Lexington Catholic isn't rated among the top 25 boys' basketball teams in the state, but the Knights earned the top seed in the toughest district in the state — the 43rd — by going 7-1 in regular-season competition.
If that doesn't prove the Knights' grit and gumption, maybe a post-season run will win over the doubters.
Coach Brandon Salsman's team took a first step in that direction by beating host Lexington Christian Academy 56-42 in the district semifinals on Wednesday night.
"We have a lot of fight in us. We don't give up easy," said Jack Whitman, who led the winners with 22 points, 10 rebounds and a strong opinion that the Knights deserve to be ranked.
Lexington Catholic will play No. 16 Paul Laurence Dunbar in Friday's finals. Both teams will advance to next week's 11th Region tournament in Richmond.
Whitman, a 6-foot-9 senior who has signed with William & Mary, was the difference against LCA.
"He's not a first-team all-stater for nothing," Eagles Coach Brad Carter said. "He's a force. There's a reason they went 7-1 in this district, and he's probably the biggest one."
Whitman's perimeter support — Jarrod Griffin, Tanner Johnson and Dillon Avare — helped open things up by hitting six threes and combining for 30 points.
Lexington Catholic's inside-outside attack offset LCA's three-ball assault.
The Eagles were 10-for-26 from behind the arc, led by Tyler Harville's 12 points (4-for-13 on threes) and Benton Nighbert's nine points (3-for-8 on threes).
"They're a team full of shooters," Knights Coach Brandon Salsman said. "The first thing on our board was defend the three-point line. We didn't do a great job, but we did good enough to win."
LCA trailed by 15 points (38-23) late in the third quarter before making a run. Harville, Nighbert and Matt Rose hit threes to help rally the Eagles to within 42-37.
Lexington Catholic missed a shot on its next possession, but two LCA players couldn't control the rebound and the Knights got the ball back.
Johnson and Griffin then hit back-to-back threes, and Whitman scored inside to finish a 8-0 flurry to seal Lexington Catholic's 20th win.
Carter thought one call might have cost his team a chance at coming all the way back. It was an offensive foul whistled on Jon Lannertone as he tried to establish position inside. It was Lannertone's fifth personal. He sat down with four minutes left, with seven points and eight rebounds.
"That was the deal-breaker," Carter said.
Rose, a 6-5 sophomore, had nine points and eight rebounds for LCA.
A statistic that caught Carter's eye showed Lexington Catholic hit 12 of 16 free throws while LCA never got to the line. "It's a little frustrating to look at the stat sheet and see 16 free throws to zero," he said.
LEXINGTON CHRISTIAN ACADEMY (11-17) — Harville 12, Schacht 3, Nighbert 9, Lannertone 7, Kalinowski 2, Rose 9.
LEXINGTON CATHOLIC (20-9) — Whitman 22, Johnson 10, Griffin 12, Avare 8, Ryan 4.
LCA 8 11 9 14 — 42
Lexington Catholic 12 17 9 18 — 56
Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337. Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes. Blog: fieldsnotes.bloginky.com