Top-seeded Lexington Catholic survived a scare from Lafayette in the 43rd District semifinals, advancing to Friday’s finals with a 58-56 win over the Generals at home on Wednesday.
Zan Payne led the Knights with 21 points on 8-for-12 shooting and scored LexCath’s final go-ahead bucket with 2:29 left in the third quarter. Lafayette pulled to within one possession multiple times in the fourth quarter but couldn’t recover after the Knights swelled their lead to eight points early in the final period.
“Anytime I play Mike (Mendenhall), it’s gonna be like this,” LexCath Coach Brandon Salsman said of Lafayette’s coach, his former assistant. “We know each other so well and he gets up for us and we get up for him. It’s one of those brotherly rivalries w’eve had going for a long time. Last year he was able to come out on top and this year we were just fortunate enough to do that.”
Last year’s win by Lafayette made Lexington Catholic miss the 11th Region tournament for just the second time in the last 30 years. The Knights avoided missing consecutive region tournaments, but had it happened Salsman would not have thought it as disgraceful as some looking from the outside might have.
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“This is by far the toughest district in the state of Kentucky and there is no shame of not going to the regional tournament out of this district cause you’re gonna have to beat a great team,” Salsman said. “ ... I looked at (Lafayette’s) power rankings. They would be the number one team in three or four regions in the state of Kentucky.
“So to say that they didn’t have a great season cause they lost in the first round of district would be just completely asinine. They’re a great team.”
Payne, a junior and the son of University of Kentucky men’s basketball assistant Kenny Payne, has built on a sophomore season in which he averaged a double-double. His rebounding’s down slightly (from 10.2 to 9.2) but his scoring (14.9 from 11.4) is up as he’s grown more comfortable carrying a heavy load for the Knights alongside star senior Luke Johnson.
“If you’re a big horse fan, you believe in breeding stock and his dad was pretty darn good as high school player,” Salsman said. “... Sometimes people don’t like what they see but (Zan’s) just a passionate kid. He’s got a motor that doesn’t quit. I’m glad he plays for me.”
Johnson, who’s signed with Loyola-Maryland, scored 18 points for LexCath, which will take on Lexington Christian in the championship game.
LCA, which upset defending state champion Paul Laurence Dunbar on Tuesday, will be playing in the finals for the first time in school history.
Boys’ semifinal: Lexington Catholic 58, Lafayette 56
Lafayette (15-16) — Powell 5, King 6, Greenup 14, Dreux 4, Wharton 5, Carpenter 8, Surratt 7, Hayes 7.
LexCath (22-7) — Hardin 2, Price 5, Bailey 3, Johnson 18, Scott 2, Payne 21, Whitman 7.