LEXINGTON – It was a bit of a grind, but the Warren Central boys’ basketball team found a way to pull away late – outlasting Ashland Blazer 64-48 in the quarterfinals of the KHSAA Sweet 16 on Friday at Rupp Arena.
Warren Central (34-1) led almost the entire way, but needed a strong fourth quarter to finally get some distance and get back within one game of playing for the state championship for a second year in a row.
“I’m proud of them,” Warren Central coach William Unseld said. “We had to lock in and guard. To hold a team like that – that shoots the ball the way they do – to 48 points is pretty good. We knew it was going to be tough. I thought they would shoot better than they did the other day and they shot it well today.
“We made the plays when we needed to. It’s a state tournament game. You are not always going to be sharp, but you have to make plays when you have to and we made plays when we needed to.”
Warren Central started fast, but Ashland Blazer was just as hot. Ashland Blazer hit its first three 3-pointers and briefly led 9-8 before the Dragons scored six straight to regain the advantage.
The Tomcats continued to hit shots and hang around in the first half, but Warren Central maintained the advantage throughout the half. Ashland Blazer shot 53%, 5-for-11 from 3, but Warren Central scorched the nets at a 67% shooting clip – mainly in the paint, led by Chappelle Whitney. The senior forward had 11 points in the half, but it was a three-point play from Omari Glover that gave the Dragons a 34-27 halftime lead.
“When you shoot like that, you are going to stay in a basketball game,” Unseld said. “They got clean looks. The game could have changed a couple of times. We had a couple of 50/50 balls we couldn’t come up with and they made 3s off them. I think we did a better job in the second half.”
Ashland Blazer (23-12) scored the first four points in the second half to pull within three before Warren Central answered with six straight to get the lead back to nine. The Dragons held the Tomcats to nine points in the third quarter and maintained a nine-point lead heading into the final period.
Izayiah Villafuerte opened the fourth with a 3 to make the score 48-36 – Warren Central’s first double-digit lead of the day. Ashland Blazer was unable to mount a fourth-quarter rally, getting as close as eight points twice but unable to get any closer.
“We didn’t panic,” Unseld said. “We just made plays. We got the ball around the rim late when we needed to. We made free throws. They’ve been here before. They know what it takes.”
Whitney led Warren Central with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Glover added 14 points, while Kade Unseld finished with 13 points.
Warren Central shot 55.8% for the game and held Ashland Blazer to 8-for-21 in the second half.
Rheyce Deboard led Ashland Blazer with 21 points.
“Obviously, we were matched up against a very, very, very talented and together group in Warren Central,” Ashland Blazer coach Ryan Bonner said. “We hung in there for essentially four quarters but had a stretch late with too many empty possessions. With a team that is that good, that talented, if you have too many empty possessions they are going to make you pay.
“In my opinion, they are the best team here. The best team I have seen on film all year. They have all the components to make a run at this.”
With the win, Warren Central advances to the semifinals for a second straight year – one win away from a return to the championship game.
“It means a lot,” Glover said. “It took a lot to get here, but we’ve been here before. We just take one game at a time and go from there.”
The Dragons will face Woodford County in the semifinals at 10 a.m. CDT on Saturday, with the winner advancing to the championship game at 6 p.m. CDT on Saturday.
Woodford County (22-12) has won nine straight, including a 59-48 win over Elizabethtown in Friday’s quarterfinals.
“They were in the King of the Bluegrass,” Unseld said. “I’ve seen them a bunch. They are playing well. They are athletic. They are taking care of the ball. From looking at the scores, they are playing a little bit slower. We just have to go play and make some shots.
“I think they match up with us, we match up with them. It’s going to be whoever makes shots, whoever takes care of the basketball and whoever rebounds. Basketball is real easy. If we do those things, we will be OK.”
ABHS 13 14 9 12 – 48
WCHS 18 16 11 19 – 64
AB – Deboard 21, Carter 14, Jennings 6, Frieze 4, Conway 3.
WC – Whitney 20, Glover 14, Unseld 13, Walkup 6, Villafuerte 5, Wells 4, Jefferson 2.