It will be Fern Creek and Trinity in the championship game of the Republic Bank Boys Louisville Invitational Tournament.
Fern Creek beat Ballard 46-31 and Trinity beat host Valley 55-46 in Saturday morning’s semifinals. The two tournament finalists will tip off at 8 p.m. tonight at Valley having split a couple of games already this season.
For the Tigers (17-2), this marks their first LIT championship game since 2004, and it comes after a semifinal in which Fern Creek’s Chance Moore said he played most of the third quarter in disbelief.
With his Tigers up on Ballard by nine points early in the period, Moore stood at the top of the key as the shorthanded Bruins chose to stand with the ball. The senior had seen this type of play in AAU games, but never in a high school game, much less the semifinals of this tournament.
“I didn’t expect them to do it the whole quarter,” he said. “It was just awkward.”
Ballard led for the game’s first 12 minutes, thanks in large part to Fern Creek committing 11 turnovers early. However, once the Tigers took better care of the ball they took over the game. A 13-0 run made it 28-19 Fern Creek with two minutes left in the first half.
Fern Creek led 30-24 at halftime and on its first possession of the second half, getting two offensive rebounds that led to an Anthony Wales 3-pointer with 7:10 left in the period.
For the next seven minutes, Ballard’s Jamil Wilson and Tyron Duncan stood at opposite sides of the court just past the halfcourt line, deliberately taking the air out of the ball. Occasionally, they passed the ball to each other as the fans and even some players looked on quizzically. Eventually, Moore and his fellow Tigers started shuffling their feet on the court just to remain active.
The Bruins (12-4), the two-time defending LIT champions who had advanced to the last four tournament finals, ended up committing a turnover with less than two seconds left in the period to keep it a nine-point game.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE | Fern Creek beats Trinity on Dec. 10
PREVIOUS COVERAGE | Trinity beats Fern Creek in King of the Bluegrass rematch
Ballard coach Chris Renner said he wanted to keep his team within single digits of the Tigers, the tourney’s top seed. Considering the Bruins lost leading scorer and rebounder Clivonte Patterson to an ankle sprain earlier in the tournament and Wilson isn’t fully recovered from his own sprain, Renner felt his team’s best chance of winning would be to essentially reduce the game to three quarters.
“We tried to run with them the last time we had our full personnel and arsenal, and it didn’t work,” said Renner, referring to the Tigers’ 87-82 win in last month’s King of the Bluegrass. “So we rolled the dice today.”
The Tigers got a turnover off Ballard’s first possession of the fourth quarter, leading to two free throws by A.J. Thomas to make it 35-24. Fern Creek never led by fewer than nine the rest of the way.
Fern Creek coach James Schooler said he understood what Renner was trying to accomplish.
“In this business, night after night, you got to find whatever to try to tick that nerve to get them going,” he said.
Moore led the Tigers with 13 points, five rebounds and four assists. Clint Wickliffe added 12 points and seven rebounds in the victory. Tyron Duncan led Ballard with 11 points.
The 31 points marked a low for Ballard under Renner, who began coaching the Bruins in the 1998-99 season. The previous low under him was a 45-42 loss to Covington Holmes on Dec. 20, 2008.
Trinity downs host Valley
Jay Scrubb came off the bench to score 24 points and lead Trinity back to the championship for the second consecutive year.
The Vikings (12-4) went up 20-14 late in the first half on a basket by Raekwon Evans, but Trinity closed out the half on an 8-0 run. Scrubb, a 6-4 junior, scored six of those points and finished making 10-of-13 shots.
The Rocks (18-1), the No. 3 team in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings, led just 46-45 with 4:20 left before pulling away at the end.
“I was happy that we were able to make plays down the stretch and pull it out,” Trinity coach Mike Szabo said. “When it’s tournament time, it’s win and advance, and we’re excited about the challenge again tonight.”
Valley coach DeJuan Wheat said he was surprised by how his team came into the locker room at the break.
“Our locker room was real flat with less energy than we had in the first half,” the former University of Louisville standout said. “I tried to tell my guys we’re in a great position. This is one of the top teams in the state, and we’re only down two. It’s a learning experience for us. We got a lot of young, young players.”
Curt Lewis led Valley, which last won the LIT in 1989, with 16 points. Eric George added 15.
REPUBLIC BANK LOUISVILLE INVITATIONAL TOURNAMENT
Semifinals at Valley High School
FERN CREEK 46, BALLARD 31
Ballard (12-4): Tyrese Duncan 1p, Marshon Ford 2p, Tyron Duncan 11p, Dorian Tisby 4p, Antoine Darby 2p, Delonta Wimberly 6p, Jamil Wilson 5p.
Fern Creek (17-2): Jaylen Howard 3p, A.J. Thomas 3p, Anthony Wales 8p 3s, Ahmad Price 3p, Clint Wickliffe 12p 7r, Chance Moore 13p 4a, Tony Rogers 2p, T.J. Owes 2p.
TRINITY 55, VALLEY 46
Valley (12-4): Cameron Wilson 4p, Raekwon Evans 4p, Curt Lewis 16p, Eric George 15p, Tre Anderson 7p.
Trinity (18-1): Jacob King 9p, David Burton 2p 8r, David Johnson 7p, L.J. Harris 4p, Justin Powell 7p 6r, Jay Scrubb 24p, Lucas Burkman 2p.