Jarrod Polson proved long ago that he is more Thoroughbred than show pony, and he reminded everybody of that fact again Thursday.
West Jessamine's 6-foot-3 senior point guard had 32 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals in leading the Colts to a 73-63 victory over Muhlenberg County in the first round of the PNC/KHSAA Sweet Sixteen in Rupp Arena.
"They had a lot of answers for us," Mustangs Coach Reggie Warford said.
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He was at his best in the clutch. He had 21 points in the second half as West Jessamine pulled away, then held off the fast-closing Mustangs.
"He's done that all year for us," said Colts Coach Damon Kelley. "We get the ball in his hands and get out of the way."
Polson has shown his stride on this track before. He averaged 20 points in three games while sparking West Jessamine to the state tournament final four last year.
Being here before helped him and teammate David Elliott (13 points, seven rebounds) feel comfortable in Rupp Arena this time around.
"That experience was huge," Elliott said. "We knew how to deal with certain situations."
One of those situations cropped up late in the game.
West Jessamine led 61-50 with 4:20 left when the Mustangs went into full gallop. Joe Gabbard had five points in a 12-2 run that pulled them to within 64-62 with 2:17 left.
"It was more Muhlenberg County making shots than us falling apart," said Kelley, who told his team to "relax and don't panic" when things got tight.
Not that Polson was worried.
"It goes back to the experience of having been in that situation before," he said. "We knew we'd get the win."
Sure enough, the Colts were strong for the stretch run. They scored the next seven points, with Elliott getting six of them, to put West Jessamine ahead 71-62 with less than a minute left.
The Colts got good support from veteran Kyle Mefford, who hit three three-pointers in the first half, and Gus Sherrow, who had 10 points, four rebounds and three assists.
The only bugaboo for the Colts was foul shooting. They missed 17 freebies (23-for-40).
"I'm not worried about that," Kelley said. "We're a good free-throw shooting team — 70 percent this year. We'll step up and make them tomorrow."
Muhlenberg County had a couple of seniors step up in their first Sweet Sixteen. Gabbard had 22 points, five rebounds and three assists. Josh Hawkins had 10 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
The Mustangs endured a tumultuous first season (the school came together after the consolidation of Muhlenberg North and South last summer) that centered around Warford being hired as coach instead of North's Steve Sparks.
Trying to blend two teams into one against the backdrop of a county with split loyalties was Warford's challenge.
He met the challenge.
The Mustangs wound up region champions and Sweet Sixteen participants.
"This is a team that people should've been embracing and loving from the beginning," Warford said, "but they didn't.
"But through the (team's) extraordinary effort at the end of the year, that changed."