Lexington Catholic boys' basketball coach Brandon Salsman pledged before the season that his Knights would defend their 11th Region title "with a lot of heart."
After beating Lafayette 80-56 to win the 43rd District Friday night, 11th-rated Lexington Catholic heads to next week's region tournament looking like a worthy challenger to No. 1 Scott County.
Especially if senior star Vee Sanford keeps lighting up the scoreboard.
"As good as Vee's playing offensively, if we can just get our defense to match that intensity level, I think we'll be a tough out," Salsman said.
After pouring in 31 points against Tates Creek in the district semifinals, Sanford had 29 points and 11 rebounds against Lafayette, the team he played for as a freshman and sophomore.
The Generals gave Lexington Catholic trouble for a while after bolting to an 8-0 lead. The Knights rallied and were ahead by seven at halftime, but Lafayette was still hanging around early in the third quarter.
Lexington Catholic finally got some breathing room thanks to an 8-0 flurry that widened its lead to 49-35. The Generals never got the deficit under double digits again.
"The first half, I was really pleased with everything we did," Lafayette Coach Damon Kelley said. "But early in the second half, we didn't match Catholic's intensity.
"I don't know if it was fatigue or what, but we didn't compete the way we needed to to get back in it."
Lafayette was led by Mike Walker's 13 points and Micah Miller's 11. Tyler Barber had nine points and nine rebounds. And Deron Linton, who sat out the entire regular season with a suspected heart condition, chipped in with five points and six rebounds in his second tournament game.
Lexington Catholic got a big lift from its bench. Freshman Jaylen Beckham sped his way to 15 points and five rebounds, and sophomore William Talbott had eight points, including a couple of threes.
Salsman noted that few people would have predicted his Knights would get their 21st consecutive 20-win season and another district trophy.
"We lost nine seniors last year, and I don't think many people in the state of Kentucky thought we'd be standing here as district champs again," he said. "All the credit goes to our kids."
Lexington catholic 80, lafayette 56
LEXINGTON CATHOLIC (22-7) — Sanford 12-23 2-5 29, Botkin 4-10 3-5 11, Peurach 2-4 4-5 8, Martin 1-4 0-0 3, Schuette 1-7 1-2 4, Beckham 7-10 1-1 15, Talbott 3-4 0-0 8, Conrad 1-3 0-0 2, Floyd 0-1 0-0 0, Porter 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 31-67 11-18 80.
LAFAYETTE (10-18) — Walker 6-18 1-1 13, Miller 4-6 3-4 11, Napier 3-13 0-1 6, Yarbrough 1-6 0-0 3, Barber 4-9 1-2 9, Lawless 1-1 0-0 2, Linton 1-5 3-7 5, Roberts 3-6 0-0 6, Miller 0-1 0-0 0, Shaftner 0-0 1-2 1, Davis 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 23-66 9-19 56.
Lexington Catholic 10 26 21 23—80
Lafayette 12 17 12 15—56
MVP: Vee Sanford (Lexington Catholic)
Lexington Catholic: Taylor Botkin and Tanner Peurach; Lafayette: Mike Walker and Tyler Barber; Dunbar: Nick Hudson; Lexington Christian: Will Evans; Tates Creek: Ryan Fucci