CORBIN — The Williamsburg Yellow Jackets are partying like it’s 1987! That was the last time the Jackets won a game in the 13th Region Tournament, and they ended the 27-year drought with a 47-44 win over the heavily favored Knox Central Panthers on Thursday night.
It is just another milestone for Williamsburg this postseason, who is making their first regional tournament appearance since 1998 after upsetting the South Laurel Cardinals in the first round of the 50th District Tournament.
“This had nothing to do with coaching tonight. This was all about the resiliency and determination of our players,” said Williamsburg coach Patrick Robinson. “We have changed some things and that helped, but it’s really these kids and them deciding that they are not going to get beat.”
For Knox Central, it was a disappointing ending to what was a tremendous regular season run. The Panthers finished 13-1 against 13th Region opponents before Thursday’s loss, with wins on the road against Clay County, Jackson County, and Corbin — all three teams who made the regional tournament.
“Hats off to Williamsburg. They did a great job. I knew this was going to be a battle,” said Knox Central coach Brian Evans. “I hate it for our kids. It was a tough way to end the season. They’ve worked hard this season and done everything we’ve asked them to do. I hate it for our seniors and all of our guys.”
Knox Central was able to control the game for the entire first half. Back-to-back three-point baskets by Jeffrey Adams, allowed the Panthers to take a 12-8 lead after the first quarter.
Williamsburg struggled on the offensive end of the court in the second, connecting on just three field goals. Knox Central continued to extend their lead in the second period, as Dustin Hensley scored six points, helping the Panthers to a 24-16 advantage heading into the half.
Adams and Hensley were the only Knox Central players to reach double figures on the night, scoring 15 and 12 points, respectively.
“Any of our guys are capable of stepping up on any given night and being our leading scorer. I thought Williamsburg did a good job against Chad (Marsee) inside and guarding Matthew (Barger),” said Evans. “Jeffrey (Adams) and Dustin (Hensley) were really good tonight, and they were really good in our last game, as well.”
The tide began to turn in the third quarter, as sophomore center Andrew Griffith went to work in the paint. In the first three minutes of the quarter, Griffith scored seven straight points and brought the Jackets to within striking distance, down just 28-27. Back-to-back baskets by Skyler Griffith and Corey Shelton gave Williamsburg a 33-32 lead after three.
“Everyone had been in Andrew’s ear all day, coaching him and telling him what to do,” said Robinson. “During halftime, I looked at him and told him that all I wanted him to do was to just go out there and have fun. He did that and it helped us.”
Knox Central came out firing in the fourth quarter, going on a 10-2 run to start the period. The Panthers held on to a 44-37 lead with just over a minute left and it looked like the game was over.
On the next trip down the court, Skyler Griffith buried a three-pointer with 1:07 on the clock, to cut the lead to 44-40. After a Knox Central turnover, Andrew Griffith finished on an and-one with :47 left, to cut the lead to 44-43.
Knox Central turned the ball over on the very next possession and Shelton was fouled with :38.5 left. He proceeded to knock down both free throws, giving his team a 45-44 lead that they never relinquished. The Panthers had a chance to tie the game on two separate attempts, but both missed, as Knox Central fell 47-44
“I held that press off until the very end and I think it surprised them. They had trouble with the pressure and that allowed us to get back in it,” said Robinson. “This was a great win, but any time you coach against a friend like Brian Evans, who is one of the best coaches and people in the state, you hate it for his kids. But, it’s great for our students and our school.”
With the win, the Jackets advance to take on the Clay County Tigers in the semifinals this Saturday at The Arena. The Tigers defeated Middlesboro 83-32 in first-round action.
“The way Clay County played earlier today, they are going to be hard to beat,” added Robinson.
— — —
Williamsburg (47) — Corey Shelton 22, Andrew Griffith 10, Skyler Griffith 9, Hunter Sulfridge 6.
Knox Central (44) — Jeffrey Adams 15, Dustin Hensley 12, Nathan Cole 8, Matthew Barger 5, Chad Marsee 4.