Pacers take big lead, then hold on to defeat Southwestern in Sectional opener

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Coach Brian Bowen’s Switzerland County Pacer varsity basketball team opened Sectional play on Tuesday night at South Ripley against rival Southwestern, and after grabbing a commanding lead with a big third quarter, the Pacers held on and withstood a torrid fourth quarter run by the Rebels to emerge with a 53-51 win.

The victory propels the Pacers into a Sectional semifinal showdown with Lawrenceburg tomorrow (Friday) night. The game will be the first contest of the night, and will begin at the South Ripley gym at 6 p.m.

The Pacers also got some good news on Tuesday night when senior Travis Tackett was able to play after sitting out last Friday’s regular season finale against Madison with a sore knee. Travis Tackett got some timely rest during the contest, and played without much restriction.

The first quarter was a back-and-forth affair, as Southwestern jumped out with a basket by Austin Ames, but that was matched by a pair of freethrows from Tray Meyer. Josh Hon’s layup then gave Switzerland County the lead, but a three-pointer by Hunter Means pushed the Rebels back on top.

Travis Tackett made a pair of freethrows to reclaim the lead for a moment, because Hunter Means answered with a jumper.

Travis Tackett then banked home a three-pointer to push the Pacers back in front, and an inside basket by Brennan Bragg moments later gave Switzerland County a four-point lead.

Again, Southwestern responded, getting a three-pointer by Hunter Means to cut the lead back to one; but a three-pointer by Josh Hon closed the quarter with the Pacers in front, 14-10.

Southwestern, coached by Pacer alum B.J. McAlister, kicked off the second period with a run of seven straight points on two buckets by Hunter Means and a three-pointer from Tanner Mahoney; but that’s when Switzerland County’s Tray Meyer took over.

The senior converted two straight baskets to put the Pacers up 18-17; and when Keegan Kincaid and Brennan Bragg closed the quarter with buckets, Switzerland County went to halftime holding a 22-17 advantage.

After Austin Ames opened the second half with a basket; Keegan Kincaid scored for Switzerland County, and that was matched by Caleb Jones to make the score 24-21 in favor of the Pacers with 6:45 to play.

That’s when the Pacer offense caught fire.

Switzerland County would go on a run of 16-5 over the remainder of the quarter, fueled again by Tray Meyer and some timely defense.

Tray Meyer had seven points in the run; Brennan Bragg had four; Keegan Kincaid hit a three-pointer; and Travis Tackett added a basket. With a minute to play in the third quarter Switzerland County had opened up a 38-21 lead, and even a three-pointer by Tanner Mahoney at the close the period couldn’t keep the Pacer fan faithful from beginning an early celebration of a Sectional win.

With a quarter to play, Switzerland County held a 40-26 lead.

It would be just enough.

Barely.

“In the midst of that run, there was a timeout and we told our kids that Southwestern was going to make a run of their own at some point, and we needed two withstand that run, maintain our composure, and then respond with a run of our own,” Coach Brian Bowen said after the game. “I guess we got lucky that their run was a little late. I didn’t think we did a very good job of maintaining our composure.”

After scoring 26 points in the first three quarters, the Rebels would ignite for 27 points in the fourth quarter alone, climbing to within two points of Switzerland County on several occasions.

But each time the Pacers responded.

Southwestern opened the final stanza with a 14-4 run, as Switzerland County managed only baskets by Josh Hon and Tray Meyer.

“Sometimes things snowball like that and guys are hitting shots, and that’s where we’ve gotta have somebody or a group of guys that step up and say ‘Hey, let’s get this thing back under control and settle down. This is our game. We’re ahead,'” Coach Bowen said. “But we just didn’t have that tonight.”

What the Pacers did have was some key baskets at critical times.

With Switzerland County clinging to a 46-42 lead with two minutes to play, Tray Meyer hit a jumper to push the lead back out to six. After Southwestern’s LeMarkus Jenkins answered that to trim the lead back to four; Brennan Bragg got free inside for a basket.

At the 1:06 mark Southwestern’s Tanner Mahoney drilled a long three-pointer to close the gap to three; and with just 43-seconds left the Rebels had a chance to get even closer when LeMarkus Jenkins was fouled and went to the line to shoot two freethrows.

But the sophomore guard missed both attempts, and after the Pacers ripped down the rebound, senior guard Noah Hughes was fouled and sent to the line for the one-and-bonus with 33-seconds to play.

The senior converted on both attempts to again push the lead to five; but Hunter Means hit a runner to again cut the lead back to three.

Josh Hon was fouled and sent to the line, and he made the first attempt, but the second freethrow bounced off, and Southwestern grabbed the rebound and headed upcourt. Tanner Mahoney then scored inside to cut the gap in half to two points; but time ran out on Southwestern, and Switzerland County escaped with a 53-51 thriller.

Much of the credit for Tuesday’s win goes to senior Tray Meyer, who has been playing outstanding all around basketball all season, and has really stepped up his game in crunch time, and Tuesday night he finished with a game-high 19 points.

“Tray hit some big shots for us,” Coach Bowen said after the game. “Down on the baseline he hit three or four in a row when we needed them. He’s done a good job for us. He stepped up in the last game and did a good job for us, like he has all year.”

Along with Tray Meyer’s 19, Switzerland County got 10 points from Brennan Bragg; eight points from Josh Hon; and seven points each from Travis Tackett and Keegan Kincaid. Noah Hughes finished with two points.

Southwestern was led by Hunter Means with 14 points; while Tanner Mahoney added 13 and Caleb Jones was in double figures with 10.

Switzerland County made 17 two-point field goals and four three-pointers; while Southwestern made 14 two-pointers and seven treys in the contest.

The difference came at the freethrow line, where the Pacers were 7-for-11; while Southwestern was just 2-for-7.

The win vaults the Pacers into a showdown with nemesis Lawrenceburg tomorrow (Friday) night. The game will be the rubber match for the two squads, with the Pacers winning by one, 55-54 in the championship game of the Rivertown Classic on January 11th; while Lawrenceburg won by one, 53-52 at the Tiger gym on February 17th.

Friday’s second game will feature the two winners from last night’s (Wednesday’s) games; which pitted South Ripley against North Decatur in the first game; and Hauser versus Milan in the second contest.

The championship game will be played Saturday night at 7:30 p.m.