strong, Jackson could only hang his hat on hope.
“I was just praying that it would either go in or somebody would help me out on that one,” he said.
Somebody helped out, all right. Big Brother sprung into the picture and put back the miss with 3 seconds to go. Greenup County led 62-60.
“That’s a brother cleaning up another brother, that’s what that was,” said Greenup County coach Harold Tackett. “That worked out really well.”
Jair Jackson’s tip topped off a 17-point, 13-rebound, four-block night for the junior. But, it wasn’t over.
Three successive timeouts — two by Lewis County and one by Greenup County — paused play for what seemed like an eternity for Jherrell Jackson.
“My adrenaline was just so high, I was ready for it, ready to get these nets,” he said while waiting his turn to climb the ladder for a snip.
No one doubted who would receive the inbounds pass for Lewis County’s last chance. Brett Ruckel already had a game-high 25 points.
The senior worked his way past the timeline for a clean look at a half-court shot, which clang off the back of the rim.
“It looked good to me when he let it go,” said Lions coach Joe Hampton. “He hit one very similar to that at Bracken County (earlier this season) to win it.”
Greenup County’s student section and sidelines erupted, as it had prematurely after Jackson’s game-winner — the contest, however, wasn’t affected by the first celebration.
Jair Jackson described district supremacy as “amazing excitement.” He added that he and his teammates were motivated additionally by returning to their coach’s old stomping grounds. Tackett played at Morehead State University, where both Lewis County and Greenup County will compete in the 16th Region Tournament starting next Saturday. The tournament draw is today.
“We wanted to send our coach back to Morehead to coach. This is the first time he’s ever going to coach there,” Jair Jackson said of the Musketeers’ second-year coach.
Brandon Johnson was a sophomore when Greenup County last won the district. Now a senior, the 6-foot-8 center had to watch the last 7:23 from the bench on Friday after fouling out.
“It’s so exciting to go to region as district champs,” he said. “I can’t wait.”
When Johnson exited after being a key inside presence all night, Jair Jackson’s mindset changed.
“It’s like the responsibility and all the weight fell on my shoulders after that,” he said.
Following 10 consecutive points by Ruckel to make it 50-46, advantage Lewis County, Jair Jackson came to the rescue.
He swatted a Ruckel shot attempt, and then followed a miss on the another. Then, he blocked another shot, and Robbie Dillon took advantage with a three-point play.
He finished out the quarter with two free throws and two more buckets. None was bigger than the last, which gave Greenup County its first lead since the latter part of the third period.
Christian Wireman served as an immediate sparkplug off the bench. The Musketeers sophomore drained a pair of downtown bombs to give his team a 34-32 halftime lead. He also tied the game at 60-60 with a trey from the left corner with 1:05 to go.
“We blew some assignments,” Hampton said. “We knew Wireman was a spot shooter. We knew that before the game started. We reminded them of that at the half ... and we reminded them again when he hit another 3 to tie it up. Despite all that, it’s 60-60, we’re in control with the ball.”
Lewis County (16-13) misfired what Hampton deemed a “quick shot,” and Greenup County grabbed the rebound to set up the decisive sequence.
Overall, the Musketeers outrebounded the Lions 36-30. They also had the edge in bench points (11-0).
Lewis County was again dynamite from the foul line, going 18 of 20.
Greenup County (12-15) beat the Lions for the first time in four tries this season.
“I’m just really proud of our guys,” Tackett said. “We played one of the toughest schedules in the whole region for this moment.”
Eighth-grader Gage Hughes contributed 11 of his 14 total points in the first quarter for Greenup County. Sammy Holder added 13 points for Lewis County.
GREENUP COUNTY — Robbie Dillon, Jair Jackson, Jherrell Jackson, Gage Hughes. LEWIS COUNTY — Brett Ruckel, Sammy Holder, Wade Adams. RACELAND — Jacob Blair. RUSSELL — Zach Tackett.
AARON SNYDER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2664.