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NEW CASTLE – It took 28 minutes, but once the Oldham County High School Colonels took the lead, they never relinquished as they edged Henry County 34-32 Monday to advance to the regional finals.
“It was really frustrating at times, but we knew if we stayed patient we could win,” senior forward Nolan Denise said. “we expected them to slow it down, but nowhere near what they did and it was hard to adjust to.”
Facing an ultra patient Henry County offense in trying to win their first regional title since 2007, the Colonels played to a seven all tie at the end of the first period, but saw the Wildcats impose their style and will in the second half to take a 17-11 lead over the Colonels.
With guards Ben Schroeder and Spud Baldwin using their quickness to slash to the basket, Henry County controlled the tempo and frustrated the bigger Colonels.
“They’re both good ballhandlers and they do what senior guards are supposed to do, take care of the ball,” OCHS coach Jason Holland said.
The Colonels were further frustrated by their inability to make shots off the offensive glass, on three trips on offense they had four shots, all within six-feet of the basket and failed to convert on any.
Henry County expanded the lead to 27-19 in the opening minute of the fourth quarter before the Colonels started their comeback.
Guard Blake Payne started the rally with a turnaround jumper in the lane. Tommy Williams hit a free throw to push Henry ahead 28-24, but guard Alante Flores continued to deliver off the bench when he buried a three to cut the lead to 28-24.
Two minutes later, Flores came up with a loose ball and sliced his way to a layup to cut it 28-26 with 4:44 left.
At the other end, the 6-foot-5 Denise deflected a driving shot from the 5-foot-8 Schroeder.
On the ensuing possession, Denise was fouled and hit both free throws to tie the game at 28 with 3:56 left.
The Colonels came up big on defense again when Kerry Smith and 6-foot-6 Tyler Wesley forced Baldwin into an off balance shot.
OCHS got the ball down the court quickly and Denise fed Wesley inside for a layup to give the Colonels their first lead of the game at 30-28 with 2:40 left.
“I thought our two big guys really came on for us in the last few minutes,” Holland said. “We knew we had an advantage there and we talked the entire game about using it. The problem was Tyler missed most of the first half in foul trouble.”
Following Wesley’s basket, the next possession swung the momentum back and forth after Wesley came up with a steal, Henry stole it right back leading to Wesley blocking a shot by Baldwin that finally led to Payne being fouled on a fast break.
Payne hit a free throw to put the Colonels up 31-28. At the other end Wesley blocked another drive from Williams. After a Henry timeout, Willams was fouled but missed the front end of a bonus.
The Colonels failed to take advantage when Smith missed the front end of a bonus. Henry cut the lead to 33-32 when Baldwin hit a short jumper.
Smith missed another front end, but made up for it by intercepting a pass with 7.9 seconds left and drawing a foul. He hit one of two from the line for the final margin.
“The kids kept battling,” Holland said. “It was a tough game. Henry had a huge crowd, Spencer County had a huge crowd there for the next game and North Oldham was there and they were all cheering against us. I told the kids when you are picked to win the region it’s us against the world.”
OCHS - 7 4 6 17 34 - Tyler Wesley 8, Parker Simpson 2, Alante Flores 5, Kerry Smith 7, Blake Payne 3, Nolan Denise 9, 34.
HENRY COUNTY - 7 10 8 7 32 - Ben Schroeder 9, Spud Baldwin 9, Tommy Williams 7, Ryan Mitchell 2, Austin Young 5, 32.
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