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There was more than a 31st District title on the line Saturday night in Carrollton. It was a chance for the Owen County High School Runnin’ Rebels to secure a place in history.
The Owen County High School boys basketball team entered the game with a chance to become the first team to win back-to-back district titles as well as post consecutive 20-wins seasons for the first time. With their 58-50 win over Eminence, they accomplished both.
Owen County reached Saturday night’s final with a 42-36 win over Carroll County while Eminence defeated Henry County 59-57 in the opening round and then Gallatin County 52-51in the semifinals to earn their spot.
The Warriors were looking for their first district title since 1972. It was their first time playing for the 31st District crown.
Admittedly, it was strange for everyone involved to realize they would not be facing Gallatin County in the finals.
Senior Justin Shelton said he and his teammates were expecting to play their rivals from Warsaw.
“Everyone thought Gallatin but they (Eminence) surprised everyone,” Shelton said. “They’re real good.”
Eminence had previously defeated Owen County 67-65 in December.
After falling behind 13-9 late in the first quarter, the Rebels went on a 12-0 run to take a 21-13 lead in the second quarter. The Warriors would answer as they would run off eight-straight points to tie the game at 21-21 with 2:13 remaining in the half. Owen County would eventually take a 26-23 lead into the locker room.
The third quarter would prove to be the difference.
Owen County would outscore Eminence 19-9 in the quarter to take a 45-32 into the final quarter.
Zach Ripy knocked down two big 3-pointers in the third to twice extend the lead to 13 points. The first came early in the quarter while the second came with just seconds left in the quarter.
Despite the double-digit deficit, Eminence would not go quietly into the night. The Warriors began chipping away at the Rebel lead with 3:49 left when Demarcus Bailey scored to cut the lead to 51-42.
Less than a minute later, Brandon Mitchell put back in a miss to make the score 53-46.
Owen County didn’t help themselves from the free-throw line over the final two minutes. They would make just two of six attempts to give Eminence a chance to make things very interesting in the final 53 seconds.
Trailing 55-50 late in the game, Eminence had the ball but couldn’t convert.
When Ripy picked up a loose ball and scored with 19 seconds left to play, the Rebels had a 57-50 advantage.
Following a free throw by Carson Williams and the final buzzer, the Rebels had their 20th win and another addition to the trophy case.
Ripy finished with 17 points as did Justin Shelton. Carson Williams added 12 points. Hunter Trenary pitched in seven points and Jarrod Ball had five.
Ripy, Shelton, Williams and Ball were each named to the 31st District All-Tournament team.
Ripy, Shelton and Williams were also named All NCKC while Williams was named to the All-Eighth Region team.
The back-to-back wins in the tournament followed four-straight losses to end the regular season.
Those four losses came against four of the Eighth Region’s best.
According to Owen County High School Head Boys Basketball Coach Devin Duvall, the losses prepared his team.
“I look like a genius,” Duvall jokingly said. “You’ve got to play a tough schedule at the end of the season to know where you’re at.”
Like his coach, Shelton said while the team’s spirit was down, they were not out. “Those four games really prepared us for this,” Shelton said.
The team began play in the Eighth Region Tournament on Monday night against Anderson County.
The Bearcats defeated the Rebels 62-50 in Owenton on Feb. 7. Anderson County lost 63-51 to Collins in the 30th District finals.
Owen County will enter the tournament with a 20-9 record while Anderson County is 21-4.
Duvall is hoping his teams’ past experiences will help them this week.
“They will know what to expect when they walk out there and that is something you can’t buy,” Duvall said.
The winner will advance to play either Oldham County or Grant County on Friday night at 6:30 p.m. A win would mean a third-straight trip to the semifinals for the Rebels.
The two teams also played last season in the first round and Owen County came away with a 48-40 victory.
Overall, the Rebels are 1-1 against the Bearcats in the Eighth Region tournament. Anderson County defeated Owen County 45-28 in the semifinals in 2009 en route to winning the title.