MURRAY – The reign is over.
Or, at least, interrupted.
Graves County ended Marshall County’s two-year run in the First Region, knocking the Marshals out of the region tournament with a 58-44 victory Tuesday night at the CFSB Center.
The Marshals had won the last two region titles and came into this year’s tourney with the best record of all Jackson Purchase teams.
But they came in as a district runner-up, after losing to Calloway County last week in the Fourth District tournament championship.
Tuesday night’s game was the fourth in a row in which the team was somehow unable to execute at the level it had done all season long.
“We just struggled,” coach Gus Gillespie said. “We’ve struggled the last two games. After 26 wins and being pretty consistent, its’s hard to put a finger on why you struggle this time of year.”
The Marshals led only one, at 4-3 in the early going on back-to-back baskets by Austin Rentfrow and Chase Clark. Those points came after Graves took a 3-0 lead on a basket by Mason Beale and one of two free throws by Zach Kimbler.
But a pair of Kimbler baskets sandwiched a Justin Hayden a three-pointer. Then Tyler Starkey extended the run to nine points, and the Eagles were off and running with a 12-6 lead at the first quarter stop.
They never slackened their pace.
“The big thing for us tonight, we wanted to do something we hadn’t done the first two games against them, and that’s get off to a good start,” Graves coach Terry Birdsong said. “We had to play from behind both times.”
Marshall lost the first of two regular-season meetings by two points at Mayfield and won in overtime in the second game at home.
“They had us down seven in the third quarter last time, down by 11 or 12 at their place and we got back to overtime,” Birdsong said. “We didn’t want to do that again. It takes so much energy to get back.
“Tonight we wanted to play with the lead and see how they would do, trying to come back from a deficit.”
The lead ranged from five to eight points, with Graves holding a 24-17 advantage at halftime. The Eagles got the first points of the second half on a three-point shot by Kimbler after two scoreless minutes for their first double-figures lead of the game, and the Marshals never got closer than six the rest of the way.
Senior starters Clark and Noah Steele ended their careers with 13 and 10 points, respectively. Rentfrow, a junior, added 12 points.
Graves County’s Peyton Puckett matched Clark for game honors with 13. Starkey and Kimbler had 12 points apiece for the Eagles, which improved to 24-8.
Steele, crestfallen after the loss, couldn’t explain the team’s late-season problems.
“We had those four or five games in a row. Didn’t listen to coach’s plan, didn’t execute,” he said. “It came back to haunt us.”
The Marshals, who had lost only two games to region opponents (both times to Graves County) over the past two seasons and had not lost to a Fourth District opponent the past four seasons, ended the season on back-to-back losses. Calloway County snapped the Marshals’ Fourth District winning streak at 29 straight games with the victory in the district tourney finals Feb. 21.
The team ended the season off stride.
“There was something that happened about the last 14 days of the season that we never bounced out of, for whatever reason,” Gillespie said. “In practice, we’ve been pretty good.”
But in the last regular-season games, the Marshals had to hang on for dear life to edge Mayfield 55-54 and then fell behind Christian County and had to have a second-half rally to win 48-42.
They rolled over Community Christian in their district tourney opener, but against tougher competition, they struggled.
“Some of the things we wanted this team to do tonight; didn’t do ‘em,” Gillespie said after the loss to Graves. “There’s a variety of reasons why. It’s a big stage, there’s some pressure to it. Kids want to do it, they want to listen to you, but sometimes it’s tough.
“Out here, you’ve got to be able to withstand it and go make some plays. We’ve won it the last two years. Why’ve we won it? We’ve made plays. We didn’t win it this year; we didn’t make any plays.”
Marshall Co. 6 17 28 44
Graves Co. 12 24 38 58
MARSHALL CO.: Noah Steele 10, Nathan Solomon, Mason Wooten 4, Chase Clark 13, Austin Rentfrow 12, Landon Taylor, D.J. Pigg 3, Jamie Gilland 2, Dalton McCoy
GRAVES CO.: Mason Beale 8, Tyler Starkey 12, Peyton Puckett 13, Jake Williams 6, Zach Kimbler 12, Andrew Smith 4, Justin Hayden 3, Eric Vogt, Eli Wilson