After Henry Clay beat Bryan Station in boys' basketball last month, the Blue Devils didn't celebrate as much as they let out a sigh of relief for finally ending a nine-game losing streak to their crosstown rivals.
But after Henry Clay knocked off the 20th-rated Defenders in the 42nd District semifinals Tuesday night, there was whoopin' and hollerin' and high-fives in the Devils' locker room.
"Words can't describe this feeling," Coach Daniel Brown said after the 81-73 victory. "I'm happy for Henry Clay. We're going back to the region tournament for the first time in four years."
First, though, the Devils have a date with No. 1 Scott County in the district finals Thursday night. The winner and runner-up both will advance to the 11th Region tournament next week.
Henry Clay traveled a rough road to get there. The Devils began the season with a remarkably inexperienced team. Prince Stewart, a senior guard, was the only true veteran, but he had a young and hungry supporting cast that kept getting better.
Henry Clay's overall improvement showed Tuesday night.
Stewart was terrific. He had 32 points, including four three-pointers and 10 of 11 free throws. He was a little loose with the basketball at times (nine turnovers), but he was steady down the stretch.
Stewart didn't have to do it alone. T.J. Barnes, a senior, had 12 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals. Brandon Wilder and Brandon Nichols each had 12 points off the bench.
Henry Clay won the rebounding battle (38-33) and limited Bryan Station to 38.5 percent shooting. The Devils hit 53 percent of their shots.
"We wanted to make them come out and play at our speed," Stewart said. "But the keys to the game were that we rebounded and played defense."
Henry Clay had a 12-point lead before Bryan Station rallied to make it 50-48 late in the third quarter. The Defenders trailed by only six with less than four minutes left in the game.
But the Devils delivered at clutch time. Stewart and Nichols combined to hit 10 of 11 free throws in the closing minutes.
Bryan Station Coach Champ Ligon summed up the game this way: "We missed a bunch of layups and they got a bunch of rebounds. We just didn't take care of business. Give Henry Clay credit. They did a magnificent job."
Charles Ashford's 19 points, eight rebounds and five steals led the Defenders. Joe Fain had 16 points, all in the second half. Montell Morones added 13 points.
Bryan Station seemed to lose its edge in the last month of the season. It went 6-6 in its last 12 games.
Henry Clay, on the other hand, has beaten its four city rivals (Bryan Station, Lafayette, Paul Dunbar and Tates Creek) in the last few weeks.
"People underestimated us," Stewart said. "But we showed if we played hard and played together, we could go to the region."
henry clay 81, Bryan Station 73
HENRY CLAY (17-13) — P. Stewart 9-18 10-11 32, Barnes 5-7 2-5 12, Nichols 4-6 3-3 12, Wilder 4-9 4-6 12, T. Stewart 1-3 1-4 3, Kiesling 1-1 2-6 4, Johnson 2-4 0-0 6, Tilford 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 26-49 22-35 81.
BRYAN STATION (19-8) — Ashford 5-14 9-11 19, Richardson 2-9 1-1 5, Mabson 2-9 3-4 7, Morones 5-12 1-2 13, Adams 3-4 0-0 6, Blackburn 0-1 0-0 0, Ball 1-4 0-0 2, Waite 0-1 0-0 0, Smothers 2-3 0-0 4, Wells 0-0 1-2 1, Fain 5-8 4-6 16. Totals 25-65 19-26 73.
Henry Clay 18 14 20 29—81
Bryan Station 14 12 22 25—73