It was a long time coming, but Owensboro finally snatched its fourth state championship Sunday.
The Red Devils led wire-to-wire in downing Bowling Green 74-58 in the finals of the 98th Whitaker Bank/ KHSAA Sweet Sixteen in Rupp Arena.
Owensboro, playing in its record 43rd State tournament, also won in 1949, '72 and '80.
Dylan Sanford led a balanced scoring attack with 21 points, hitting all four of the Red Devils' three-pointers.
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"My teammates got me the ball right where I needed it," said Sanford, a 6-foot-1 senior. "Everybody knows I'm a shooter, and they got me the ball in the pocket and I hit some shots."
Then there was the inside tandem of senior big fellas Aric Holman and tourney MVP Justin Miller.
"He dominates," Coach Rod Drake said of Holman. "He gets there, and he changed the game."
Holman, a 6-9, 185-pounder, netted 20 points, 14 rebounds and eight blocks.
"It feels amazing," Holman said. "Especially when you work your butt off, you and your teammates. You do everything together, and when you work as hard as we do, we knew what our goal was. And we're just glad we accomplished it before we left."
Miller, a 6-7, 290-pounder, played through what he called a groin/hamstring injury and finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
"I was about 30 percent, honestly," Miller said. "But I wasn't going to let that stop me from playing my last game with my brothers, so I'm just glad we got it done."
Jacoby Harris, a 5-10 sophomore, added 14 points and five assists as the 3rd Region team won its seventh game in a row.
The Red Devils (31-4) beat Bowling Green twice during the regular season — 79-71 on Jan. 3 and 69-66 on Feb. 10. But that didn't make them overconfident.
"To be honest, we had a little doubt," Holman said. "Because to beat a team three times in a row is pretty hard. So we just took it as we never played them before. ... Took it back to square one, and that's how we got here now."
This marked the first finals between Western Kentucky schools since 4th Region Edmonson County beat 2nd Region Christian County in 1976.
Fourth Region champion Bowling Green (31-6), in its first State finals and 15th tourney, was led by Terry Taylor with 16 points and nine rebounds. Tucker Sine had nine points and seven boards, and Kyran Jones netted eight points and eight caroms.
"Coming into this tournament, we were playing as well as anybody," Purples Coach D.G. Sherrill said. "And in this championship game, we just kind of ran into a buzz saw. We ran into a team that shot a little better, they fought around the rim a little harder, they hit their free throws (20 of 23), and it was just a tough game for us. But we got beat by a bunch of good players and a great coaching staff over in Owensboro."
Owensboro jumped to a 4-0 lead to start.
Ahead 4-3, the Red Devils went on a 9-0 run, only to see the Purples come back with a 9-0 rally to leave the score 13-12.
Owensboro led 16-12 through one quarter and 27-23 at halftime.
The Devils opened the third quarter with a 7-1 run to push the lead to 34-24.
Then, a 9-0 blitz widened the gap to 43-26.
Holman started the action by converting a three-point play for a 37-26 lead.
Darion Morrow, who finished with six points, hit a short jumper.
Sanford scored on a fast break, and Morrow flipped in a shot from the lane.
The lead was 49-33 through three quarters.
The closest Bowling Green came from there was 61-49 with 3:06 left, when Taylor scored on a put-back.
Both teams came into the finals having shot 55 percent from the field during the first three rounds of the tourney.
Owensboro nearly matched that Sunday, going 25 of 48 (52.1 percent), but Bowling Green came in 23 of 64 (35.9 percent).
"Defensively, it's all about heart," Sanford said. "And our team has a lot of heart.
"The basket got a little small for us tonight," Sherrill said. "We picked a bad game to have one of our lower performances in the shooting from the field. But to come in here and play in a state championship time for the first time in Bowling Green history ... I'm still so proud of them. We're taking home a big old silver ball tonight. That means we accomplished something up here."