AUGUSTA — While a lot of talk was surrounding Augusta being the top contender in the district for Mason County, Bracken County just put themselves at the table.
And they are staying for the main course.
The Polar Bears went down to Augusta Monday night and came away with a statement, topping the Panthers 57-40, ending the game on a 35-7 run over the final 12 minutes of the game.
“Call it a statement or call it that we just want a little bit of that recognition that everybody else is getting. I feel like we’re the team that everyone is going to just kind of look and say ‘Ah, they don’t have size, but here’s what we got…we got a lot more heart than a lot of teams we’re going to play,” Polar Bears coach Adam Reed said. “You put that heart out there with that fire and energy, good things are going to happen.”
It was a tale of two halves mostly, Augusta coming out the aggressor in the first half by attacking the glass and outrebounding the Polar Bears 24-13 in the first 16 minutes.
Their defense flustered the Polar Bears, holding them to 17 first half points and taking a 26-17 lead into the break.
“Got emotional in the first half and lost track of what we were trying to do. If we just set down and guard, make them make mistakes then we were going to be fine,” Adam Reed said. “To be totally honest, I came in here at halftime, slammed everything on the board and I said I’ve never lost to Augusta as a player. One time in my whole life, Patrick Kelsch and them were seniors, I was a sophomore and that was the only time I’ve ever lost to Augusta. When is that going to come back? When are you guys going to realize we are the better team? Quit worrying about what everyone says about this kid or that kid. Called Blake out a little bit, called Cayden out a little bit, called Payton out a little bit and then I left. They set in here, talked amongst themselves and came out with a fire in their belly.”
It looked as if Augusta would remain in control, a 7-2 run getting them a 33-22 lead with under five minutes to play in the third.
But then a Blake Reed 3-pointer fell, his first of the night. Then the defense picked up its intensity, holding the Panthers scoreless over the rest of the quarter, a 16-0 run fueled by Blake Reed’s 11 points in the run, the last a triple to give Bracken a 38-33 lead into the fourth.
More than four minutes into the fourth, LJ Conner’s layup was the Panthers only points in an eight-minute span.
The result — a 27-2 Polar Bears run to make it 49-36.
“Feel like it got way more physical in the second half and a lot of things were let go. I don’t really have the answer for that, I think it was a physical game and got more physical as the game went on and it didn’t play into our favor of the physicality of it. Got to give them credit, they played great defense, made shots when they had to and Kudos to them,” Panthers coach Jason Hinson said. “We’ve got to learn there’s a certain style we have to play and tonight in the second half wasn’t a great offensive performance by us by any means.”
Every 50-50 ball ended up in the Polar Bears hands in the final 12 minutes, loose balls, rebounds too, forcing 17 Augusta turnovers while committing just eight.
“We played harder, think we’re one of the hardest playing teams in the region. Everyone doubts us because of our size, but that doesn’t matter,” Cayden Reed said. “Coach got on us at halftime, told us we’re better than that. We just needed to stop forcing, lock up on defense and stop second chance points.”
Blake Reed ended with 22 points and seven rebounds, 17 of them coming in the second half, 13 in the pivotal third quarter.
“I don’t want to say emotional, this game is always something crazy. Just haven’t been shooting that good this season, but once I get to the rack, once I start facilitating, running the offense, playing good defense it always comes,” Blake Reed said. “We locked up in the second half, they had what 14 points total? Team defense was what it was.”
Cayden Reed added 14 points and seven rebounds, also collecting a handful of steals.
Austin Norton added 10, hitting two 3-pointers. In the Polar Bears first four games, the team had only hit one combined triple outside of Blake Reed, who had made 10.
Payton Tully’s seven point, seven rebound effort showed up in more ways then that, holding Riley Mastin scoreless in the second half after the junior big man had eight points and eight rebounds in the first half. The Polar Bears also did it without Devante Jefferson for pretty much the entire game, Bracken’s third leading scorer and a key primary defender leaving the game with an illness after the first two minutes and not returning.
“Did it without Devante and did it pretty easy. Once we started boxing out, hitting the glass, every 50-50 ball was ours. We’re small, that’s what we got to do,” Adam Reed said.
Mastin was hindered by a shoulder injury suffered in Saturday’s contest versus Felicity, shooting his first two free throws left handed on Monday. It seemed to have loosened up, later shooting free throws right handed and hitting his last two of the half on a Blake Reed intentional foul.
Mastin finished with eight points, 12 rebounds.
“He wanted to try to go, shot some free throws left handed and he made that decision and wanted to try it. He was limited on what he wanted to reach and grab, but he’s beat up and didn’t want to miss this game. Don’t want to make excuses, he’ll go to the doctor tomorrow and we’ll see what’s going on and go from there,” Hinson said.
Kason Hinson led the Panthers with 15 points, playing exceptional first half defense on Blake Reed before he found his rhythm in the second half.
LJ Conner added 11 off the bench, nine of them coming in the second quarter when the Panthers outscored the Polar Bears 20-10 in the frame.
These two will face off again when it means more, the first round of the 10th Region All “A” Classic at Bracken County on January 8.
“Practice, preparation and getting back to the drawing board and doing what we do best,” Hinson said of the matchup 25 days away. “Getting a little bit more aggressive. We’ll fix it, we’ve got them in the Class “A”, much bigger game about three weeks away. We’ll have to start to prepare and start to work on everything getting us ready for that game.”
It very well could be the first of four matchups this season, the Polar Bears also hosting the Panthers on February 4. If the draw works out unlike it has the past five years, these two could draw each other in the district tournament.
POLAR BEARS 57, PANTHERS 40
BRACKEN COUNTY — 7-10-21-19 — 57
AUGUSTA — 6-20-7-7 — 40
Bracken (57) — B. Reed 22, C. Reed 14, Norton 10, Tully 7, Commodore 4
Augusta (40) — Kason Hinson 15, Conner 11, Mastin 8, Kylan Hinson 4, Snapp 2
3-Pointers Made: Bracken 5, Augusta 2
Free Throws: Bracken 4/8, Augusta 4/9
Rebounds: Bracken 33 (Three with 7), Augusta 34 (Mastin 12)
Turnovers: Bracken 8, Augusta 17
Personal Fouls: Bracken 13, Augusta 8
Records: Bracken County 3-2, Augusta 5-3