Warren Central outlasts Bowling Green in OT for 4th Region title
1 – Warren Central’s ranking in KSR’s Top 25 poll.
2 – Years in a row they’ve advanced to the KHSAA Boy’s Basketball Sweet 16.
3 – The number of games it took to claim the 4th Region title.
4 – The number of times they’ve rang claimed victory over the Purples this season.
That’s right, folks. The Dragons beat the Purples for the fourth time this season on Tuesday night to punch their ticket to Rupp Arena.
This game in particular had the highest stakes of any game played this season: Who’s season ends? Who is going to Rupp Arena vying for the state championship trophy? Who gets to claim the No. 1 slot in the city and region? You could feel this energy buzzing throughout the gym.
Bowling Green and Warren Central both had this business-trip attitude about them. The mutual respect these teams have for each other is special. Your biggest rivals and competitors are often the people you respect most, and this was made clear throughout the game. The players were well aware of what a win in this environment would mean for their program.
At the end of the day, the state championship favorite Warren Central Dragons secured the 52-50 win in an overtime thriller.
“We did not wanna end our season here in Bowling Green, we wanted to get back to state,” Senior guard Izayiah Villafuerte said. “I believe in my teammates and all these boys, I feel like we can get the job done… I just got so much going on in my mind right now.”
Testing the Waters
The first two quarters of the game felt very much like a test run, as if both teams were feeling each other out more than anything. The stakes in a game like this are too high to forget training and force quick breaks when they’re not necessarily available.
The first quarter ended with the Dragons up 13-8. The pace didn’t pick up in the second quarter, either. The first half closed with Warren Central ahead 23-15. Warren Central head coach William Unseld and staff were visibly frustrated by the conservative play from their athletes.
Pick up the Pace
Both teams got comfortable in the third quarter. Comfortable trusting their training, each other, and comfortable pushing the pace more and more.
Warren Central started the third quarter pretty hot, but that didn’t go unanswered by the Purples squad. Warren Central’s Chappelle Whitney led third-quarter efforts while Bowling Green’s Mason Ritter and MJ Wardlow worked to combat a scoring run by the Dragons. Both teams scored 16 points in the third quarter, ending it at 39-31.
The Purples had momentum going into the fourth quarter, and they took full advantage of it, outscoring the Dragons 15-7 in the fourth. After a Bowling Green 8-2 run, a Dragons’ turnover off an inbounds pass gave the Purples the ball. This allowed them to score two more with no answer late in the fourth, bringing the score to 44-43 with Warren Central barely hanging on.
After a goaltending call on Bowling Green’s Mason Ritter gave the Dragons a 46-43 lead, the Purples took it back down the court and gave Ritter the ball in the paint, who got the and-1 and tied the game 46-46.
Warren Central passed and held the ball for the last minute of the fourth in hopes of setting up a buzzer-beater play. After those efforts fell short, the game went into the four-minute overtime period.
This overtime had everyone on the edge of their seats. Bowling Green matched almost every score by the Dragons, up until the last 10 seconds. Tied at 50-50, Warren Central drew up a play that would give junior Kade Unseld the ball in the paint for a quick two-pointer.
Bowling Green got the ball halfway down the court and called a timeout, which would give them the ball with 3.5 seconds for the final play. MJ Wardlow crashed the middle and passed it to sophomore Luke Idlett, who was left unmarked on the perimeter.
The three-point attempt was shot in what felt like slow motion. Everyone in Diddle Arena fell quiet as they watched the ball go up and bounce off the rim as the clock hit 0:00, ending the thriller at 52-50.
“It’s a special group of kids, man,” Coach Unseld said. “This was their whole goal, to get back. I’m happy for them, they did it. It’s been a joy coaching them.”
The Warren Central Dragons have claimed their spot in the Sweet 16, but they are far from satisfied. They will be vying for the KHSAA State Champion title next week at Rupp Arena in Lexington. They will meet Pulaski County on March 15 at 6 p.m. in hopes of advancing to the quarterfinals.