Forget “from the river to the region.”
That doesn't seem quite sufficient. Augusta's been there, done that.
Sure, the Panthers are going back to the 10th Region tournament. But unlike the past two seasons, they won't be doing so coming off a loss in the 39th District tournament championship game to Mason County.
The Panthers ended the Royals' reign atop the district by holding off a late Mason County charge with a 72-61 win Monday night in a packed Fieldhouse.
Brent Bach led Augusta (20-10) with 31 points. Connor Maddox chipped in 15 and Tanner Kelsch added 13.
Shawn Johnson paced the Royals (17-10) with 21 points and 17 boards, 10 of them of the offensive variety. Steven Chambers scored 11 and had eight assists, and Dorian Henry pitched in 10 points.
In the night's doubleheader opener, the Lady Royals began their semifinal bout with Augusta on a 14-0 run and led by double digits at each quarter stop on their way to a 60-27 win and a championship game rematch with Bracken County on Thursday night.
For the Augusta boys, the story was so close, yet so far in last year's district championship game against Mason County, a 72-71 loss.
And again, in last season's 10th Region tournament, when they hung with George Rogers Clark for three quarters before losing.
And yet again, in this year's 10th Region All “A” Classic final, when Augusta made Bishop Brossart sweat before succumbing.
Not this time. The Panthers beat Mason County for the first time ever, snapping a 28-game losing streak in the series. They earned their third straight trip to the region tournament and locked up their first 20-win season since 2001-2002.
They also ensured the region tourney will be held without the Royals for the first time since 1997, ended Mason County's 12-season string of district titles and its 42-game winning streak against 39th District opponents.
“We were underdogs, and we all wanted this really bad, and we just really wanted to come out with a win,” Kelsch said. “No one expected us to win but us, and after last year, suffering a tough loss, we really just wanted to get that one back and show everyone that we really want this this year.”
Bach missed the potential game-winner in last season's loss to Mason County. He was glad for a little redemption.
“It feels real good,” he said. “It's a big accomplishment. Especially from last year, missing that last shot, we just wanted to come back and get a big win, and that's what we did. We made history.”
Mason County led 11-5 after Lukas Greenhill's 3-pointer in the corner after Johnson's block with 3:28 to go in the opening quarter.
Augusta rallied with an 11-2 run, which included two treys from Bach and one from Kelsch. Bach hit a 25-footer with 0.5 seconds to go in the first quarter, and Camryn Snapp nailed a jumper 36 seconds into the second frame to give the Panthers a 20-13 lead.
They never let it go.
Mason County chipped away a couple times. Two Johnson baskets in the first 2:09 of the half brought the Royals to within 35-29, but Augusta's response was a 20-9 run, begun by a momentum-changing 3 from Maddox.
Maddox also hit a runner in the lane, and a couple minutes later, Snapp drilled a 3, Kelsch drew a charge and Bach sank two free throws to stretch the lead back to double digits.
“We felt like if we could hold Bach to 25 or 30 (points), that might be good, but we had to do a good job on everybody else, and we didn't do that,” Mason County coach Chris O'Hearn said. “I thought Maddox was huge and so was Kelsch.”
Bach's long 3 with 1:26 to go in the third made it 55-38, Augusta.
The Royals mounted one final barrage, a 17-6 run that included seven Johnson points and a pair of treys from Alex Stahl. His second brought Mason County to within 63-59 with 2:19 left in the game.
Bach responded with an and-1 off Owens Crawford's dish, and Kelsch, Bach and Crawford each made two free throws in the final 1:07.
Stahl's trey with eight seconds left drew nothing but air, and Bach came down with the rebound to start the Augusta celebration.
It was relatively muted, with an assist on that to Augusta principal and former longtime coach Robin Kelsch, who called his son Tanner over to his midcourt seat for a brief conversation when Crawford was at the line with 17.8 seconds to play.
“He said, 'Just tell your team, win with class,'” the younger Kelsch said. “'Don't do anything too flashy, don't show off, just do what you all have done all year.'”
Mason County's season comes to a premature end, by its standards.
“It stinks, and I feel for our seniors,” O'Hearn said. “I feel for those guys, and I hope our young guys can learn from what happened here tonight.”
The district final will have a victor other than the Royals for the first time since St. Patrick beat Mason County in 2000. The Panthers' opponent is Bracken County, for the fourth time this season, on Thursday night.
“We've still got work to do,” Augusta coach Jason Hinson said. “Bracken County's just as happy about this as we are. Very happy to go to practice tomorrow and start preparing for Bracken again, and this time it's for all the marbles.”
