For The Beacon
LEXINGTON Ashland was 10 minutes away from reaching its ultimate goal of advancing to the Boy’s Sweet 16 State Finals Saturday afternoon.
Highlands, who handed the Tomcats their first loss in 34 contests to open the season, had other plans.
Down 42-39 with four minutes to play in the third, the proverbial wheels fell off the Tomcats shooters as the Bluebirds pulled away late for a 66-50 win in the state Final Four. Ashland trailed by seven to end the frame and closed to within six at 56-50 with 5:19 to play in the game.
The layup by Colin Porter proved to be the final bucket the Tomcats would net as they went 3 of 15 from the field in the fourth quarter and missed all nine 3-pointers they shot.
Highlands raced out to a 5-0 lead to open the game, but Ashland responded with a 7-2 run by a pair of Cole Villers buckets bookending a Zander Carter triple. Villers splashed home back-to-back treys for Ashland’s first lead of the game which grew to 13-9 midway through the opening frame.
Porter drained a trifecta for a five-point Ashland lead late in the quarter and Ethan Sellars closed the quarter scoring with a 3 of his own for a 21-17 Tomcats lead. Ashland torched the nets from downtown to open the affair, hitting five of eight from beyond the arc.
Sellars answered Highlands first points of the second with another triple from the corner to push the lead back to five. Porter ignited a 5-0 run after the Bluebirds pulled to within one for a 30-24 Tomcats lead midway through the second. Porter finished at the rim to counter a Bluebirds bucket, but Highlands found a spark over the final 2:25 of the half that started a 10-0 for a 36-32 lead at the break.
Ashland took its final lead of the night after a tip in from Sellars with six to play in the third made it 37-36 but they would get no closer than one the rest of the way.
Porter led the Tomcats with 15 points. Sellars added 13. Villers finished with 12 after scoring 10 in the first half.
Porter and Villers were named to the All-Tournament team.
Ashland finished its season with a record of 22-5 and had won 13 straight entering the semifinals.
Ethan Sellars called game before the Tomcats contest with Boyle County made it halfway through the first quarter Friday evening in the Boy’s Sweet 16.
Sellars netted the first five points of the game before the Rebels ever got a shot away as the Tomcats cruised to an 80-44 win.
Boyle County pulled to within one at 5-4 with 6:09 to play in the opening frame and Sellars and company took control the rest of the way. Ashland raced out to a 24-8 lead after one and extended its edge to 46-16 at the half behind four players netting double figures before the break.
Ashland shot 70% from long range (7 of 10) in the opening half while stymieing Boyle County into 12 turnovers and a dismal 6 of 21 from the field.
Ashland’s hot first half spilled into the second after back-to-back Zander Carter and Cole Villers buckets pushed the Tomcats lead to 36 with 6:32 to go in the third, starting the running clock for the remainder of the contest.
Sellars and Villers led the way with 20 each. Sellars was a perfect 4 of 4 from downtown. Carter kicked in 18 and was 4 of 5 from beyond the arc. Porter finished with 11 points and 6 dimes, scoring the Tomcats final 11 points of the second quarter.
Ashland finished 61% from the field and was 10 of 17 (59%) from downtown.
Ashland sent a message in its opening round of the Boy’s Sweet 16 matchup with Knox Central.
The Tomcats defense was a force to be reckoned with.
Ashland held Knox Central to only two points over the opening quarter while extending its 10-2 lead after one to 30-10 by the half.
Back-to-back Cole Villers buckets had Ashland in front 8-0 with 1:38 to play in the opening frame. Knox Central’s only points in the first quarter came on a pair of free throws with 1:17 to go in the quarter.
Knox Central got its first field goal a minute into the second stanza but netted only three total field goals in the half. Ashland’s lead grew to 10 on a Hunter Gillum layup in transition with 4:33 to play in the half and it never fell below double figures the remainder of the game.
Colin Porter paced the Tomcats with 17 while dishing out eight assists. Villers tossed in 14.
Ashland’s defense, mainly Gillum, suffocated Knox Central’s Jevonte Turner with their heavy on ball pressure to hold him scoreless at the half. Turner was one of the state’s leading scorers (26.8pg) but did not score his first point until a pair of freebies fell through to start the second half. Turner finished with 20 before fouling out of the game late in the fourth quarter.