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After more than a decade spent filling the role of district runner up on a regular basis, including each of the last two years, the Grant County Braves know all too well the feeling that goes with watching the opposition cut down the nets at their expense.
But that only made the victory celebration that much sweeter for the Braves after knocking off two-time defending champion Simon Kenton in the District 32 Championship Feb. 28 in front of a packed house at Walton-Verona High School.
The championship was the first for the Braves in 12 years and only their second since the turn of the century.
“It feels awesome (to win the district championship). I am elated,” said Grant County Coach Brandon Grammer. “I’ve had the misfortune of being runner up the last two years and this is a completely different feeling. I’m very happy for our guys and happy to send our seniors out this way. I told the guys, only 64 teams win a championship in Kentucky tonight and we’re one of them. Nobody can take that from us.”
For the seniors, like guard Aaron Hicks, the championship is the result of a lot of hard work and determination and is a reward for never giving up.
“We’ve went through a lot of stuff over the last four years. Everything from players leaving to a new coaching staff,” Hicks said. “But we never gave up and really came together at the right time. And I’m really proud of the guys. We played hard tonight and put together a phenomenal defensive effort.”
Fellow senior Logan Cummins added that winning the district title is a dream come true.
“My heart is racing right now,” Cummins said. “It feels amazing. It’s all I could ask for.”
Junior Seth Adkins, who played a major role in the win, especially the Braves coming back in the final moments of regulation, said the win was a lesson in believing in themselves.
“This is my third year and this has been our goal every year. It feels awesome to finally win it,” Adkins said. “A lot of people didn’t think we could do it, but we did.”
For both seniors and underclassmen alike, the game was an act of revenge for Grant County, which lost on a last-second shot to Simon Kenton in last year’s district title game.
“They beat us last year so this is revenge for us,” said junior forward Jordan Saylor. “They beat us by one last year and we beat them by one this year. So it feels good.”
Playing with a never-say-die attitude, Grant County had to pull more than one trick out of its hat in the win. Both Hicks and Adkins came up with game-changing plays in the final moments of regulation to send the game into overtime.
Trailing by five with just over a minute remaining, Hicks stepped up and hit a 3-pointer while being fouled, converting the four-point play to get the Braves back in the game.
Adkins then came up with a steal on an inbounds pass at half court and drove in for a layup to put the Braves up by one with only 15 seconds remaining.
“That was crazy. The timing was just perfect,” Adkins said of the steal and layup. “I kept my eye on the ball and it just fell right into my hands. But I didn’t think I made the layup. I thought Logan got the rebound and put it in.”
“That play was huge. Absolutely huge,” said Grammer. “Seth Adkins is coming out and showing people that he can be a force on the basketball court. He is unstoppable. When he has the ball in his hands, I have not seen one guy who can stay in front of him.”
Trailing by one in the overtime period with multiple starters on the bench after fouling out, Cummins nailed a 3-pointer from the corner to give his team a lead it would not relinquish.
“Logan is going to give me a heart attack. That’s twice in the past two weeks that I’ve covered my face over a shot he has taken, and he made both of them,” said Grammer. “So
I’m going to keep covering my face when he’s shooting.”
For Cummins, taking the big shots in tough situation is always a little nerve wracking, but it’s a role he has never shied away from. The senior guard was named MVP for his heroics.
“It’s what I live to do,” Cummins said about the game-changing shot.
“It feels awesome to win the MVP,” Cummins said. “But my teammates are the real MVPs. I love my teammates.”
Simon Kenton scored the first five points of the game and led for nearly four minutes before the Braves answered with a 14-2 run to take the lead, which grew to seven, 16-9, in the first quarter.
Grant County extended its advantage to nine on multiple occasions in the second quarter before a late run by Simon Kenton cut the deficit to three, 28-25, at the intermission.
Simon Kenton opened the second half with an 8-0 run to retake the lead. The Pioneers continued to dominate and extended their lead to double digits midway through the third quarter before Grant County closed the period on an 6-0 run to cut the deficit to four, 44-40, with one quarter to play.
Simon Kenton built its lead to six early in the fourth quarter and continued to lead by as many as five down the stretch before Hicks converted the four-point play and Adkins came up with the steal at half court.
Trailing by one in the overtime period. Jordan Rose hit a short jumper to put Grant Co. on top, followed by Cummins’ 3-pointer, to give the Braves a lead they would not give up.
Hicks led Grant County’s offensive attack with 17 points to go with seven rebounds. Adkins was next with 16 points and three steals.
Cummins scored 11 points for the winners, while Saylor added 10 points, four rebounds and two assists.
Austin Johnson just missed a double double with nine points and nine assists to go with four rebounds. Jordan Rose rounded out the Braves’ scoring with two points and three rebounds.
The Grant County Braves are headed to the regional tournament where they face Collins High School in first round action on Thursday, March 6 at Henry County High School.