It was a long time coming, Rodney Woods said, but Wayne County returned to the victory column Thursday in the KHSAA/PNC Boys Sweet Sixteen.
The Cardinals beat Perry County Central 68-58 before 13,524 fans in Rupp Arena.
Since falling to Pleasure Ridge Park in the finals of the 1989 tournament, Wayne had made five first-round exits.
"For our coaching staff, it's been a long dry spell winning up here," Woods said.
Never miss a local story.
The 12th Region champions (31-4) will meet Rowan County in Friday's quarterfinals at 6:30 p.m.
Gavin Dunagan led Wayne County with 22 points and 12 rebounds. Ryan Hopper had 21 points, as Wayne got all of its scoring from its starters, made up of four seniors and a sophomore. Dagan Shelton, the sophomore, added 11 points. Austin Shearer and Kyle Hopper scored seven each, with Shearer dishing out five assists.
Woods, in a nod to counterpart Allan Hatcher, said Perry's coach is a master at preparing for an opponent's set offensive plays.
"I think one thing that helped us out some — you probably noticed it real quick — we don't have any sets," Woods said. "I learned a long time ago to run more 'motion' offense. We didn't call it the 'dribble drive,' but we've been doing it for 20 years."
Perry (25-6) went down despite a historic performance by 5-foot-8 Braxton Beverly.
In a tournament where legends such as Richie Farmer, O.J. Mayo and Darius Miller got their feet wet as eighth-graders, Beverly — a seventh-grader — led the Commodores with 23 points. He also had two rebounds, two assists and two steals, making seven turnovers in 29 minutes.
"When you're going to a one-four low the last three or four possessions of a game and you're giving the ball to a seventh-grader, it's mind-boggling to me," Hatcher said. "We knew he was good. We didn't know he was going to come along this fast, but he has."
Trevor Combs and Kyle Huff, both juniors, added 15 points each for Perry. The Commodores' inside tandem of 6-8 Dillon Cornett and 6-5 Dalton Cornett combined for 13 rebounds but was limited to two points each — 19 below their combined averages.
Dunagan, a 6-4 senior, broke a 13-all tie by scoring the first six points of the second quarter.
However, over their next eight possessions, the Cardinals committed six turnovers and missed two layups.
Perry closed the half on an 11-3 run to lead 24-22.
"At halftime, we felt good about ourself," Hatcher said. "Then Dunagan hit two big threes out of the corner in the third quarter, turned the whole game back around."
Ryan Hopper also hit a pair of threes in the quarter, which ended with Wayne leading 44-38, including a 21-3 bulge off of three-point shots.
Hopper, 5-for-6 from long range, had struggled with his shot late in the season.
"But the coaches kept getting on me, 'You've got to be confident as a shooter, you've got to know it's going in, the next shot is the most important shot,' " he said. "My teammates found me and I was lucky enough to finally get in the zone, and I just knocked them down."
The closest Perry came in the fourth quarter was at 46-42, when Huff hit one of two free throws with 5:07 left.
Kyle Hopper answered with a three-pointer.
Then, the Cardinals, shooting 73.9 percent from the free-throw line this season, went 12 of 13 over the last four minutes. Overall, both teams shot 20 free throws, Wayne outscoring Perry 15-9.