The Bracken County Polar Bears put a damper on the homecoming celebration on Friday evening in downtown Maysville by pulling away in the second half and posting a 60-48 victory over the St. Patrick Saints.
The game served as a preview of the matchup between the longtime foes in the 39th District tournament on Monday, Feb. 18 and it was a rematch of Bracken's 77-68 win in Brooksville exactly two months prior to Friday's game.
The Saints opened the contest quickly, taking an 8-4 lead after a basket by Andrew Brant with 5:43 left in the opening frame. Brant also scored the first bucket of the game on a stickback 23 seconds into the fray.
St. Patrick held onto a four-point lead heading into the second quarter when Brant drained a pair of free throws with 32 seconds left.
But the Polar Bears answered with an 11-0 run to open the second to take a 19-12 lead. The Bracken run began with a pair of Nate Haight free throws and continued with an inside basket from Eli Florer, an Austin Ray 3-pointer, another Haight free throw and a jumper from Chad Stephenson with 5:02 left before the break.
However, the Saints fought back to get to within two at intermission. Bailey Jodrey broke the St. Patrick scoring drought with a pair of charity tosses at the 1:59 mark, and after Bracken's Scott Fite made one of two from the stripe, the Saints' William McKay sank a pair of jump shots in the final 1:23 to close the gap to two at the half.
The teams traded the lead three times in the third quarter before Bracken went in front to stay on a couple of Steven Cummins foul shots with 3:30 remaining in the frame. Cummins' free throws began a 13-0 run for the Polar Bears and the Saints would get no closer than 10 the rest of the evening. The run included four points from Haight and was capped off by a 3-pointer from eighth-grader Austin Crawford with 7:34 left in the game to give the visitors a 37-25 lead.
The Polar Bears used an intensified defensive presence in the frame to force seven Saints turnovers, and they took full advantage.
Bracken coach Chad Persinger was pleased with his team's performance, especially considering the team was playing without its leading scorer, senior guard Philip Jefferson, who is sidelined with a knee injury.
"Philip had knee surgery last year and it's been bothering him, so he has sat out this week, but we're looking to get him back next week," Persinger said. "That was the most active we've been all year in our 2-3 zone and we wanted to get out on 'em. We were trying to get deflections and I was very impressed with how well we did that tonight. We also asked Austin to step up tonight in a big game with Philip out and he did that for us. Eli's had three good games in a row now and it was in our game plan to get him the ball and we did a good job of doing that tonight.
"We wanted to come in here and set a tone and this is a game that should make us feel better about ourselves. We're looking forward to the district and hoping to get back to the region."
Florer led all scorers with 22 points, Crawford pitched in 12 and Haight added 11 for the Polar Bears, who improved to 8-16 with the win.
St. Patrick coach Andy Arn was less than pleased, to say the least.
"This is an unacceptable performance," Arn said. "Give them credit, their zone was very active, but our execution against it was disappointing. What I don't like is that this definitely gives them more confidence, but what I'm hoping is that it's difficult to beat a team three times in a season. Our focus the rest of the season has to be on the district and we're going to work hard to get ready for that."
The Saints were led in scoring by Harrison Applegate, who tossed in 13 points, including a pair of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. McKay scored 10 and Jodrey added eight points for St. Patrick, which fell to 7-19.
Bracken is scheduled to travel to Villa Madonna on Saturday in its next game before a trip to Carlisle to face Nicholas County on Tuesday.
St. Patrick will host Bourbon County on Tuesday in its next game.
Before the game, St. Patrick recognized this year's homecoming queen and king, seniors Kaitlyn Yeary and Nick Gallenstein.
Bracken 8 12 14 26 --60
St. Patrick 12 6 7 23 --48
BC: Haight 11, Florer 22, G. Crawford 3, Ray 4, A. Crawford 12, Cummins 4, Stephenson 2, Fite 2, Total 60.
SP: Brant 6, McCall 3, Jodrey 8, Applegate 13, Kellerman 2, McKay 10, Sticklen 6, Bauer 0, Total 48.
3-pointers: BC 2 (Ray, A. Crawford), SP 3 (Applegate 2, McCall).
Records: Bracken County 8-16, St. Patrick 7-19.