High School Sports

Sweet 16: Ballard picks up the pace in victory

Ballard's Bruins could easily be called Ballard's Bombinos the way they unconsciously fire up three-pointers.

Coach Chris Renner gives his players free rein to freely rain from deep on the court. Ballard has launched 727 long-range missiles this season (248 have hit the target).

But Ballard can hit "frees" as well as "threes" as it showed in out-gunning Shelby County 90-80 in a fast-paced first-round game in the PNC/KHSAA Sweet Sixteen on Wednesday afternoon in Rupp Arena.

The Bruins made nine of 26 threes, but they wound up winning the game at the free-throw line.

They trailed 72-69 with four minutes left, but finished off Shelby County with a 21-8 run that included 17 free throws — and no threes. They were 19 of 26 from the foul line in the fourth quarter.

Keisten Jones led Ballard in both categories on his way to 30 points. The 6-foot-3 senior was 5-for-9 on threes and 9-for-10 on free throws.

Ian Chiles had 19 points, and Devante Parker had 12 as the Bruins notched their 30th win of the season.

It was a typical performance by Ballard. Its athletic ability can take your breath away one minute, then cause you to scratch your head the next.

"I thought at times we showed our brilliance, how good we can be," Renner said. "And at times it was the other end of the spectrum, when we were really inconsistent."

Shelby County was brilliant at times, too. It played right with Ballard until the closing minutes.

Rockets freshman Darryl Hicks, a smooth 6-3 guard, lit up the Bruins for 30 points, including 6-for-11 on threes. He also had six rebounds.

Renner called it a "coming out party for the freshman."

Shelby County Coach Mike Clark said Hicks "had a tremendous day shooting the ball. But he's played like a veteran for us all year."

Shelby County's true veterans, its seniors, shone, too.

Cache Tomlinson was 5-for-11 on threes and had 20 points. Norris "Boomer" Beckley, whose dad played on the Rockets' 1978 title team, had 14 points, and Donovan Johnson had 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Clark said it was his team's strategy to take it right at Ballard's pressure defense and get as many open shots as possible.

A bunch of those shots were from downtown Lexington. Shelby County wound up taking 30 threes, and hit 12. (That was two shy of the Sweet Sixteen record set by Mason County in 2003.)

Renner said he was surprised by how many "tough shots" the Rockets made.

Clark said he thought his team "played Ballard about as well as possible.

"They're probably the quickest team in the tournament, and they're an outstanding team."

The difference was in the closing minutes when Ballard was getting to the foul line while Shelby County was making turnovers and missing shots.

They also took a big hit when Johnson and Beckley fouled out.

"That was crucial," Clark said.

Jones had 16 points in the fourth quarter, half of those coming on free throws.

He called his first Sweet Sixteen experience "very exciting.

"When I first walked out on the floor, I was amazed at how it looked. After a few minutes I started to calm down and just played."

And Ballard, a three-time state champion, played its way into a Friday quarterfinal date with Warren Central.