Girls: Mason County 60, Augusta 27
The Lady Royals' win looked a lot like a sequel to the teams' first meeting of the season, won by Mason County 61-38 on Dec. 5.
Mason County asserted itself immediately, opening the game with a 14-0 run against the upset-minded Lady Panthers.
The Lady Royals took the lead on Alivia Bierley's basket 14 seconds into the game and kept it.
Bierley led the Lady Royals (19-8) and all scorers with 16 points, also collecting eight rebounds.
She was Mason County's only scorer in double figures, but far from the only offensive contributor. Eleven Lady Royals got their names in the scoring column.
“We're sharing the ball well,” Mason County coach Piper Lindsey said. “I think we had (12) assists, which is a great number for us. We're making sure we get the best shot available and nobody's playing selfish.”
Jerica Kelsch's double-double led Augusta in each category. She posted 15 points – which were 15 of the Lady Panthers' first 16 total – and 11 rebounds.
But Augusta didn't get enough of either. Mason County harassed the Lady Panthers into 20.5 percent shooting from the field and 20 turnovers.
“We were out in the passing lanes, we were where we were supposed to be (and) helping the helper a lot,” Lindsey said. “We kind of switched our emphasis to more doubling.”
A couple more stats that jumped out to Augusta coach Rebecca Arnold: Mason County's 17-8 edge in second-chance points and 25-6 advantage on points off turnovers.
Additionally, Mason County outscored the Lady Panthers 25-6 on points off the bench.
“I'm not gonna lie, we all get pregame jitters and if you don't get pregame jitters, you're not in the right business,” Arnold said. “I think we were, I won't say intimidated, but a little shell-shocked, maybe, by the atmosphere, and we didn't execute well, didn't handle the ball very well.”
The victory was Mason County's 26th straight against Augusta. The Lady Royals lead the all-time series 33-5.
After Bierley's basket to open the game, Alex Berry turned a steal into a transition layup, and Bierley saved the ball in-bounds on the defensive end and was rewarded with a bucket down low.
Cara Green scored in the lane, Bierley and Berry each made one of two foul shots, and after Mariah Henry's theft, Bierley and Elle Simms cleaned the offensive glass and Simms scored for that 14-0 bulge.
Augusta gave a better accounting of itself in the second quarter and was within 27-11 at the break, but Mason County dominated the third quarter 21-9, capped by Henry's 3, with six seconds left in the frame, to send its lead out.
The Lady Royals' lead bulged to 34, their largest, when Erika Simms scored with 45 seconds to play. Samantha Kennard converted an and-1 with 25 seconds left to cap Augusta's scoring for the season, and Mason County's Cristen Moran's jumper with 13 ticks remaining set the final margin.
Though Augusta's season ended with a thud, the Lady Panthers had their share of positive moments. Their 13-13 record was their first at .500 since 1992-1993.
“Can't take anything away from our very successful season at .500,” Arnold said. “We fell short of our goals, but very close to obtaining those goals, and you gotta get back and hit the drawing board and work on some things and get better.
“We'll be all right. We'll bounce back and we'll be in good shape come next year.”
As for Mason County, it will try to end its four-game losing skid against the Lady Bears, which includes last season's district title game, in Thursday's final.
Girls: Mason County 60, Augusta 27
Augusta 5 6 9 7 – 27
Mason County 18 9 21 12 – 60
A: Kelsch 15, McCord 5, Rolph 1, Krebs 0, Wiseman 0, Kennard 5, Whiteman 1, Jett 0, Sellers 0, Wilson 0, Litzinger 0. Total 27.
MC: Bierley 16, Green 7, Berry 6, Mc. Butler 4, Frodge 2, O'Mara 8, Henry 5, El. Simms 4, Er. Simms 4, Moran 2, Littleton 2, Bailey 0, Ma. Butler 0, Love 0, Boone 0. Total 60.
3-pointers: Augusta 1 (Kelsch), Mason County 2 (Green, Henry).
Records: Augusta 13-13, Mason County 19-8.
Boys: Augusta 72, Mason County 61
Augusta 18 15 24 15 – 72
Mason County 13 12 17 19 – 61
A: Bach 31, Maddox 15, Kelsch 13, Crawford 6, Staggs 2, Snapp 5. Total 72.
MC: S. Johnson 21, Chambers 11, Henry 10, Frame 5, Gibbs 2, Stahl 7, Greenhill 5, R. Johnson 2, D. Johnson 0, Jones 0. Total 61.
3-pointers: Augusta 10 (Bach 3, Maddox 3, Kelsch 3, Snapp), Mason County 4 (Stahl 2, Frame, Greenhill).
Records: Augusta 20-10, Mason County 17-10.