MAROONS BELONG: Pulaski comes close to upset of Trinity in Sweet 16

Mar. 22—LEXINGTON — Think back to just a few weeks ago when the Pulaski County Maroons lost to Somerset in the 47th District title game. Did anyone really think they would be the ones representing the 12th Region at Rupp? Except for the members of the Maroon faithful as well as players and coaching staff that is. But on Thursday evening, for the second time in a row, the Maroons did just that, taking the court at Rupp Arena for the first round of the KHSAA UK Healthcare Boys' Sweet 16 to take on Trinity (Louisville). Not only trying to get a bad taste out of their mouth from last year's appearance and trying to make a statement that they belong, other storylines were aplenty heading into this contest. Could Pulaski handle the length of the Shamrocks? How would Will Blankenship play, with this being his first time on that court after missing last year's game with an injury?

Well, one thing the Maroons did without a shadow of a doubt was prove that on this stage, with all the bright lights on them, they belonged. Pulaski battled against Trinity for all 32 minutes and had the whole of Pulaski County looking on and listening with pride in their heart. Unfortunately, the inside play of the Shamrocks eventually wore the Maroons down, as Trinity was able to pull away late for a 50-43 victory that ended Pulaski's season once again in the first round of state.

Senior Andrae Vasser got the scoring going after tip with a quick layup to give Trinity the first points of the game. After some good ball movement, Gavin Cook found space for a three and drained it, electrifying the Maroon fanbase and giving Pulaski their first lead of the night. Vasser and junior Lance Chandler scored four in a row to retake the lead, before Carson Fraley and Zak Anderson scored two each to flip the lead back once again.

Trinity responded with their first three of the night, hit by sophomore Jayden Johnson to give the Shamrocks the lead back. However, Pulaski controlled the final moments of the first quarter. Anderson had another two before Blankenship continued the Disney-like ending of his career with his first basket at Rupp to close the period, giving the Maroons an 11-9 edge after the first eight minutes.

Vasser continued his solid start with a banked-in three to start off the second period. Another basket from Blankenship gave Pulaski a 13-12 lead that wound up being their final lead of the ball game. Senior Alex Johnson hit a pull-up jumper for two and Vasser drained another three to suddenly put Trinity up 17-13.

Fraley hit another basket inside before Anderson was fouled and sent to the line for two. He hit one of his shots from the charity stripe to cut their deficit down to just one point. Another flurry had Trinity on the brink of breaking this game open, however once again Pulaski controlled the final moments of the quarter. Fraley hit another two and Cook knocked down a free throw after an offensive rebound, as the Maroons trailed by just two at 21-19 heading into the break.

Chandler was able to hit two free throws soon after halftime to again stretch the Trinity lead to four before Blankenship answered on the other end. After made shots from Vasser and Alex Johnson, the lead for the Shamrocks grew to six. Blankenship and Ethan Idlewine were able to each split a pair from the line but the Maroons were struggling from the field early as Trinity was starting to prevent them from finding any open three-point attempts.

Back-to-back baskets from Idlewine and Anderson on the inside cut their deficit down to just four points before another timely three from Vasser, who seemed to always be in the right spot at the right time in this one. Blankenship and Idlewine each added two more before the end of the quarter, although Alex Johnson also had a two shortly before the buzzer. Fraley heaved up a half court shot at the buzzer that was just barely short as it bounced off the front side of the rim, as Pulaski trailed 38-31.

After a basket from Fraley, a free throw from Idlewine and the first three of the night from Blankenship, all of a sudden the Maroons were down just three points at 40-37 and the Pulaski crowd was loving it. Junior Julius Edmonds finally broke his scoreless drought with an offensive put-back and following a two from junior Avery Frasher, the Maroons were now down by eight at 45-37.

Blankenship was able to hit two from the line after he was fouled but Edmonds immediately answered inside on the other end. Time was beginning to run out on another dream season for the Maroons. Cook had another two, but it was also answered by Jayden Johnson. Anderson added the final two Pulaski points but there just wasn't enough time left on the clock, despite some late missed free throws by Trinity, as the Maroons fell 50-43 to end their Sweet 16 stay in the first round. Despite the loss, head coach John Fraley was proud of his team no matter the result.

"We just wanted to keep them out of the lane and keep the score low. Did that for most of the game, but that's what got us in the fourth quarter. I couldn't be more proud of these kids though. Battling through the injuries and everything, just a resilient group. Hate the way it ended tonight, but just extremely proud," he explained.

Pulaski was led in scoring by Blankenship with 14 points, who also had four steals in the game. Anderson nearly recorded a double-double with nine points and 10 rebounds. Other scorers included Fraley with eight and both Idlewine and Cook with six apiece. Trinity was led by Vasser with a game-high 19.

The Maroons' season comes to a close with a record of 23-11, but the entirety of Pulaski County should be extremely proud with this team. They left everything on the court and proved that they belonged. Nothing more you can really ask and what a tremendous season it was. Best of luck to seniors Will Blankenship, Jalen Wooldridge and Wessen Falin on all of their future endeavors.

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