For East Jessamine High School, Friday night was 15 years in the making. For boys’ basketball coach Chris O’Bryan, it was 12 years in the making. And for the senior group, it was four years in the making.
On Friday night, the East Jessamine boys’ basketball team won the program’s first district championship by defeating rival West Jessamine 63-56.
“It’s been a long time coming,” O’Bryan said. “It’s nice to get that monkey off our backs, so to speak.” The ironic thing was O’Bryan wasn’t entirely sure he’d be coaching on Friday night. Thursday night he threw his back out — “It feels fine today, imagine that.” Following the win, O’Bryan was named Region 12 co-coach of the year along with Burgin’s Don Irvine. This is the third time O’Bryan has been named coach of the year.
The Jaguars (27-4) had manhandled the Colts (18-13) in the two regular-season meetings, but the district championship was a stark contrast between the two previous matchups.
Neither East nor West could get a firm grip on the lead and it came down to some clutch defense and baskets by East Jessamine in the final minute to help secure the win.
“We knew they just weren’t going to come out and give (the game) to us — we had to earn it,” O’Bryan said.
East Jessamine held a 54-48 lead with 3:41 remaining before West junior Chase Fain cut the lead to four with a pair of free throws. Following a two-minute scoring drought by both squads, Daulton Peters scored on a layup to bring the Colts within two points with 1:44 remaining.
“My kids kept battling and keep getting better; we’ve played (East) a little bit tougher each time,” West Jessamine coach Damon Kelley said. “We gave ourselves a chance to win tonight, but they stepped up and made plays to win, forced a couple of turnovers, hit their free throws; you have to give them credit.”
At the other end, the Jaguars missed their fourth straight shot and West took the ball to the other end, where Heath Jackson drew a foul on a shot close to the basket. The foul was Cody Collins’ third of the night. The Jaguars were subbing in and out of the game all night with foul trouble as Tashan Hairston, Collins and Taylor Harper each had three and Ronnie Carson had four.
Jackson knocked down both free throws to tie the game at 54-54 and cap a 6-0 run for the Colts with 1:19 remaining.
“It kept going back and forth — sometimes they had the momentum then sometimes we did. We just had to put it together and figure it out,” Jaguar senior CJ Boyd said.
East brought the ball down the floor as time ticked under 60 seconds. Carson, a freshman, was able to get free and went up for a shot in the paint with Robby Irgang, Peters and Fain defending. The basket was good, and East took a 56-54 lead with 57 seconds remaining.
At the other end, Will Henderson missed on a layup attempt, Timmy Bradshaw rebounded the ball, pushed it up to Boyd, and Boyd found Carson for an easy bucket and four-point Jaguar lead with 33 seconds left in the game.
Carson finished with 10 points, four rebounds and three steals.
Boyd played all but one minute and 14 seconds. He scored nine points, dished out three assists, collected four rebounds and had four steals.
With East Jessamine pressing on defense, Carson was able to steal the ball from Henderson and get free going toward the basket. He was fouled going up for the shot and missed both free throws; however, the play milked eight seconds off the clock, and Boyd was able to get the rebound off Carson’s second missed free throw.
Boyd went to the line with 23 seconds remaining and hit one of two shots to make it a five-point game. Irgang was called for the foul and fouled out with nine points, four rebounds and a block.
West was able to convert on the offensive end as Jackson scored with eight seconds remaining and West called a timeout having made it a 59-56 game.
On the inbounds pass following the timeout, Michael Rexroat got free and was fouled going up for a layup. Henderson was called for an intentional foul. Rexroat hit both attempts, and East received the ball.
Rexroat’s second free throw put him at 20 points on the night and 1,000 for his career.