HIGHLAND HEIGHTS — His team trailing Clark County 24-15 at halftime of the boys' 10th Region basketball championship game, Mason County Coach Chris O'Hearn offered some advice.
"There's plenty of time. Keep up the pressure. Keep trapping," he said. "Eventually it's going to wear on them."
O'Hearn turned out to be prophetic as his Royals rallied for a 50-43 victory Tuesday at the Bank of Kentucky Center. The defending state champions, armed with their run-and-jump press, advanced to Lexington for the Sweet Sixteen, where they will meet 15th Region champ Shelby Valley on March 19.
The Royals were coming off a 30-point win a night earlier, the starters sitting out the fourth quarter. Clark County needed every bit of energy to squeeze past Scott 46-40.
"We completely ran out of gas," Clark Coach Scott Humphrey said Tuesday. "You could see it in the third quarter. ... I'm proud of our kids for battling. We just ran out of bodies and ran out of energy."
Russ Middleton and Neal Pawsat scored 13 points for the Royals, 24-6 and No. 11 in the Cantrall ratings. Middleton also grabbed 10 of the Royals' 31 rebounds.
"A lot of teams don't really see me as a scorer," said Pawsat, a 6-foot-2 sophomore. "So I guess this was a good game to step up."
No. 16 Clark (25-7) got 13 points from Robbie Stenzel and 11 from Robert Hatton. Vinny Zollo, a 6-8 sophomore who has orally committed to Kentucky, added 10 points and grabbed 13 of his team's 34 rebounds.
When the teams met during the regular season, Feb. 6 at Winchester, the Cardinals pulled out a 56-55 victory. In that game, Stenzel was fouled at the buzzer, then sank three free throws with no time left.
Tuesday, Clark County used a 15-0 run to turn a 6-3 deficit into an 18-6 lead.
Mason went nearly 61/2 minutes without a point.
An 8-0 run early in the second half rallied the Royals to within four points at 27-23.
Trailing 35-34 through three quarters, Mason took the lead with 5:27 left on Middleton's fast-break bucket.
Zollo countered with back-to-back baskets for a 39-36 Cardinals lead with 4:59 left.
But Mason went on a 9-0 run over the next four minutes. Pawsat hit the front end of a one-and-one. Jordan Gilbert, scoreless to that point, drained a go-ahead three-pointer with 3:00 left. Pawsat added a layup, and Keith Downing hit two free throws for a 45-39 lead.
"I haven't played good all year," said Gilbert, a 5-10 sophomore reserve. "It feels good to come in and get a big shot when we needed it."
The Royals scored their last eight points at the free-throw line.
Mason Co. 50, Clark Co. 43
MASON CO. (24-6) — Hamm 2, Pawsat 13, Setty 4, Middleton 13, Downing 8, Gilbert 4, Barner 4, Lang 4, Menefee 0. Totals 16-42 14-23 50.
CLARK CO. (25-7) — Hatton 11, Zollo 10, Rogers 7, Stenzel 13, Williams 2, Daniel 0, Bailey 0, Brewer 0, Martin 0. Totals 14-42 11-17 43.
Mason County 6 9 19 16—50
Clark County 12 12 11 8—43
Three-point goals — MC 4-18 (Hamm 0-1, Pawsat 2-3, Setty 0-3, Middleton 1-4, Downing 0-1, Gilbert 1-4); CC 4-10 (Hatton 3-5, Stenzel 1-4, Brewer 0-1).