By RODNEY YOUNG
Blacksburg- The Pulaski County Cougars saw their basketball season come to an end as they were beaten by the Blacksburg Bruins 71-63 in the opening round of the River Ridge District Tournament.
The game saw the lead change hands seven times in the first half as the Cougars battled the bigger and taller Bruins tooth and nail. Pulaski took a 33-32 lead into the halftime intermission.
The Cougars found themselves down by two, 62-60, with two minutes to go in the game. The Cougars missed not one, not two, but five consecutive point blank shots, allowing the Bruins to go up 67-60 with 45 seconds remaining. A final three point basket allowed Pulaski to pull the score to 71-63, but the Bruins were able to run the clock out to end the season for the Cougars.As has been the case many times this season, this game saw the Cougars play a a bad third quarter getting outscored 17-10. The Cougars last three points of the third quarter came in dramatic fashion. Blacksburg hit a three point shot to take a nine point lead. The Cougars pushed on, and an inbound pass to half court found senior Zack Akers open, and he heaved the ball toward the basket. As the buzzer sounded, the hit nothing but the bottom of the net, leaving the Bruins up 49-43.
The Cougars finished the season with a 4-19 overall record, and lost all 14 of their games against Group AA teams. This is the second year in a row the Cougars have lost in the opening round of the district tournament. Their last four year record is now a very discouraging and disappointing 22-67.
Cougar head coach Mark Hanks said, “we played very, very hard but not always smart tonight. I thought we played much better against the zone, but then we would turn the ball over because we weren’t in the right place. We had a shot at it, down two with a couple minutes to play, and missed all those easy shots.”
The Cougars hit a season high ten three-point goals, with Tyler Dotson and Tyler Ervine both draining three each. Malik Eaves hit two, and Tyler Blevins and Zack Akers hit one each. Ervine had a team high 12 points. Lonnie Mattox and Malik Eaves both contributed 10 point each. Dotson finished with nine points, Akers seven, Marcus Johnston six, and Blevins scored five points. Hesus Hickman and Marcus Burks both score two points.
Blacksburg was led by 6’5″ Kaleb Bohrnstedt and guard Brandon Walters with 16 points each. Grayson Shelton came off the bench to add 15 points, and 6’7″ senior Michael Ayares had 14. The Bruins will now move on to play Cave Spring in the semi-finals.
Coach Hanks told his team in the locker room after the contest, “we have to go to work and get better. We don’t need to put in time, but put in the work and time to get better. This is how it feels to lose in the opening round for the second straight year. Guys, we lack the discipline with the game on the line. You have to to hold each other accountable, in practice and in games.” He then said, “we got better here in the last few weeks, but i still can’t tell you who is the best five on this team.”
The Cougars only four victories this year came against Galax and George Wythe High Schools. Next year Pulaski will play more Group AAA teams, so the Cougar basketball program has their work cut out for team. Coach Hanks said, “we need to find some point guards and guard play in general. It’s going to get tougher next year.”
PC 18 15 10 20 – 63
BB 20 12 17 22 – 71
PC- 10 (Dotson 3, Ervine 3, Eaves 2, Blevins, Akers)
BB - 7 (Walters 3, Bohrnstedt 2, Shelton 2)