A four-peat: Cards win 10th Region Championship to return to Rupp Arena

Published 12:35 pm Wednesday, March 8, 2023

The George Rogers Clark Cardinals needed to stare down history Wednesday to continue their state title defense.

Not since 1945-48 had a team won four consecutive 10th Region championships, when the Maysville Bulldogs accomplished the feat.

At the Mason County Fieldhouse – in Maysville – the Cards created a new chapter in their growing legacy.

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GRC (27-5) defeated host Mason County (29-6) by a 54-42 score in front of a capacity crowd to win the 10th Region Championship and advance to the 2023 KHSAA Boys Sweet 16 basketball tournament at Rupp Arena.

“I knew it was going to be tough, and they’re a good team,” said GRC head coach Josh Cook. “Our guys made plays at the right time and showed some toughness with some adversity.”

In their history, the Royals entered the game with an all-time winning percentage of over 75% at the fieldhouse.

Thus, it was clear the Cards would be entering a loud and proud arena.

After Mason County scored two points on the initial possession, the Cards went on an 8-2 run before the Royals countered with five points of their own to take a 9-8 lead with just under two minutes left in the opening period.

The tide started to turn from there – not the first or last time it would occur.

After the Royals nearly caused a turnover, Reshaun Hampton went in for a layup.

Although initially unsuccessful, he would fight through a tough Mason County defense to help the Cards maintain possession.

Moments later, Hampton – who finished with 12 points – connected on his first of two three-point baskets for the night.

The Cards would eventually pad their lead for a temporary 10-point advantage.

“Everybody’s nervous, but we came to handle business,” Hampton said.

However, Mason County would not go away easily.

After narrowing the lead to 27-21 at halftime, the Royals’ stingy defense kept the Cards’ off the scoreboard for over four minutes to start the second half and eventually tied the score.

With less than one minute remaining in the third period, a free throw from leading scorer Terrell Henry (13 points) gave the Royals a 32-31 advantage.

In his final 10th Region game, GRC senior and leading scorer Jerone Morton (20 points) brought the Cards’ section of the audience to its feet.

Morton drove hard to the basket and – though being fouled and falling out of bounds – connected on a shot to give the Cards the lead.

A free throw would give them a 34-32 advantage entering the fourth quarter.

From there, the Cards’ defense shined.

Opening the period with a steal and score by Hampton, pressure from the Cards forced the Royals into several turnovers – many converted into points.

Eventually, the Cards would build themselves a decisive 12-point advantage.

As the seconds counted down, fittingly, it was Morton who held the ball last.

“I’m just thankful. I thank God every day for being able to just play basketball, and to do this four times,” said Morton, a Morehead State University signee. “I’m just so blessed to be a part of this program.”

Trent Edwards and Sam Parrish had 12 and 8 points, respectively.

Tyleik Maxwell, who finished with two points, played all 32 minutes of the contest and contributed with four timely rebounds.

“I knew my role. I’ve got to play defense [and] get [rebounds],” Maxwell said. “If the shot comes to me, I’m going to take it.”

For some, such as sophomore reserve Kamden McAlpin, the experience is new.

“There’s nothing like it. I’ve got so much adrenaline going through me,” McAlpin said. “It’s a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to play at Rupp, so going there next week [is] going to be a blast.”

For others, including senior Sam Parrish, the experience is more familiar.

“It feels like a deja vu moment,” Paris said.

Yet the sense of accomplishment was evident, whether a new or familiar feeling.

“They’re happy they [have] done it together,” Cook said. “That’s worth fighting for. I’ll fight for that until the day I decide I don’t want to coach anymore.”

The Cards will next take to the court next Thursday in the first round of the Sweet 16 against 13th Region Champion North Laurel. The 25-10 Jaguars are led by Kentucky signee and Mr. Basketball favorite Reed Sheppard.