It was 16 years and 36 days in the making.
That was the story behind Paul Laurence Dunbar's boys winning the 43rd District basketball title on Friday night.
No. 16 Dunbar overwhelmed Lexington Catholic in the fourth quarter, blitzing the Knights 13-2, on its way to a 51-40 victory at Lexington Christian Academy.
Both teams advance to the 11th Region tournament, which starts Monday at EKU in Richmond.
The Bulldogs ended a 13-game losing streak to Lexington Catholic. Their last win in the rivalry came in the region finals in 1997, also the last year Dunbar won the district.
When Lexington Catholic throttled the Bulldogs 70-43 last month — 36 days ago — who could have foreseen them exacting revenge in the district finals?
First-year Dunbar coach Scott Chalk explained: "It's called growing up. We kind of knew it'd be a long learning curve for us. We knew it'd probably take us to the end of the year to get there."
Dunbar showed progress by battling Lexington Catholic in a 55-52 loss in late January.
The third meeting was a charm for the Bulldogs.
"They always say it's hard to beat a team three times in a row the same season," Mike Smith said. "We played hard and got what we deserved."
Smith and fellow senior guard William Gary led the way. Gary had 15 points and five rebounds. Smith had 11 points and three assists. Together with junior guard Donnie Lewis, they enabled Dunbar to spread the floor once they got a workable lead down the stretch.
The Bulldogs got inside contributions from 6-foot-5 E.J. Floreal (six points, six rebounds), 6-4 Eric Trigg (eight points) and 6-7 Taylor King (three points, six rebounds).
Floreal and King got in early foul trouble trying to contain Lexington Catholic's 6-9 Jack Whitman.
Whitman had 14 points in the first half, and added five in the third quarter when the Knights used a 13-2 run to erase an 11-point Dunbar lead. That was an accomplishment considering Lexington Catholic lost Tanner Johnson, its second-leading scorer on the season, to an ankle injury late in the first quarter.
Dunbar dominated the fourth, with Floreal and King neutralizing Whitman inside.
"We knew if we stopped Whitman, they couldn't win," Gary said.
The Knights couldn't buy an outside shot, either. Their only basket in the last eight minutes was a put-back by Tom Banahan.
"We didn't execute as well as we should have," Coach Brandon Salsman said. (Dunbar) got a lot of points in the paint (40) that we weren't able to stop.
"Most teams losing one of their leading scorers like we did with Tanner would use that as an excuse. I thought we still had enough to win. But we ran out of gas there at the end playing a short bench."
Whitman finished with 19 points and six rebounds. Reese Ryan had seven points and seven rebounds.
PAUL DUNBAR (19-9) — Smith 11, Gary 15, Lewis 4, Trigg 8, Black 4, Floreal 6, King 3.
LEXINGTON CATHOLIC (20-10) — Whitman 19, Avare 6, Talbott 6, Ryan 7, Banahan 2.
Paul Dunbar 17 12 9 13—51
Lexington Catholic 11 13 14 2—40
All-tournament: Mike Smith (MVP), E.J. Floreal, William Gary of Dunbar; Jack Whitman, Dillon Avare of Lexington Catholic; Jackson Davis of Lafayette; Vincent Mattox of Tates Creek; Matt Rose of LCA.
Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337 Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes Blog: fieldsnotes.bloginky.com