RICHMOND — Madison Central's Dominique Hawkins, usually Mr. Poker Face, gave in to pure basketball joy and wore a smile as wide as the Clays Ferry Bridge on Saturday night.
Hawkins was celebrating the Indians' 67-46 victory over Lexington Catholic in the 11th Region finals in front of more than 3,000 fans in Eastern Kentucky University's McBrayer Arena.
"If you play in the 11th Region, you know how hard it is to get to Rupp Arena, so it feels great to get there,'" Hawkins said after flirting with a triple-double by posting 18 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists.
No. 3 Madison Central, in the state tournament for the first time since 2006, will play No. 22 Wayne County, the 12th Region champ, in the opening game of the 95th Sweet Sixteen at noon Wednesday.
Indians Coach Allen Feldhaus Jr. is thrilled that these seniors, who took their lumps as freshmen and sophomores, will get to experience the ultimate in Kentucky hoops.
"I want them to feel what it's like to step out on that Rupp Arena floor and look up," he said.
Two years ago Madison Central's young team lost to Lexington Catholic's veterans 59-43 in the region finals.
This time around the Indians had the edge in experience and strength.
Hawkins was the leader, but fellow seniors Ken-Jah Bosley, Quan Taylor, Daniel Parke, Hunter Stocker and George Walker were his tight-knit teammates.
"Like brothers," Taylor said.
Bosley, a mercurial 5-foot-11 guard, came up big in the title game with 22 points.
Taylor, a 6-4 leaper, had eight points, including three rim-rattling dunks in the closing minutes.
Parke, Stocker and Walker combined for 13 points.
If Lexington Catholic were to upset the Indians, it had to take advantage of 6-9 senior Jack Whitman's inside skills. But he got in foul trouble — three personals in the first half — and fouled out early in the fourth quarter with 16 points and nine rebounds.
"Jack only played 20 minutes, and we can't beat anybody with him on the bench that much," said Knights Coach Brandon Salsman, who questioned three of the whistles that went against his big man. "It was absolutely frustrating that he couldn't stay on the floor. But I get paid to coach, not officiate."
Feldhaus was glad to see Whitman off the court.
"We couldn't have asked for anything better than that," he said. "That opened up the lanes for our guards to get to the hole, and we were able to pick up the pressure on defense, too."
When Lexington Catholic trimmed a 30-21 halftime deficit to 30-26, Feldhaus called a timeout.
Bosley knew why: "We thought we were going straight to Rupp Arena after the first half. We had to wake up and start playing again."
Bosley did his part, sparking a 15-2 run with back-to-back three-point plays.
It was all the Indians after that. Hawkins had a couple of dunks down the stretch, including a high-flying rebound jam. Taylor went sky-high for three jams himself.
"They're an exceptionally good defensive team," Salsman said. "They forced us out on the perimeter, and we couldn't handle their physicality. But I was proud of the way we fought."
Salsman likes Madison Central's chances at making more noise next week.
"Everybody in Rupp better be ready because they've got to be one of the favorites, if not the favorite," he said.
Madison Central 67, Lex. Catholic 46
LEXINGTON CATHOLIC (22-11) — Whitman 16, Johnson 11, Avare 2, Talbott 4, Griffin 6, Pippen 3, Ryan 3, Banahan 1.
MADISON CENTRAL (28-5) — Hawkins 18, Bosley 22, Parke 5, Stocker 2, Taylor 8, Walker 6, Jones 2, George 4.
Lexington Catholic 12 9 7 18—46
Madison Central 17 13 13 24—67
All-tournament: Dominique Hawkins (MVP), Ken-Jah Bosley, Quan Taylor, Daniel Parke of Madison Central; Jack Whitman, Tanner Johnson, Jarrod Griffin of Lexington Catholic; Jordan Green, Trey Grundy of Henry Clay; Trent Gilbert, Quin Richardson of Scott County; Tyler Abshear of Madison Southern; William Gary of Dunbar; Rylan Rowe of Franklin County.