LEXINGTON, Ky. – Not even eight offensive fouls and 30 turnovers could derail the Fern Creek High School boys basketball team Friday night.
The Tigers played through the adversity, scored the first 15 points of the third quarter and survived a late rally from Ballard to record a 55-52 victory in the quarterfinals of the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Sweet 16 in front of 10,356 fans.
The first Sixth Region-Seventh Region matchup in the Boys Sweet 16 since 2012 – when Trinity beat Bullitt East 52-32 in the first round – was a thriller befitting of two teams ranked among the top six in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings.
Tigers coach James Schooler said he felt fortunate his team survived another day.
“I’ve never been in a game where a team has 30 turnovers and wins,” said Schooler, whose Tigers are in the state tournament for the first time in school history. “But I’m blessed that we might be the first ever.”
Chance Moore scored 18 points and Anthony Wales added 15 points and four steals as No. 5 Fern Creek (35-2) extended its winning streak to 21 and advanced to face No. 8 Cooper (30-4) in Saturday’s 8 p.m. semifinal.
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Clivonte Patterson posted 19 points and eight rebounds to lead No. 6 Ballard (29-7). The Bruins lost five times to Kentucky opponents this season, four to Fern Creek and once to No. 4 Bowling Green. The Purples will play Scott in Saturday’s other Sweet 16 semifinal.
“I’ve had a lot of guys cry here in the locker room in Rupp Arena,” said Bruins coach Chris Renner, who is in his 19th season at Ballard and won the state title in 1999. “In seven of my eight years here it ended in tears of disappointment as opposed to tears of joy. But all of those guys came back and did bigger and better things with their lives. I know this group is going to do that.”
Renner said Ballard’s defensive game plan was to take away the paint, and the Bruins forced the Tigers into eight offensive fouls (six charges and two illegal screens).
Seven of those offensive fouls came in a first half that ended with the score tied at 27.
“We’ve been committing a lot of charges over the season,” Tigers junior guard Ahmad Price said. “I know coach Renner is a wonderful coach, so I know he’s probably scouted that. We just have to jump stop and pull up for the jump shot.”
Fern Creek got the message at halftime and came out hot to start the third quarter, scoring the first 15 points to take a 42-27 lead on Wales’ layup at the 3:10 mark.
“We just told the guys to continue to not let the charges that we committed affect us and to adjust, continue to stick with our system and believe in what we do,” Schooler said. “They did. This was good for us. We got challenged mentally and physically. It was good to see us regroup.”
During a media timeout at the 2:41 mark, Renner lit into his team.
“It motivated us to keep going and keep fighting,” Bruins senior Antoine Darby said. “He told us we could either lay down or fight to get back. All year we’ve been fighting and fighting.”
With Dorion Tisby providing an offensive lift, the Bruins made a run and pulled within 47-45 on Patterson’s putback with 5:14 left. After the teams traded free throws, Ballard had three close shots at the rim that could have tied it but couldn’t convert one.
“That was just a stretch of many stretches in the game that were just almost,” Renner said. “If one or two of those shots go, we win the game.”
Fern Creek led 54-52 with 44 seconds left when Tony Rogers missed a pair of free throws. After Tisby missed a shot to tie, Jaylen Howard hit 1 of 2 free throws for a 55-52 lead with 15.8 seconds left.
Ballard had one final shot to tie, but Marshon Ford’s off-balance 3-point attempt missed.
Renner said the difference in the game was Ballard’s subpar shooting (36.1 percent).
“You tell me we force Fern Creek into 30 turnovers, and I tell you win the game by 15 or 20 points,” Renner said. “We just struggled offensively, and that’s been our m.o. all year. We worked hard on finishes and shooting and free throws … and it just didn’t happen today.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
FERN CREEK 55, BALLARD 52
FERN CREEK (35-2) – Anthony Wales 15p 4s, Ahmad Price 9p 6r, Chance Moore 18p, Tony Rogers 3p 6r, Jaylen Howard 1p, Clint Wickliffe 7p, Kyree Hawkins 2p.
BALLARD (29-7) – Dorian Tisby 12p, Antoine Darby 2p 3a 6s, Vonnie Patterson 19p 8r, Tyrese Duncan 4p, Kereion Douglas 2p, Tyron Duncan 8p 7a, Delonta Wimberly 5p.