Montgomery County is in the rarefied air of the Sweet Sixteen final four, and basketball fans from Mount Sterling must feel like they're atop Mount Olympus.
Montgomery County was poised under pressure, pulling out of a 50-50 tie midway through the fourth quarter to post a 66-57 victory over John Hardin in the quarterfinals of the 96th KHSAA State Tournament in Rupp Arena Friday night.
The Indians will play Sweet Sixteen favorite and three-time state champ Ballard in Saturday night's semifinals.
Bryan Wallace, a 6-foot junior guard, led the Indians with 21 points, including 3-for-3 on three-pointers, six rebounds and three assists.
Omar Prewitt played through foul trouble to get 11 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Darius Jones had 11 points and five rebounds. Julian Piersawl was key off the bench with nine points, five rebounds and three assists.
Montgomery County Coach Happy Osborne has his players in a loose, go-for-the-gold frame of mind by telling them their world won't crumble in they lose.
"What's the worst that can happen? We go back to Mount Sterling," he said.
Osborne then asked Prewitt if he liked his hometown. Prewitt said he did.
"That's the worst thing that's gonna happen," Osborne said. "We go back to Mount Sterling."
The Indians aren't packing yet. They lived to play another day by overcoming a slow start against John Hardin.
They trailed 26-20 late in the second quarter before closing with a rush to tie it 26-26 at halftime. They opened the second half with the same fury, scoring 10 consecutive points to open a 36-26 lead. They were still up by nine after three quarters.
All was not good for Montgomery County, though. Prewitt, their 6-6 senior star and Mr. Basketball finalist, picked up his fourth in the first minute of the fourth quarter.
But just as he did in the first half, Osborne kept Prewitt on the floor.
"That's not Omar's first rodeo," Osborne said. "We play to win, and I trusted him.
"I'm not gonna look these kids in the eye and tell them to go for it, be reckless, play loose, and then me get over there and tighten up and not play them."
Prewitt said he and his teammates knew what to do: "We just stayed disciplined and kept rebounding."
John Hardin Coach Mark Wells said his team focused on Prewitt and gambled that Wallace wouldn't hurt them with his outside shot. He did.
"I was feeling comfortable with my jump shot," said Wallace, who was 4-4 in the second half.
Wells also credited Chase Hall's work on the boards.
"He killed us," Wells said.
Hall, a 6-3 sophomore, had seven points and eight rebounds for the Indians.
John Hardin battled back to tie it 50-50, but then hit a wall. Montgomery went on a 6-0 run. Indians senior point guard Tyler Jones had six points in the closing 1:15 to help seal it.
John Hardin senior point guard Brandon Price, who had 12 points and five assists, said fatigue was a factor.
"We busted our butts to get back in it and that took a toll on our bodies. But (Montgomery County) made plays down the stretch. They're a good ball club."
Patrick Anderson led the Bulldogs with 19 points. Daveon Greene had 12 points and 10 rebounds.
"I was proud of the grit we showed," Well said. "But we ran out of gas."