Johnson Central will defend its crown.
The Golden Eagles put together a fierce rally in the final minute Friday night to punch their ticket to a second straight 15th Region final with a 61-57 victory over Pikeville at the Eastern Kentucky Exposition Center in Pikeville.
Johnson Central, now 22-11, will play Sheldon Clark tonight at 8 p.m. with a trip to Rupp Arena on the line. It will be a rematch of last week’s 57th District championship game which Central won 50-49.
“I think we are both deserving to be here, and I’m not surprised a bit to see Sheldon Clark here,” said Johnson Central coach Tommy McKenzie. “We’re going to have to play our very best to win. We know that.”
It took 31 minutes for the Golden Eagles’ plan to play out Friday night. Pikeville’s Ethan Rowe fouled out after fouling Slade McPeek on a layup. He converted the 3-point play with 47 seconds to give Johnson Central the lead for good at 59-57.
Rowe fouled out. Pikeville (21-10) fell apart.
“We wanted to get Ethan (Rowe) and Ray (Kasongo) out of the game,” said McKenzie. “We knew if we could do that, we’d have a chance.”
Junior Shane Hall iced the win with a pair of free throws with 15.9 seconds left.
Hall led three Johnson Central players in double figures with 17 points and eight rebounds. McPeek added 13, and Truman Salyer finished with 10.
The Golden Eagles weathered the storm of Rowe and Kasongo for much of the game. They took a 50-45 lead into the final quarter before Pikeville reeled off 10 unanswered to jump ahead 55-50. Central went 5:30 without a field goal in the final frame.
“We haven’t been playing great, but I thought our effort was good with the exception of the little stretch in the fourth quarter,” McKenzie added. “I also thought we took advantage at times when [Pikeville] was in foul trouble.”
Kasongo, who finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds, was benched after picking up his fourth foul with 3:06 left in the third. At that time, Pikeville was ahead 41-40. Central made a quick run to go ahead five.
Rowe, a sophomore, scored a game-high 21 points for Pikeville.
The Panthers shot 52 percent from the floor on 22 of 42 shooting, including 3 for 8 (38 percent) from the 3-point line. They also had 19 turnovers.
Central had 11 turnovers and shot 40 percent from the floor on 21-of-53 attempts. They were 4 of 14 from the 3-point line (27 percent) and had just 11 turnovers.
PIKEVILLE 20 14 11 12 – 57
JOHNSON CENTRAL 16 13 21 11 – 61
Pikeville (57) – Jacob Hamilton 0 1-3 1; Ray Kasongo 7 3-6 17; Ethan Rowe 7(2) 1-2 21; Steven Silvers 1(1) 0-0 5; Ryder Johnson 1 2-2 4; Blain May 3 1-1 7; Cody Charles 0 2-2 2. Totals: 19(3) 10-16 57.
Johnson Central (61) – Shane Hall 6 7-11 17; Braxton Blair 4 1-4 9; Dalton Adkins 1(1) 0-0 5; Slade McPeek 4 5-6 13; Kyle Gullett 1(1) 0-0 5; Truman Salyer 1(2) 2-2 10; Nick McKenzie 1 0-0 2. Totals: 17(4) 15-23 61.
Johnson Central will defend its crown.
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