Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

March 3, 2013

16th Region championship: Fleming Ruppture

Panthers break through to state for first time since 1999

MOREHEAD — According to the age-old sports expression, it's difficult to beat a good team three times in one season. So how about five?

Fleming County ascended there for its first Boys 16th Region Tournament title Friday night, using a second-half blitz to bury two-time defending champion Rowan County 60-45 in Ellis T. Johnson Arena.

Down 12 points midway through the second quarter, the Panthers turned up the heat defensively and took advantage of an injury to Rowan County floor leader Tyler Thacker to punch their ticket to Rupp Arena.

"They just threw their first punch, and we had to come back in the second half and throw our punch," said Fleming County junior guard Darion Burns, the tournament's Most Valuable Player. "We got a big lead, and just kept it the whole way." 

Fleming County's five-game sweep of the Vikings included a double-overtime affair in the early season Eastern Kentucky Conference Tournament, a two-point squeaker in Flemingsburg and another tight battle in the 61st District final.       

"It was like pulling teeth, playing such a quality team like that five times," Panthers coach Mark Starns said. "We knew each other so well. I have a tremendous amount of respect for coach (Shawn) Thacker. It could have been a 3-peat for them."

Instead it was Fleming County's time. Starns brought out a new wrinkle for the occasion, calling for a three-quarter court 1-2-2 defense that gave Rowan County fits and allowed the Panthers to take control.

"They hadn't seen that," Starns said. "I think we stunned them with it. We got some runouts and Darion had some dunks."

Putting their trademark quickness on display, the Panthers went on a 23-3 tear to blow the game open at 48-32 with 5:19 remaining.

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