HAWESVILLE — It was a long time coming for Butler County High School boys’ basketball.
The Bears earned the program’s first regional championship of any kind Sunday afternoon, defeating Owensboro Catholic 69-67 in overtime in a riveting title game of the All ‘A’ 3rd Region Tournament at Hancock County High School.
Butler County (14-8) advances to the Touchstone Energy All ‘A’ Classic at the Frankfort Convention Center, where at 10:30 a.m. Thursday the Bears battle Region 16 champion Russell (16-4) in the opening round of the small-school state tournament.
“It’s a big moment for our program, for our school, for our community,” first-year BCHS coach Calvin Dockery said. “The kids just kept hanging in there, kept battling, and we found a way to win at the end.
“Coming into this season, we wanted to change the culture of the program, but we knew to do that we would have to win a game like this. It was just a matter of breaking through that barrier that’s been there so long, and these kids were able to do it.”
It didn’t come easy.
Powered by the individual play of veteran guard Elijah Flener, the Bears put together an 8-0 run that left them with a 51-39 lead at 7:35 of the fourth quarter, but the Aces (11-10) refused to fold.
Butler County still led 62-59 after a pair of free throws by Zach Burden with 23.6 seconds left in regulation, but OCHS freshman guard Ray Zuberer, fouled on a 3-point attempt, calmly swished three free throws with 13.9 seconds to play to pull his team into a 62-all deadlock.
The Bears had two shots to win it on the final possession of regulation, including a 3-point attempt by Brandon Thomas just before the horn, but came up empty.
Catholic took a brief lead early in overtime on an Ed Carter putback, but Flener answered with a 3-pointer and Butler County would not trail again.
Trevor Jenkins, a 6-foot-6-inch center, made two free throws with 10.6 seconds left to provide the Bears a two-point lead, and made a partial block of a potential game-winning 3-point shot by the Aces’ Cameron O’Bryan in the final seconds.