By ROCKY STANLEY — The Independent
MOREHEAD--Elliott County tried stubbornly to maintain its iron grip on the 16th Region championship.
Finally, somebody pried it away.
Fairview withstood a fourth-quarter comeback to beat the region’s three-time reigning kingpin 57-52 in the semifinals Saturday night at Morehead State University.
“We finally got them out of there,’’ said Fairview senior Brent Jackson, who made big shots down the stretch to assure the tournament a new winner. “Elliott County is always a tough out. We knew that wasn’t going to change tonight.’’
The Lions took advantage of Fairview’s string of missed free throws to rally from a 12-point deficit in the final six minutes. Junior star Timmy Knipp fueled the surge before joining center Jacob Ison on the bench with five fouls.
Even so, Elliott County closed to 54-52 on Craig Faulkner’s basket with 58 seconds remaining. The Lions had a chance to do more damage after forcing a turnover, but missed two free throws of their own.
Fairview nailed down the victory as Jackson converted three of four from the foul line in the final 31 seconds.
“I told myself we just had to have those,’’ Jackson said. “It was a big relief to finally knock them down.’’
As a result, Fairview ended Elliott County’s 10-game winning streak in the regional tournament and advanced to its first regional title game in 20 years. The Eagles will play East Carter for the championship Monday at 7:30 p.m.
“It’s quite an accomplishment,’’ said Fairview coach Derek Cooksey said. “Elliott County is well coached and has a great program. We’ve had some epic battles the last few years.’’
Jackson finished with 17 points to lead the Eagles, who hiked their record to 23-7 with the help of a 43-26 rebounding advantage. Jackson connected on a 3-pointer with 2:16 left after Elliott County sliced the deficit to three points.
“Brent is probably the best shooter in the 16th Region,’’ Cooksey said. “He made some big ones tonight and shot it with a lot of confidence.’’
The Eagles continued to receive a major contribution off the bench from 6-foot-6 senior Ceth Gunter, who pulled down 11 points and scored eight points. With 1:12 left and Fairview leading 54-50, Gunter made a strong rebound of Knipp’s missed shot and Knipp picked up his fifth foul trying to take the ball away.
“Coach tells me to go to the boards as hard as possible,’’ Gunter said. “I don’t let go of the ball until I hit the ground.’’
Gunter filled a big void for the Eagles after Mike Terry was saddled by foul trouble.
“Ceth has been a man on fire,’’ Jackson said. “He’s been playing great. His rebounding has stepped up and helped us a bunch.’’
Caleb Collins tossed in 14 points for the Eagles, who won both matchups against Elliott County this season.
“We tried to find (size) mismatches and were able to take advantage of some with Jackson, Gunter and Collins,’’ Cooksey said.
Fairview needed all the scoring it could find to offset another big night from Knipp. The state’s top scorer netted 20 of his 31 points in the second half and also had 16 rebounds.
“I’m proud of my team,’’ Knipp said. “Some of them have got their head down. I don’t know why because we’ve got next season.’’
Elliott County finished 20-8 and Knipp will lead a strong returning cast.
“We fought to the end and showed a lot of heart,’’ said Lions coach Greg Adkins. “Tim made tough shots several times. We just came up a little short.’’
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at rstanley@
dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2671.