MOREHEAD — Rowan County is headed back to the Sweet Sixteen and hoping to conjure up the same kind of magic that carried it to a state runner-up finish last year.
The Vikings rallied past Ashland Blazer 59-56 in a down-to-the-wire 16th Region finals at Morehead State on Monday night.
"It's another dream becoming a reality," said Rowan County senior Adam Wing, the shooting star of the 2011 state tournament. "Going into this year, we felt we could do something special again. I'm just so happy to be going back to Rupp Arena."
Vikings Coach Shawn Thacker credited his team's experience for helping it survive a tense fourth-quarter. "Adam, D.J. (Townsend) and Jason (Egan) wanted to get back to the big show."
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Rowan County was in a tough spot when it trailed 54-50 midway through the fourth quarter. But Egan drilled a three-pointer, Townsend hit a pair of free throws and a pull-up jumper, and Egan converted a fast-break layup to cap a 9-0 run that put the Vikings ahead 59-54 with less than minute left. But Ashland still made it a fight to the finish.
After the Tomcats pulled to within three, 59-56, on Kyle Bush's basket with 36 seconds to go, they got two more possessions with a chance to tie it.
The first came after a Rowan County turnover. But Tomcats star Corey Gregg, who hit three consecutive threes earlier in the quarter to give his team the lead, missed a three from the left corner.
Ashland got another reprieve when Townsend missed the front end of the bonus with :08 on the clock.
The Tomcats' Cody Withrow launched a three from the right wing, but Tyler Thacker, the Rowan County coach's son, cleanly blocked it out of bounds with two seconds left.
Ashland inbounded the ball to Ryan Whetsel in front of the Tomcats' bench. As he tried to get the ball up for a shot, he was smothered by the Vikings as the horn sounded.
Ashland Coach Buddy Biggs wanted to hear a whistle that would have sent Whet sel to the line for three free throws. But none came.
"He got fouled by two people, tackled and thrown to the ground," Biggs said. "It's an absolute travesty our kids had this taken away from them, with three officials standing there, but they wouldn't blow the whistle.
"If (Whetsel) goes to the line and misses, fine. But he should've gotten that chance."
Biggs blamed poor foul shooting for ultimately costing his team. Gregg missed a pair of free throws with 1:20 left and his team up 55-54.
Gregg had 19 points and 10 rebounds and was tournament MVP. Withrow added 14 points and Whetsel 11.
Wing had 15 points and 11 rebounds for Rowan County. Egan also had 15 points. Townsend had 11 points, five assists and three rebounds.
Townsend said "a lot of heart and determination" pushed the Vikings in the fourth quarter.
Biggs said his Tomcats "had no answer" for Townsend's play down the stretch. "He's a special player."
Thacker used that same adjective to describe his repeat region champs.
"This is just a special group of kids," he said.
Rowan County will play 13th Region champ North Laurel in the Sweet Sixteen opener on March 14.
ROWAN COUNTY (25-7) — Wing 4-8 4-4 15, Townsend 4-10 2-3 11, Egan 6-12 0-0 15, Brown 2-2 1-2 5, Newsome 1-4 0-0 3, Thacker 0-3 4-4 4, Hodge 1-3 0-0 2, Barnard 1-2 2-2 4. Totals 19-44 13-15 59.
ASHLAND BLAZER (23-12) — Gregg 7-13 2-4 19, Withrow 5-9 3-4 14, Salow 2-5 0-0 5, Whetsel 3-6 2-4 11, Bush 1-5 2-4 4, Friley 1-1 1-2 3. Totals 19-39 10-18 56.
Rowan County 13 14 12 20—59
Ashland Blazer 10 11 19 16—56
All-tournament — Adam Wing, Jason Egan, D.J. Townsend, Tyler Thacker of Rowan County; Corey Gregg (MVP), Logan Salow, Cody Withrow of Ashland; Dylan Genung, Connor Robinson of East Carter; Derek Lawson, Kyle Brown of West Carter; Hayden Stephenson of Greenup County; Troy Steward of Fleming County; Luke Bailey of Russell; Mike Terry of Fairview.