Bullitt East dodged a Bardstown bullet in the first round of the PNC/KHSAA Boys Sweet Sixteen Thursday night in Rupp Arena.
Bullitt East, rated the top team in the lower bracket, watched a 10-point lead disappear as Bardstown rallied to edge ahead 39-38 with five minutes left.
"I was really worried," admitted Chargers big man Corey Washburn. "But I kept telling everybody, 'Lock down on defense and we'll be fine.'"
His teammates got the message.
Bullitt East put together an 8-1 run that gave it breathing room, and it survived 53-44 for the first state tournament victory in school history.
"These kids have the will to win and they find a way to win, whether it's forcing turnovers, getting to the free-throw line or hitting a three," Coach Troy Barr said.
Getting to the line was a big part of this victory.
Bullitt East, one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the state (75 percent), made 11 of 13 in the fourth quarter to hold off Bardstown.
Washburn hit three of those foul shots, and also had a breakaway layup.
That capped a big night for the 6-foot-7 senior. He had 25 points (19 in the first 14 minutes) and nine rebounds.
"He killed us inside in the first half," Bardstown Coach James "Boo" Brewer said.
The Tigers changed their defense in the second half, going to a 1-2-2 trap that limited Washburn's touches.
"That's when everybody else stepped up," Washburn said.
Hayden Sweat, who had two points in the first half, had eight in the second, including a three-point play that gave the Chargers a 46-40 lead.
"I knew when he did that we were going to win," Washburn said. "When Hayden steps up, we're about unstoppable."
Terry Rakes and Rusty Troutman also hit clutch free throws down the stretch.
Derek Willis contributed on the defensive end. The 6-8 sophomore had two of his seven blocked shots, a fear factor that forced Bardstown to take more jumpers.
Willis also had nine points and 12 rebounds.
Bardstown, the smallest school in the Sweet Sixteen (its enrollment of 564 is less than half that of Bullitt East's 1,338), was trying to win its first state tournament game in seven appearances.
Brewer said his Tigers were "a little shell-shocked" by the Rupp Arena atmosphere in the first half, "but the way we played the second half, that's the team I've been coaching all year."
Bardstown's quick and athletic lineup gave Bullitt East problems, forcing turnovers and crashing the boards.
Cody Edelen, playing his first year of high school hoops, led the Tigers with 13 points and 15 rebounds. Anthony Myrks had 12 points.
For a while it looked like Bardstown, rated No. 13 in the tournament compared to Bullitt East's No. 5, might pull off a shocker like 13 seed Morehead State did against four seed Louisville in the NCAA Tournament Thursday afternoon.
Brewer, who played for U of L and watched his Cards go down, was hoping his Tigers could pull off a mollifying shocker.
But it wasn't to be.
Bullitt East pushed its school-record victory total to 29 and advanced to play in Friday night's quarterfinals.