TWICE IS JUST AS NICE: Pulaski claims 12th Region title over Somerset

Mar. 14—The atmosphere. The rivalry. The storylines. The history. Everything was coming together on Tuesday night for the first-ever meeting between the Pulaski County Maroons and the Somerset Briar Jumpers in the 12th Region title game. Fans began filling up "The Big House" nearly two hours before tip with the place packed to the rafters by the time the starting lineups were introduced. Somerset had won two of the three games between the teams this season, but were also coming off an emotional triple overtime victory. Was a third victory in store for the Jumpers, in a game that arguably neither team should have been playing in?

It's hard to beat a team three times in one season and Pulaski brought their "A" game early, getting out to a decisive lead before eventually running away from the Jumpers to their second-straight region championship 70-48. Head coach John Fraley was proud of his team for defying preseason expectations to make yet another trip to Rupp.

"Everybody counted this group out because we had lost so much over the past two years, something like nine seniors. We knew this group was tough and resilient though, we got healthy at the right time and I just can't tell you how proud I am of them," he explained.

Jalen Wooldridge, playing in his final game on his home court, had the first two points of the ball game. Another senior playing his final game at home, Will Blankenship, hit a deep three to further send the Maroon faithful into a frenzy, before Wooldridge connected with a three himself to give Pulaski an 8-0 lead out of the gate and force Somerset to take an early timeout. Zak Anderson scored five in a row out of the pause, giving his team a 13-0 lead with just about everything that could go wrong going wrong for the Jumpers in the first.

Aedyn Absher scored the first two for Somerset to finally quiet the Pulaski crowd down and end the scoring spree of the Maroons. Ben Godby scored the next four, including throwing down a slam dunk after an inbounds pass, to trim the Somerset deficit down to seven as Briar Jumper Nation began to come alive. A Gavin Cook corner three gave Pulaski a 16-6 advantage after the first eight minutes however.

Cook continued to, well, cook with another three-pointer to open the second quarter of action. A pair of free throws each from Cook and Ethan Idlewine increased Pulaski's lead up to 23-6 and was putting this game into the danger zone early for the Jumpers. Indred Whitaker finally saw his first open three of the game and proceeded to drain it. Another basket from Blankenship, on a impressive euro step, forced another Somerset timeout, with Anderson hitting another two right out of the timeout.

Jakob Bartley had a basket inside before Josh Lewis, the freshman that sent the Jumpers' contest against Danville Christian into overtime, drilled a long two to cut the Pulaski lead down to 14 points. Cook continued to play well late with an offensive put-back for two before Whitaker scored the final two points of the half, with the Maroons taking a 29-15 edge into the break.

Somerset came out of the locker room with a renewed sense of urgency, as Lewis hit a three and Whitaker had another two to bring the Pulaski lead down to single digits. A basket from Wooldridge was followed by another three from the Jumpers, this one by Absher, to make the Pulaski lead 31-23. After another three from Cook plus two free throws made by Blankenship, suddenly their lead grew back to double digits.

The Jumpers weren't fazed by this, with Godby, Absher and Whitaker scoring the next six points to cut their deficit down to 36-29 near the end of the period. Although Somerset finally looked to be making a comeback, Pulaski scored the final five points of the quarter, with a steal and layup from Blankenship nearly blowing the roof off the gymnasium, as they led 41-29 heading into the final quarter.

Back-to-back baskets from Blankenship and Idlewine opened the fourth, before Somerset went 3-4 from the line on their next two offensive possessions. Pulaski took complete control of the game with a 7-2 scoring spree, with Cook hitting another three on a fantastic shooting night, as they led 52-34 and forced the Jumpers to take a timeout early in the quarter.

The Jumpers were able to cut the lead back down to 14 after a three from Godby plus three free throws from Whitaker, but it was once again a big Maroon run that sealed the game away. Pulaski hit seven of their next eight free throws as their lead grew back to 20+. From there, it was simply academic. The student section began to chant Rupp Arena as Whitaker and Godby checked out for the final time in their illustrious careers. Wessen Falin hit a three late, along with Colyer White for Somerset, with Kam Measel scoring the final two of the ball game. A few moments later and the Pulaski faithful rushed the floor, celebrating a second-straight region title with a 70-48 victory over their rivals. PA announcer Jeff Litton was soon able to say what he's been waiting his entire career to say on the Maroons' home court, "Maroons, cut down the nets!"

The Maroons were led in scoring by Blankenship with 19, as well as Cook with 18 and Anderson with 11. Other scorers included Wooldridge with nine, Idlewine and Carson Fraley with four apiece, Falin with three and Measel with two.

Somerset's season comes to an end with a record of 22-11. The Jumpers were led in scoring by Whitaker with 21 and Godby with 10. Other scorers included Absher with seven, Lewis with five, White with three and Bartley with two. Best of luck to seniors Indred Whitaker, Ben Godby, Colyer White, Jamison Coomer and Wesley Carr in all of their future endeavors.

After falling to Lincoln County two years ago on the same court, Pulaski finally celebrated a regional title on their home floor. Coach Fraley is very grateful for the win and noted that it gets a bit of the sour taste from that loss out of his mouth.

"You'll never really get over that loss to Lincoln two years ago, but this definitely makes it easier. Proud of how hard these kids worked and can't say enough about this group," he stated.

Pulaski now advances to the Sweet 16 state tournament, where their first round game will be on Thursday against the champions of the 7th Region, the Shamrocks of Trinity (Louisville). That game will be the first of the nightcap, tipping off at 6 p.m. Look for full state coverage next week in the Commonwealth Journal.

Jacob Pratt is the Sports Editor of the Commonwealth Journal and can be reached at