MAYSVILLE — History predicted that Lexington Catholic and Mason County would have a down-to-the-wire basketball battle Saturday night.
Lexington Catholic's two previous visits to Mason County's Fieldhouse went into overtime, with the teams splitting the victories.
But when No. 15 Lexington Catholic built a 19-point lead (31-12) on the No. 11 Royals early in the second half Saturday night, it looked like a rout in the making.
Not to Knights Coach Brandon Salsman, however.
"They were 16-1. We knew they weren't going to lay down in their own gym," he said. "We knew there was no way it was going to be easy."
Mason County rallied to within 51-49, and after the Knights misfired on a pair of free throws with :10 left, the Royals had a chance to tie or take the lead.
Instead, they threw the ball away, and Lexington Catholic escaped, 53-49.
Knights senior guard Michael Talbott, who was shaky at the foul line in the closing minute, hit one of two free throws to make it a four-point game and seal the victory.
"Michael made the one that counted. I had no doubt in my mind that he would," Salsman said.
Talbott had 14 points to lead Lexington Catholic.
"Two really good teams going at it in a great gym and great atmosphere," he said. "We had a really good team effort and kept fighting through to the end."
Jarod Griffin added 12 points and Tanner Johnson 11 for the Knights. Donovan Morris came off the bench to score 10.
Salsman said it wasn't his team's "sharpest night, but we've been winning with our defense lately, and that's what won it for us tonight."
Mason County's 6-foot-6 senior Dorian Henry, who came into the game averaging 21 points, didn't score in the first half. He finished with a season-low 13 points to go with 12 rebounds.
"He's a heck of a player," Salsman said. "We had a great team defensive effort on him, with Walker (Boothe), Reese (Ryan), Tanner (Johnson) and Peter (Whitman) taking turns on him."
Mason County Coach Chris O'Hearn credited the Knights' defense, but he also thought Henry throttled back his aggressiveness after picking up his second foul midway through the first half.
"He's got to learn to get that out of his mind," he said.
O'Hearn couldn't explain his Royals' lethargic first half (they trailed 26-12 at the break).
"We just didn't answer the bell for some reason," he said. "Catholic's very good defensively, but what really surprised me was how quick their guards are and how they beat us off the dribble. They really whipped us and put us in a hole
"I challenged our guys at halftime to show what kind of character, what kind of mettle they had, and I was proud of the way they fought back and gave us a chance."
Antawon Williams also had 13 points for Mason County, which is the top-rated team in the 10th Region.
LEXINGTON CATHOLIC 53, MASON CO. 49
Lexington Catholic (14-6) — Johnson 11, Griffin 12, Talbott 14, Boothe 6, Morris 10.
Mason County (16-2) — Henry 13, Williams 13, O'Mara 8, Boone 2, R.Johnson 5, D.Johnson 8.
Lexington Catholic 16 10 14 13—53
Mason County 7 5 20 17—49