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COMEBACK FOR THE AGES: Pulaski advances to regional title clash

Mar. 12—The hosting team was the first local team to hit the court in Monday night's 12th Region semifinals, as Pulaski County was hoping to earn the chance to defend their crown. Standing in their way was Mercer County, a team that, despite Pulaski defeating them earlier in February, was playing their best basketball here in March.

After three quarters of action, it truly looked like the Maroons were soon to face the end of their road as they trailed by double digits early in the fourth. However, an unlikely comeback was in store. Pulaski used every defensive trick in the book, along with hitting some timely shots, and outscored the Titans 22-9 in the final period to advance to the finals with a 54-48 win.

Carson Fraley, coming back to the starting line up due to an injury sustained by Ethan Idlewine, had a free throw for the first point of the ball game. Zak Anderson stole the ball on the first Mercer County possession and promptly drained a three-pointer, giving the Maroons a four-point edge. Two free throws from junior Andrew Tatum were answered on the other end by two from Will Blankenship. Anderson was forced out of the game due to two early fouls, but after a three from Foster Fraley as well as two inside from Carson Fraley, Pulaski led 11-2 and forced a timeout from Mercer.

Senior Jackson Perry drilled the first three of the game for the Titans, but the remainder of the period belonged to the Maroons. A three from Gavin Cook as well as a basket from Blankenship gave Pulaski an 18-9 lead after the first.

Junior Trevor Ellis and senior John Perry each had a two to start off the second, with Carson Fraley adding a two to stop the Pulaski drought. A quick 6-0 scoring spree by the Titans, with three different players scoring, brought the Maroons' lead down to just 20-19 and forced head coach John Fraley to call for a timeout. Mercer County got their first lead of the night with a basket inside from Jackson Perry, with Blankenship adding two before the buzzer to tie the game up at 22-22 heading into half.

Baskets from Jalen Wooldridge and Cook started off the third quarter as Pulaski regained their lead, but unfortunately, their offense would soon go cold. Mercer County went on a 15-0 run to take a massive 37-26 lead in the ball game late in the third, with Ellis scoring seven and capitalizing the run with a slam dunk on the right side of the basket. Late points from Blankenship and Wooldridge started to turn the jets of the Pulaski offense once again, but they were still down 39-32.

John Perry drained a shot from deep early in the fourth to give his team a 42-32 lead over the Maroons, with many wondering if this was it for Pulaski. A three from Wooldridge plus two inside from Anderson later however, and the gym was started to become energized for the Maroons. Anderson stole it on the next possession and had a beautiful pass to Carson Fraley for two, cutting the Titans' lead down to just three.

Following two missed free throws from Ellis, Blankenship confidently drained a three to tie the ball game up at 42-42, with the Pulaski fans coming unglued. Carson Fraley had another layup to give his team the lead back and Wooldridge then drained his second three-point basket of the quarter, increasing Pulaski's lead to 47-42 and forcing Mercer County to spend a timeout with everything possible going wrong for them.

Another basket from Blankenship followed and then he was fouled once again, hitting both free throws to give the Maroons a 51-42 lead late in the game. A basket inside from John Perry stopped a 19-0 run for the hosts. Sophomore Kaleb Murray was able to cut the lead down to five, however a free throw from Carson Fraley and a pair from Cook and Pulaski was able to ice away their 54-48 victory over Mercer County.

The Maroons were led by Blankenship with 17 points, as well as Carson Fraley with 12 and Wooldridge with 10. Other scorers included Cook with seven, Anderson with five and Foster Fraley with three. Mercer County was led by Ellis with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Pulaski advances to their third-straight 12th Region Tournament title game and will look to defend their title against crosstown foe Somerset.

Jacob Pratt is the Sports Editor of the Commonwealth Journal and can be reached at jpratt@somerset-kentucky.com.