LEXINGTON — It’s been nearly two decades — 18 years to be exact — since Montgomery County made an appearance on the state’s biggest stage.
In between the Indians’ first appearance in the KHSAA¿Sweet Sixteen in 1995 until Thursday, folks in neighboring Mount Sterling have been yearning for a return to Rupp and watched as 10th Region rivals George Rogers Clark High School and Mason County battled for regional supremacy. Behind stars such as Chris Lofton and Darius Miller, the Royals won state championships in 2003 and 2008, while the Cardinals with a cast of players featuring Preston Knowles, Vinny Zollo, Robbie Stenzel and others, claimed three of the past five region titles and won their first-round games in 2007 and each of the past two years before bowing out in the state quarterfinals.
As expected, the Indians showed signs of nervousness in the first quarter of their second-ever state tournament opener against Warren Central, but settled down and earned a ticket to the quarterfinal round with a 71-63 triumph over the Dragons. Montgomery, which boasts an impressive 32-4 record will take a 13-game winning streak into tonight’s contest against John Hardin, which defeated Fleming County 79-69 in the second game of a doubleheader during the afternoon session.
Although a relative newcomer to the state tournament, the Indians held off a furious comeback by Warren Central, which forced four lead changes in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter. The Indians also used a standout performance by star Omar Prewitt. The senior and William and Mary signee scored 29 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and had four blocks to keep Montgomery perfect in first-round games in the state tourney.
Prewitt, who connected on four of his team’s six shots from long, drained a clutch 3-pointer with the Indians clinging to a 59-56 lead with 3:50 remaining, Prewitt’s trey was part of a 15-2 run by the Indians that kept their championship hopes alive in a tournament that will crown a new championship in two days.
Last year’s champion — Louisville Trinity, which defeated Clark in the quarterfinals, lost to Ballard in the finals of the district tournament.
Not only did Prewitt provide the bulk of his team’s scoring, but at the advice of his coach, he grabbed rebounds on both ends of the court when his team needed it the most.
The numbers highlighted Prewitt as the star, but he got some help from teammate Bryan Wallace, who finished with 17 points and scored 10 of those in the final eight minutes to balance the Indians’ offensive attack. Montgomery County coach Happy Osborne praised the efforts of Prewitt and Wallace but also liked the way point guard Tyler Jones “was tremendous on the press” and was impressed with the way Chase Hall “gutted it out.” He added that rebounding and defense down the stretch “was the difference in the game.”
“Our guys just kept plugging and plugging,” Osborne said. “My hat is off to our guys. They are the guys who deserve the credit. Our kids stepped up to the challenge.”
Only eight teams have a shot at winning a state title and Montgomery gives the 10th¿Region a chance of claiming the crown for the first time in five years.
“I didn’t come in here and want to be put out in the first game,” Prewitt said. “I really want to play some more games. It was really fun being out there on the court.”
Prewitt and the Indians are marching on to the next beat.