Defending 3rd Region boys' basketball champ Grayson County has had a fairly ordinary season so far, struggling to stay above .500.
But the Cougars got an emotional lift Sunday with a come-from-behind 72-68 overtime victory against Mercer County in the Republic Bank Holiday Classic at Lexington Catholic.
Grayson County trailed by 12 at halftime, never got even until the closing minutes of regulation and didn't get its first lead of the afternoon until overtime.
"I told the guys, that's as good a regular-season win as we've had in a while," Coach Todd Johnston said.
"Down 12 to a good team with so many ball handlers and so many shooters ... that was a great win for us."
Grayson County isn't lacking for offense, as it showed Sunday.
Senior point guard Travis Johnston, the school's all-time leading scorer with almost 2,000 points, had 13 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and five steals.
The Cougars also got solid play from Tyler Saltsman (19 points, seven rebounds), Aaron Deviney (18 points, six rebounds) and Hunter Gary (14 points, five rebounds).
"We've got some guys who can score," Coach Johnston said. "But I thought the difference in the second half was that we went to our sagging man-to-man."
That defensive adjustment kept Mercer County from penetrating and getting easy shots. After hitting almost 60 percent in the first half, the Titans made 43 percent the rest of the day.
Mercer County, which looks like a 12th Region contender, was led by Clay Cinnamon's 18 points. Austin Graves was 3-for-3 on three-pointers and had 15 points. Jake Mays added 12 points and five rebounds.
Highlands 56, Perry Central 52: Even after the Bluebirds soared to an 11-point lead in the first quarter, Coach Mike Flynn didn't get excited. "I still knew it'd be a battle right to the end," he said.
He was right.
Perry Central, which brought a 7-0 record to Lexington, rallied from 10 points down in the last 3:30 and pushed Highlands to the limit. It wasn't until the Bluebirds' Zach Lother hit a free throw with nine seconds left that the Commodores were closed out.
Flynn was proud of the way his team salvaged a victory.
"We've got a lot of moxie," he said. "We've got some guys who really gutted it out."
Stephen Kowolonek was one of them. One of the top players in the 9th Region, Kowolonek is nursing a bad knee. But he scrapped for seven points and four assists.
His teammates picked up the offensive slack. Ben Watson led the winners with 17 points, Jack Stewart had 12, and Lother added 11.
Flynn, a veteran coach in his first year at Highlands, says his Birds will have a big upside once they get healthy and football player Tyler Grubbs (6-foot-6, 275 pounds) joins the team.
"We still don't know what we're doing," he said. "Once we get on the same page, we're going to get better.
"When you play a game like this, that goes down to the wire, it really hurries up your development."
The only fly in the ointment for Highlands has been poor free-throw shooting. It was 12-for-25 on Sunday.
Perry Central, which figures to contend for the 14th Region title, was led by Tyler Mullins' 16 points and eight rebounds. Cory Martin added 13 points and four rebounds.
Clark County 62, St. Xavier 43: Vinny Zollo had 15 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots to help the Cardinals roll over St. Xavier.
Clark County jumped out to a 27-14 lead by halftime and led the Tigers by 22 points going into the fourth quarter.
Trinity 53, Scott 39: Josh Sewell had 19 points and five rebounds to lead the Shamrocks, who outrebounded the Eagles 37-22 and held them to 34 percent shooting.
McCreary Central 68, Hazard 56: Aaron Watts led all scorers with 26 points and added six rebounds, six assists and three blocks for the Raiders.