With Logan County collecting over 20 wins this season and Russellville reloading just like they always do they met with the district title hanging in the balance.
Only once before have Russellville and Logan County played for a district title in the last 15 years and that was in 1998 when the Panthers defeated their cross town rivals 76-64.
Friday’s game the outcome was the same, but the journey was far more intense as the Panthers held serve on their court with a thrilling 83-79 victory.
“What a great victory for our ball club this year, that was a big win,” RHS head coach Dennis Pardue said.
With Jim Young Gymnasium packed to the brim the Panthers and Cougars tipped off. With both teams feeding off the energy their fans were generating the teams traded baskets with Logan County holding a 8-7 lead midway through the first quarter.
Then with some extremely inconsistent officiating, the Cougars had to sit down some of their big guns and rely on their bench once again.
“I feel like the first half we held on, we had four starters on the bench in the first half,” LCHS head coach Harold Tackett said.
But the officiating extended also to the Panthers as they couldn’t get up and run like they had originally planned to. With Logan County being charged with nine fouls to Russellville’s one at one point in the game the fans and coaches knew that the make up calls were going to come.
So with the officiating dictating the pace of the game in the first half the Panthers and Cougars went into the break with the Panthers holding a slim 42-40 lead.
In the second half though, the officials took a back seat to the athletes.
And immediately the game turned into an instant classic that will be remembered for a while to come.
The Panthers who have always had trouble getting going in the third quarter had no such problems with this game.
“Third quarter was big, it's been our Achilles heel every game, we knew coming in that we were going to have to really buckle down and make a run and we were able to do so,” coach Pardue said.
The Panthers built an 11-point lead as the starters for Logan County came back and took some time to get accustomed to the energy of the game.
“This game, since we're dealing with teenagers it's such an emotional game and when you have competitors for some reason or the other aren't able to compete it's hard to get their minds back in the game,” coach Tackett said.
While the Cougars were looking to get back into the game, Russellville’s senior guard Davis Pardue caught fire and burned the Cougars from behind the arc over and over.
“I didn't care how many points I had, I just was trying to do everything I could to win,” RHS’ Davis Pardue said.
But the Cougars didn’t win 20-plus games this season on luck. Their starters would finally get back into the flow of the game and they came roaring back into the game.
Logan County would tie up the game at 57-57 going into the fourth and perhaps final frame of the season.
If the third quarter was defined by the runs each team went on the fourth quarter was defined by how gritty and gutsy each team became. Each team traded baskets throughout the quarter without either team willing to back down from the challenge. When the Cougars held the lead and looked to put some distance between them, the Panthers would claw right back to tie it or take the lead. But the Cougars would return the favor all the way down to the wire.
But with the game hanging in the balance a hard foul by Derion Calloway on Sajuan Watkins looked like it would allow the Cougars back into the game as they were only down 77-74.
But a technical foul was assessed on Watkins, his fifth, as he was caught by the officials waving at Calloway, who the personal foul was assessed too. The Panthers hit the two technical free throws after the Cougars went 1-for-2 at their end of the court and extended the lead to 79-75.
But the game was far from over as the Cougars cut the lead to 79-77 before the Panthers hit four clutch free throws to push the lead to 83-77 before a late field goal would tally the final total 83-79 and send the Panthers fans flooding the court after the victory.
“I can't say enough about my assistant coaches,” coach Pardue said. “We looked at it from the standpoint of everyone starts out 0-0 in post season play and we put a lot of emphasis at getting to this game.”
“Hats off to Russellville, they came in and held court at their place,” coach Tackett said after the loss.
The Panthers were led offensively by Davis Pardue’s 31 points on 10-of-15 from the field. Jordan Kennedy collected 14 points and three rebounds and Josh Hampton had nine points and four rebounds.
The Cougars were led by senior Sajuan Watkin’s 22 points and 22 rebounds. Twin Lancaster being limited by foul trouble had 20 points and five rebounds and Torin Graham collected 18 points and four assists.
Now with the district title under their belt the Panthers will look to notch a few more victories and grab a region title this week. It all starts Thursday at 6:30 p.m. as they play Warren Central at WKU’s Diddle Arena in the first round game.
“We had a pretty good game against them early, so we expect to have another one just like it,” coach Pardue said about the draw. “We enjoyed the weekend and now it's time to get ready for Warren Central on Thursday.”
The Cougars will look to rebound after the emotional loss on Friday night and try and grab their first region title in recent memory as they will play Bowling Green Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at Diddle Arena.
“We were fortunate enough to get to the region and I told the kids the other night 'It really doesn't matter who we play, We're there, let's play',” coach Tackett said. “To win the region you're going to have to play the best so let's play.”