Gator Season Ends
Photo Credit: Steve Roberts/Southeast Sportswire
The clock struck midnight on Greenwood’s storybook postseason Monday night.
The Gators (16-16) chipped away at a 20-point deficit in the second half against Russell County, but it wasn’t enough to continue their improbable run as they fell 79-63 in the first round of the boys’ Region 4 Tournament at E.A. Diddle Arena. It was a mix of emotions for Greenwood. There was the sting of defeat on the bigger stage, coupled with the lingering high from exceeding expectations in the past week. “We’re not extremely happy, obviously, because of the loss,” junior guard Dylan DeWitt said. “We’re not just happy because of the earlier accomplishments, but coach told us we still need to keep our heads up.” A week ago, the Gators entered the District 14 Tournament as the No. 5 seed without a single win against district competition this season. It was then – with a win over fourth-seeded South Warren in the play-in game at GHS – that Greenwood began a string of firsts. The Gators became the first No. 5 seed to win the play-in game, and two nights later, they knocked off Warren East to become the first team to beat the No. 1 seed in the semifinals. They won five of their last seven games and reached the region tournament for the first time since 2008. “For the last month, month and a half, this has been the most focused team I’ve seen all year,” Greenwood coach Jason Stonebraker said. “For a bunch of young guys that only returned one starter, it shows you the grit of this ballclub. We’ve got some big pieces for the future, but losing some big seniors, we’ll have to have others step up.” The Gators’ late-season mojo wasn’t enough to take down Russell County (25-5), which has won seven straight and was ranked No. 1 in the final Bowling Green Daily News Area Top 10 poll. The Lakers shot 52 percent from the field and were led by the inside-out duo of senior guard Tyler Robertson and sophomore center Nick Coffey. Robertson, who was named Region 4 player of the year Monday by region coaches, finished with a game-high 30 points and 10 rebounds. Coffey totaled 23 points and 23 rebounds in 26 minutes. “They’ve been our mainstay, and they have to be,” RCHS coach Willie Feldhaus said. “It’s not always pretty. This hasn’t been the first game we had to win like this.” Greenwood started strong with a 9-4 lead and finished the first quarter up 18-16 after a bucket by DeWitt, who made 12 of 14 free throws and finished with a team-high 25 points. The junior averaged 20.5 points per game in four postseason contests. “That young man has just changed,” Stonebraker said. “We had a conversation. There were some things we had to deal with, and he has all of my respect. He changed the way he’s played, and he’s absolutely flourished this season as a player and a person.” Russell County reclaimed the lead with back-to-back 3s by Robertson and junior guard Alex Turner to start the second quarter and never trailed again. They opened a 10-point advantage in the final seconds of the first half, but GHS junior guard Hunter Sewell’s 3 from the top of the key cut the Gators’ deficit to 40-33. Greenwood shot 38.5 percent in the first half and was outrebounded 25-12. “Greenwood’s a very good team,” Coffey said. “They’ve improved so much during the season, and they played a heck of a game, but we came out and took care of business. They’re going to have their runs, and we’re going to have our runs. “We just tried to put more points on the board however we can.” Turner finished the third quarter with a 3-pointer, and Robertson netted two more to start the fourth as Russell County claimed its largest lead at 60-40. That’s when Greenwood decided to stray from the game plan, opting to pressure the Lakers and drive hard to the rim. “I’m going to kick myself all night because I thought that if we would’ve done that from the get-go, they probably would’ve picked us apart,” Stonebraker said. “I thought our speed did so well in the fourth, I probably should have done it for four quarters instead of one.” The switch yielded immediate results, as the Gators scored six straight points and pulled within 63-54 with 3:42 to play with a three-point play by sophomore guard Alex Schneller on the assist from DeWitt. DeWitt’s 3-pointer at the 2:30 mark made it 67-61, but Russell County padded its cushion with two free throws and a Coffey putback. “We’re a quick team, and we started forcing them into turnovers, but we just ran out of time,” DeWitt said. Robertson scored the final eight points of the game. Both teams made 21 free throws, and Russell County outrebounded Greenwood 51-20. The Lakers will play Russellville, which beat Allen County-Scottsville on Monday, in the semifinals at 6 p.m. Friday. “Tonight’s really the first time I’ve seen them,” Feldhaus said of Russellville. “They’re obviously very athletic. I’ll have to learn a whole lot more about them, but once again, if we can get into a half-court game with people, I like our chances.” Schneller, senior guard Antonio Bradley and junior guard Edin Hasanovic each scored eight points for Greenwood. The Gators graduate four seniors – Bradley, T.J. Dean, Isaiah Thomas Turner and Jake Borders – but the returning players gained valuable experience, Stonebraker said. “When I took this job when the schools split, nobody really gave us a chance of doing much anything,” he said. “In two seasons, we went 20-9, and we come back this season and make the region tournament for the first time since ’08. The foundation’s there.”