With a big smile on his face, Pulaski County coach Tyler Cannoy said it best. “We just beat Salem and qualified for the district tournament. Itdoesn’t get much better than that!”
No, it certainly doesn’t. In a game between two evenly matched teams, Pulaski County hit the big shots, and made the clutch plays down the stretch to defeat Salem at PCHS Thursday evening, 75-68. The Cougars moved to 10-12 overall on the season and 5-7 in the River Ridge District and will play top seed Patrick Henry at Hidden Valley High School Saturday at 5 pm. The Spartans dropped to 14-7 on the season and 7-4 in the RR.
The score was 14-12 Cougars after one quarter, and 36-34 Cougars at the half. After three quarters Salem was on top, 55-54, and you just
knew this one was going down to the wire with both teams playing to the hilt. Then midway in the fourth the Cougars came up with the big shots and the big plays, and the team’s execution down stretch was impressive.
J.J. Gully hit back to back 3s out of the right corner and with 5:42 left to play the Cougars were on top by four, 60-56. Then deep off the left wing with 2:33 left Peyton Blackburn hit a bomb and it was 67-59 and the largest lead of the game for Pulaski Co.
With 2:12 left on the clock the Cougars spread the floor and the ball moved quickly. Suddenly with :54 left to play point guard Josh Bourne whipped a pass off the point down to the baseline to a cutting Luke Russel. He banked it home was fouled, and completed a three-point play for a, 71-65 Cougar lead. With :34.4 left Bourne was fouled and hit both free throws, and with :12.7 left Bourne was fouled again, hit both shots, and it was over, 75-68.
The Cougars were hotter than a $2-dollar pistol in the fourth quarter, hitting six of nine shots from the field and three of those were 3s, plus six of seven from the free throw line. When it counted the most Salem shot just four of 13 in the fourth and missed from the line four times.
“I’m mostly happy for our seniors,” said Cannoy. “It was their final home game, and what a great way for those kids to finish their home careers. The team played really hard. Hayden Gray did some big things for us that helped keep things tight. What a tough kid, great competitor. I’m glad he’s on my team. But I’m just happy for all the players. It was an outstanding effort. Salem has a good team and they wanted to win this thing. It was a battle, a really good basketball game. But we hit some big shots, we moved the ball to the open man, and just really played well. I’m super happy with the team, and this was a really good team victory,” said Cannoy. Gray, Russell, Blackburn, Chris Hay, and Nathan Swinney played their final games on the Cougar court.
Pulaski Co. hit 25 of 46 shots, 54.2% from the field, and canned 16 of 20 free throws. Salem hit 25 of 56 shots, 44.6% and nine of 14 free throws. Both teams committed a dozen turnovers.
Gray had another big night in his final game at PCHS with a game high 22 points, hitting eight of 14 shots and three of four free throws. Gulley hit three of five shots, and one of two freebies for 14. But there was team wide production on this night as Blackburn was three of five, all 3s, for nine points, Bourne was two of four and five of five from the line for nine, Russell was three of five and one of three from the line for eight, and A.J. McCloud also chipped in eight on three of six, and two of four. In all, six Cougar players had eight or more points.
The Spartans were led by Ethan English with 19. He hit six of 13 shots and seven of 11 free throws. A.J. Blankenship chipped in with 11, but on this night, Pulaski Co. hit the big shots, and when it counted the most, the Spartans misfired.