Blue Ridge Boys Basketball Advanes to LeRoy Regional Championship Game with 44-31 Win over Lexington
LEROY -- Unlike last year's regional championship team, this year's Knights went into the postseason with a losing regular-season record at 8-19.
With Wednesday's 44-31 upset victory over No. 2-seeded Lexington in the LeRoy Regional semifinals, No. 3 Blue Ridge achieved the only record that matters in the postseason: 2-0.
"We talked about how, last Friday in El Paso, we kind of got skunked, but I told them how every team is 0-0," Blue Ridge coach Kyle Watson said. "It doesn't matter what the records are once you go to the postseason, and now we're 2-0. Hopefully, we can keep our Cinderella run going."
The Knights advanced to their second consecutive regional championship game thanks to a defense that played one of the best games it played all year. Blue Ridge held the Minutemen to a total of eight points or less in each quarter.
In the first quarter, the Knights held Lexington to four points in the first 4:24 to race out ot a 11-4 lead. Michael Plunk scored seven points during that run to lead Blue Ridge offensively.
The Knights ended the first quarter with a 13-8 lead. Despite only scoring four points (all by Travys Nichols) in the second quarter, they went into halftime leading 17-16 by holding the Minutemen to eight points in that quarter.
"Defense wins championships," Watson said. "We've talked about that so many times before. We didn't play great defense at Gibson City on Thursday, we didn't very good defense in Monticello at Christmas time, and we didn't play good defense in [the] McLean County [Tournament]. We preach to our kids to keep working on our defense. This is the biggest tournament that's left. We kind of gave up 62 to Calvary the other night. We'd been working on our defense yesterday in practice and today in the walk-through, and we held a very athletically-talented Lexington team to 31 points."
Nichols also scored eight points in the third quarter to help Blue Ridge end the quarter with a 27-24 lead. He also contributed defensively, drawing two charging calls on Lexington that helped put the Knights in the bonus.
Before Michael Plunk sank two free throws with 16.1 seconds left in the third quarter, Blue Ridge did not attempt a single free throw in the game, as Watson pointed out to a referee with 1:10 remaining in the quarter.
In the fourth quarter, the Knights scored 11 of their 17 points on 11-of-16 shooting at the charity stripe, including an 8-for-10 effort from Michael Plunk.
"Free throws win or lose games," Watson said.
Michael Plunk led Blue Ridge offensively with 17 points while Nichols contributed 14 points. Tucker Johnson added eight points.
Meanwhile, the Knights held the Minutemen to seven points in the fourth quarter. Taylor Schneider finished the game leading Lexington in scoring with seven points while Michael Baker tied with Jonny Meints with six points.
"[There was] great defense not only by Will Duggins, who was chasing Baker all night, but great defense by Mark Plunk on Schneider," Watson said. "That's a great job by the kids. I can't be more proud of our kids right now.
Watson also said one of his assistant coaches, Garie Brock, helped him devise a game plan that led to the Knights' stifling defense.
"Coach Brock went and scouted Lexington last Friday night," Watson said. "He ran the Lexington sets in practice yesterday. He had the scouting report tonight. He screamed out to our kids exactly what the offense is that they're running. It was a great job by my assistant coaches. This was a win by our staff. I can't be proud of not only my kids, but I can't be more proud of my coaching staff."
Blue Ridge will look for its second straight regional championship on Friday night. The Knights will face Ridgeview at 7:30 p.m.
"We kind of had the Cinderella slippers on long enough tonight to pull off an upset," Watson said. "They're the No. 1 seed, we're the No. 3 seed. We've just got to hope that our Cinderella slippers don't slip off and that we can make a little bit of a run here. We're playing our best basketball of the year, and this is the perfect time to play your best basketball of the year."
Ridgeview lost to Blue Ridge two weeks ago after beating the Knights last December in the Monticello Holiday Hoopla.
The No. 1-seeded Mustangs earned the trip to the regional title game with a 66-39 victory over LeRoy in the semifinals.
"Hopefully, Ridgeview doesn't shoot the way they shot tonight, because they shot the lights out tonight," Watson said. "Man, did they shoot the lights out tonight. They beat us at Christmas time. We beat them two weeks ago on Friday night. I told our kids, 'It sure would be awful great to be playing them in two weeks,' and now we are."
Sports Thread's in the Bonus
Michael Plunk advanced to the final round of the Three-Point Showdown by making eight 3-pointers in the semifinals.
He will shoot prior to the LeRoy Regional title game along with Schneider and Josh Jackson of Lexington and Normal Calvary Christian's Kyle Freeze.
Jon Jones made four shots, but will not advance to Friday's regional final.