It’s been a long time since either East Carter and Fairview celebrated a 16th Region championship.

But the party gets started again for one of them tonight.

The Raiders and Eagles battle at 7:30 p.m. in Ellis T. Johnson Arena with a trip to Rupp Arena and the Boys State Tournament on the line.

East Carter’s only regional title came in 1986 when coach Brandon Baker was the starting point guard. Fairview’s lone regional championship came in 1975, well before coach Derek Cooksey was even born.

Colt Barnhill, the 6-foot-7 senior post player for East Carter, said he isn’t surprised that Fairview is in the finals.

“Early preseason they were ranked tops and throughout the season they played well,” he said. “They always seem to play good in the tournament. I thought we’d play them and I thought they’d beat Elliott because they match Elliott with their size.”

The teams met once in the regular season with the Raiders claiming a 46-38 bruising affair. It wasn’t until late that East Carter pulled away in the February meeting.

Fairview’s Caleb Collins caught an accidental elbow to the mouth from Barnhill and was taken to the hospital for stitches.

Barnhill came to life late after being stymied by 6-6 Mike Terry in the first half. Barnhill finished with 15 points and eight rebounds.

Kyle Bair, an East Carter senior who has played strong in the postseason, knows the Eagles have some options.

“Terry, he’s a big man who gets his shots,” Bair said. “Collins attacks the rim and he’s really good off the dribble.”

The Raiders were able to handle Ashland’s pressure defense and won the battle of tempo and eventually the semifinal game with the Tomcats.

Fairview eliminated three-time champion Elliott County, 57-52, and has played well throughout the tournament.

“East Carter is physical team, we know that from our first meeting with them,” Cooksey said. “They’ve got a great team, we know that.”

Collins’ slashing drives to the basket have been the catalyst for the Eagles, along with overall balance from a senior-driven team.

Fairview went into the season as the No. 1 ranked team in the region after getting transfers J.D. Adams and Terry, who have both excelled, to go along with returning starters Collins, Brent Jackson and Trey Stai.

“This is where we wanted to be when the season started,” Cooksey said. “Now we’ll see what we can do.”

Baker is impressed with the Eagles, who are 23-7 and the winningest team in the region.

“They’ve got a very good team with a lot of weapons,” he said. “It should be an outstanding final.”

East Carter is 22-5 with a 15-2 record since January. The Raiders are 21-1 against Region competition.

MARK MAYNARD can be reached at mmaynard@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2648.

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