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Warren Central advances to state championship after defensive win over Woodford County

Piper McCoun03/18/23


Article written by:On3 imagePiper McCoun
Photo by Les Nicholson | Kentucky Sports Radio

Woodford County’s historic season has come to an end.

The top-ranked Warren Central Dragons took down the No. 16 Woodford County Yellow Jackets, 56-48, in the first of two semifinals at the 2023 UK Healthcare Boys’ Sweet 16 Tournament on Saturday at Rupp Arena.

It’s March Madness. Seedings, at this point, don’t exist. No. 15 Princeton upset No. 2 Arizona. No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson upset No. 1 Purdue. In March, the underdogs can win. On Saturday, though, the No. 1 Dragons came out on top, earning their spot in the state championship game for the second straight season.

“I’m proud of my kids, it was a great game, great second half, great fourth quarter,” Warren Central head coach William Unseld said. “We knew it was going to be a tough physical game, those guys are athletic.

“I thought we did a great job defensively and holding them down to 48 points, and did a great job on (Jasper) Johnson, he’s a great player, (Damarion) Walkup did a great job on him.”

Tough Matchups Across the Board

6’4 senior Damarion Walkup was tasked with guarding 4-star sophomore Jasper Johnson, who is ranked No. 26 overall in the On3 Consensus. Walkup gave Johnson no breathing room, no personal space and no easy buckets, holding one of the state’s top talents to just two points in the first half.

Warren Central is no doubt the best team the Yellow Jackets have faced all season. The pressure they apply on defense held Woodford County to just 18.8% from the field by the end of the first quarter. Junior Kade Unseld has been dependable from anywhere on the court all season long; his range is incredible and he scored eight in the first half alone.

Walkup is another guy who isn’t just big — he’s athletic. His strength at the glass allowed him to get seven points and three boards at the half. These two gave Woodford some problems in the first half, combining for 15.

Despite this, the Yellow Jackets stayed with the Dragons for the entirety of the first half, which ended with Woodford trailing by just two at 24-22. Layton Starks and Aden Nelson were crucial for the Yellow Jackets, both offensively and defensively. Nelson tallied five at the half and made big buckets when Woodford County needed them.

Warren Central’s Second Half Comeback

Taking momentum into the second half after Nelson’s jumper cut the Warren Central lead to two, the Yellow Jackets met the Dragons to tie it up at 28. Warren Central would go on a 7-2 run to make it 35-30, but Jasper Johnson would answer with a lone 5-0, bringing the score to 35-35 by the end of the third.

The Yellow Jackets kept it close for most of the fourth quarter, having answers for nearly every bucket by the Dragons. Woodford County big man John McCrear, a Murray State commit, got rolling on offense, along with Johnson and Makhi Smith.

After Smith went 1-1 on free throws late in the fourth to trail 45-42, the Dragons would go on a game-deciding 11-6 run to close the fourth, hitting seven free throws in the final 2:30.

“[The game] was very physical,” Warren Central senior Chappelle Whitney said, who tallied 18 points, nine boards and five assists. “They wasn’t calling a lot of fouls, a lot of off-ball fouls. It was more on the drives… So if you got checked, they didn’t see it or call it, so it was very physical.”

The Warren Central Dragons will head back to their hotel to get some rest and recover before the state championship game later tonight at 7:00 PM. They will play the winner of the Frederick Douglass/George Rogers Clark game, potentially leading to a rematch of the 2022 title game with GRC in the championship.

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