Asking Ryan Fucci of Tates Creek whether he wanted to be at the foul line with the 43rd District title on the line Friday night would qualify as the silliest question in basketball.
"Certainly, definitely," Fucci said after his free throw with two seconds left gave the No. 12 Commodores a 46-45 victory over No. 6 Lexington Catholic before a big crowd at Lafayette Friday night.
Fucci proved all night he was up to the challenge of helping Tates Creek defend its district title. The 6-foot-3 senior led the winners with 26 points and seven rebounds.
"It seemed every time we got close, Ryan hit a big shot or got a big rebound, then he hit that huge free throw at the end," Lexington Catholic Coach Brandon Salsman said.
The district title game was what everybody expected after these teams split a pair of grind-it-out battles during the regular season, with Tates Creek winning first, 54-49, and the Knights prevailing 46-45 two weeks later.
"We knew we had to slow them down and play our game," Fucci said.
Lexington Catholic had 51 points in the first half of its district semifinal rout of Lafayette, but it had only 17 at halftime Friday night.
"We knew it'd be like this again," Tates Creek Coach Wayne Breeden said. "We've won with tough team defense all year."
After leading 22-17 at the half, the Commodores stayed a step ahead until the closing seconds.
Tates Creek led 43-38 with 90 seconds left, but the Knights finished with a rush.
They forced the Commodores into three consecutive turnovers and took advantage. Taylor Martin made two free throws and a layup to cut the deficit to one, 43-42.
Fucci hit two foul shots with 21 seconds left to give Tates Creek a 45-42 edge, but Lexington Catholic's Scott Schuette buried his third three-pointer of the quarter to tie it 45-45 with 14 seconds left.
After a timeout, Fucci in-bounded the ball to Darius Gibson, who immediately shoveled it back to Fucci.He streaked down the floor to attack the basket and was fouled with two seconds left as he attempted a shot.
Breeden was happy to see Fucci at the line.
"We've got a lot of guys who are good free-throw shooters but, of all our guys, Ryan believes he's gonna make 'em," Breeden said.
Fucci wasn't worried.
"I knew I had two shots and only needed to make one," he said.
He swished the first free throw, then missed the second on purpose so the Knights couldn't set up a final play.
"Lexington Catholic made some threes on us at the end. They're great players," Breeden said. "Luckily, we've got pretty good players, too."
Marcellus Barksdale had nine points and seven rebounds for Tates Creek.
Lexington Catholic was led by Schuette's 15 points. Martin had 10 points and eight rebounds, and Brian Woomer had 10 points.
Both teams advance to the 11th Region tournament in Richmond next week.
TATES CREEK (23-4) — Fucci 9-19 4-7 26, Barksdale 4-9 1-2 9, Bradley 0-1 0-0 0, Mack 2-5 0-0 4, Gibson 1-4 4-6 6, McFarland 0-4 1-2 1. Totals 16-42 10-17 46.
LEXINGTON CATHOLIC (23-7) — Martin 4-13 2-3 10, Woomer 4-9 0-2 10, Schuette 5-12 2-4 15, Beckham 1-5 1-2 3, Floyd 2-3 1-2 5, Whitman 0-1 0-0 0, Keller 0-4 0-0 0, Porter 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 17-49 6-13 45.
Tates Creek 8 14 9 15—46
Lexington Catholic 11 6 9 19—45
All-tournament — Ryan Fucci (MVP), Marcellus Barksdale, Darius Gibson of Tates Creek; Scott Schuette, Taylor Martin of Lexington Catholic; Taylor Barnette of LCA; Dee Yarbrough of Lafayette; Clay Coyle of Dunbar.