PATRIOT POWER: Lincoln wins 12th Region championship
Published 11:58 am Thursday, March 7, 2019
By Matt Overing
STANFORD — Less than 24 hours after a five-overtime win in the region semifinals, Lincoln County was cutting down the nets.
The Patriots defeated Danville in the 12th Region championship Saturday 63-45 after a dominant performance on both sides of the ball. It’s the first region championship for Lincoln County since 2008.
“Our kids just came out and played hard tonight,” Lincoln head coach Jeff Jackson said. “I’m just really proud of them. Great effort. Just really proud of our kids. I’m happy for our school, our community, our team, our kids.”
Lincoln senior Blake Smith said the team’s dominance started on the defensive side of the ball: The Patriots allowed just 13 points the entire first half. Danville was 4-of-26 from the field and 1-for-12 from beyond the arc.
“Coach has always told us, if we start playing defense, playing hard, our shots would start to fall. That’s what happened tonight,” he said.
The Patriots, by comparison, shot 60 percent from the field in the first half and were 4-for-5 from beyond the arc.
The second half picked up where the Patriots left off: Senior Bryson Yaden, who had hit just six 3’s this year, hit back-to-back corner triples to push the Lincoln lead to 35-15 just moments into the third quarter.
“We said last night after those five overtimes that we needed to bring a better effort (against Danville),” Yaden said. “I think we did that, we took it personal. We came out and whipped their tail, if you ask me.”
Danville’s offense finally started to click in the fourth quarter: The Admirals forced turnovers with their press and cut the Lincoln lead to 10 with 1:57 remaining.
“This is a high-character bunch of kids,” Danville head coach Ed McKinney said. “They did surprise me, we had four seniors out there and they wanted to go out the right way. I think they did. I’m very proud of that. They deserved to go out like that, where people see them fight till the end. That’s a good way for this team to go out. After the fog of this clears, you look back, it was a pretty good year for Danville basketball.”
After the Admirals cut the lead to 55-45, Blake Smith stepped to the line and hit three free throws to put the game away.
“When they cut it to 10 I was a little worried but I knew it would be alright,” freshman Jaxon Smith said. “When (Blake) went to the line, I was cool. I knew he would make it.”
Lincoln put the game away in the closing moments and held the ball for the final 30 seconds, winning 63-45.
For Lincoln’s seniors — Blake Smith, Yaden, Darius Napier and Sawyer Carrier — the region title is a surreal moment. They’ve brought the Patriots back to Rupp Arena.
“It ain’t clicked in yet,” Yaden said. “I remember back in 2007 back when Ryan Young, Daniel Ralston and them played here. I was sitting up there, this place was packed. Lincoln vs. Boyle. I told myself, told my parents that I was going to play in Rupp one day. We’re playing in Rupp.”
Yaden and Blake Smith were eight years old the last time that Lincoln won a region championship.
Jaxon Smith was five, and he has put together MVP-like performances this postseason. He’s averaging 19.3 points per game in his last four (he missed the region first round game against Mercer due to the flu).
During the regular season, Jaxon Smith averaged 12 points per game.
It’s his development — and a commitment to the defensive end — that pushed Lincoln over the top.
“He competes. Our kids love him, respect him,” Jackson said. “Talk about a great teammate, he’s a great one. There’s a lot of good things he does on both ends of the floor. Our kids look to him and Blake to do good things for us and they do. He’s got a bright future ahead of him.”
Yaden said the seniors call Jaxon Smith “pup” because he’s a freshman, but said that he certainly doesn’t play like it.
“He’s really grown into himself,” Yaden said. “He’s realized he can score against anyone, he’s just as big and strong as anybody out there. We’ve taken him under our wing, tell him that it’ll be fine.”
The Patriots are on a 7-game win streak and have flourished after an up-and-down season. Before their current win streak, the Patriots were 16-12.
“We were so up and down earlier in the year,” Jackson said. “When we play hard and compete, our effort is good and we’re defending and rebounding, we’re pretty good. We were so inconsistent with our effort this year. But the last seven games, our practices have been better, our intensity and focus has been better. It’s carried over into our games. Our senior leadership has been really, really good. Our kids like each other. They respect each other. It just came together, we kept trying to encourage them and they got on a run. I’m real proud of them.”
Yaden said the team took a new focus in practice on the defensive side of the ball.
“There towards the middle of the season, a lot of people started marking us off,” he said. “After that, we started just buying in to the defensive end. There were teams putting up 70 on us, that’s not us. We really bought into the defensive end during practice and since then, we’ve been on a roll.”
The Patriots’ roll will continue to Rupp Arena, where Lincoln will take on 2nd Region champion Madisonville-North Hopkins (29-5). Game time is 6:30 p.m. on Thursday.
It’s the first time in more than a decade that Lincoln has won the region — the fifth since schools in Lincoln consolidated in 1974-75 — and Jackson said he’s thrilled to win at home in such a tough region.
“It’s long overdue, we’d like to have had a few other ones in there,” he said. “We’ve had some chances. It’s hard to win our region, it’s so good, so competitive. There’s a lot of great coaches, great teams. It’s very competitive. To win a region is very, very difficult to do and we’ve had opportunities that just didn’t happen. For it to happen for these kids, I’m real proud of them.”
12th Region Championship
At Lincoln County
Danville 7 6 11 21 – 45
Lincoln 17 12 17 17 – 63
DANVILLE (29-6): DeShaud St. Martin 15, Caden Hill 11, Darrian Bell 7, Zach Thornton 6, Trey Dawson 5, Tevin Kavanaugh 1.
LINCOLN (23-12): Blake Smith 15, Jaxon Smith 15, Elijah Frye 12, Riley Bodner 7, Darius Napier 6, Bryson Yaden 6, Baylor Mattingly 2.
Dalton Bruner, West Jessamine; Alex Heath, McCreary Central; Kade Grundy, Somerset; Kaelin Drakeford, Mercer Co.; Grant Oakes, Jacob Combs, Pulaski Co.; Aubrey Weaver, Jaden Pryor, Wayne Co.; Elijah Frye, Jaxon Smith, Blake Smith, Riley Bodner, Lincoln Co.; DeShaud St. Martin, Zach Thornton, Dante Hayden, Danville.