Mason County knew defending their state championship would be a difficult task. One made even more difficult without 2008 Mr. Basketball Darius Miller. But if the Royals' 60-41 road win over No. 17 Bryan Station Friday night proved anything, the 10th Region favorites will once again be a tough team to beat in the post-season.
Sophomore forward Treg Setty led the Royals (18-6) with 18 points and nine rebounds. But on the other end, Bryan Station star guard Charles Ashford, playing in his last home game on senior night, struggled. He shot 2-for-15 from the field and finished with four points.
"Keith Downing and Phil Barner together did an outstanding job on him," said Mason County Coach Chris O'Hearn. "He's a really good player. He's put up big numbers all year long. We certainly had a lot of respect for him."
Mason County led by as many as eight early in the first quarter, but Bryan Station hung in against the defending champs. A late jumper by Bryan Station senior Jeremiah Mabson cut the Royals' lead to five, 25-20, going into halftime.
But the Royals defense and ball movement in the second half would prove to be the difference.
After a three-pointer by senior guard Montell Morones pulled the Defenders within three, 28-25, Mason County used a 16-2 spurt, punctuated by a Jordan Gilbert three-pointer, to put the game out of reach.
"Especially in the third quarter as a team we got frustrated. The basket just seemed to have a lid on it," said Bryan Station Coach Champ Ligon, whose team shot 3-for-16 in the quarter. "They got a nice little run going, and we couldn't do anything to stop them."
Bryan Station's frustration only continued in the fourth quarter when Joe Fain was whistled for a technical foul after fouling Setty in the back court. Four straight free throws for the 6-foot-6 sophomore gave Mason County its largest lead of the game, 54-31.
"Treg's been a warrior. He's really grown up a lot; he's not playing like a sophomore anymore," O'Hearn said.
Sophomore Neal Pawsat scored 12 points while Russ Middleton and Jordan Gilbert had 11 each for the Royals. Mason County never trailed in the contest.
Mabson finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds to lead Bryan Station.
The Defenders will play at Henry Clay in the 42nd District tournament on Tuesday. Mason County finishes up its regular season at home on Saturday versus Montgomery County before facing Augusta in the 39th District tournament.
"There's always that pressure when you go to Mason County," said Setty, whose brother Trevor started for last year's championship team. "Any time you have a team as good as the team we had last year, it's hard to live up to those expectations."
But Mason County knows that anything can happen come tournament time.
"We just need to keep working. We just need to keep that mind-set that we're going to outwork people," O'Hearn said. "And when you outwork people, usually good things happen."
Mason Co. 60, Bryan Station 41
Mason Co. (18-6) — Rice 3, Gilbert 11, Pawsat 12, Setty 18, Middleton 11, Barner 4, Downing 1.
Bryan Station (19-7) — Ashford 4, Richardson 9, Mabson 12, Morones 9, Adams 5, Bollmer 2.
Mason Co. 16 9 19 16—60
Bryan Station 12 8 7 14—41