DRAFFENVILLE – It’s definitely the right time of the season for a team to be playing at its peak, and that appears to be just what the Marshall County Marshals are doing.
The Marshals ripped through tall and talented Calloway County Thursday night to claim the Fourth District basketball championship at Reed Conder Gymnasium.
It was the seventh win in a row for coach Gus Gillespie’s team since Marshall County suffered back-to-back losses against Graves County and Murray on Feb. 7 and 8.
“I don’t think in 15 years I’ve ever seen a team change as much as this team has,” Gillespie said.
“It’s determination. They want to go out and prove themselves.”
For the past seven days, the Marshals have indeed proven themselves. They have played with intensity and abandon, beating their opponents to loose balls and long rebounds, patiently working for good shots, playing hard-nosed on-ball defense and helping their teammates.
All those things are necessary in a deep post-season run.
The Marshals got solid performances up and down the lineup, with 6-7 senior center Austin Rentfrow leading the way with 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Mason Wooten was close behind with 14 and Collin Travis chipped in 12, including 5-of-6 clutch free-throw shooting down the stretch.
Calloway’s ace 6-7 junior forward Skyler Hunter led all scorers with 17 for the Lakers.
“We just kept our game routine,” Wooten said. “We’re all pretty superstitious and we didn’t want to change anything.”
Part of the ritual is dinner at the home of senior point guard Landon Taylor.
“We all came together and decided to play as hard as we could for the player next to us,” Taylor said.
“We just talked about how hard we have to play on defense,” Rentfrow said.
Senior Drew Warnick, who did not score but contributed plenty of hustle, summed up the attitude.
“The big thing is, our coaches say how you have to understand your role and do it well,” he said. “We’ve really come together.”
Calloway took the early initiative, going up 4-0 and then pulling away from a 4-4 tie to a 9-4 lead and extending the advantage to 12-6 after one quarter.
Marshall County took its first lead of the game just past the midway point of the second quarter on a jump shot by sophomore guard D.J. Pigg. But Calloway held a 19-18 lead at intermission.
In the third quarter, the Marshals asserted themselves. Led by 3-pointers from Landon Taylor and Travis, a pair of baskets and two free throws by Rentfrow and a basket by Wooten, they outscored Calloway 18-7 to build a 10-point lead.
The Lakers nibbled the lead down to 6 at 45-39 as the clock moved inside three minutes to go, and then coach Bruce Lane had his players foul to stop the clock and put Marshall County on the free-throw line, in the hope the Marshals would miss the charity shots.
Travis hit four in a row and Rentfrow hit 3-of-5 to stretch the lead to 52-40 with just over a minute remaining.
Marshall County managed only 4-of-8 in the final minute of play, but the lead was out of reach.
Marshall County hit a torrid 58 percent from the floor in the second half, while the defense held Calloway to 33 percent for the half and only 37 percent for the game.
The Marshals, led by Rentfrow’s dozen, won the rebounding battle 27-23.
The victory avenged last year’s loss in the district championship game on the Lakers’ home court.
It was the second straight win for the Marshals over the Lakers. Pigg hit a 3-pointer from the corner to beat the buzzer and lift Marshall County to a 55-53 win in overtime on Feb. 14.
Calloway Co. 12 19 26 47
Marshall Co. 6 18 36 57
CALLOWAY CO.: Wade Carter 4, Parker Adams 12, Skyler Hunter 17, Conner Wagner 2, Michael Arnett 12, Clay Smotherman, Hunter Smith, Tristan Crady
MARSHALL CO.: Landon Taylor 8, D.J. Pigg 8, Mason Wooten 14, Collin Travis 12, Austin Rentfrow 15, Dawson Jolley, Drew Warnick
Marshall Co. 68
In the first-round game Feb. 25, Marshall County doomed Murray with laser-like accuracy, hitting a blistering 70 percent from the floor in the first half and “cooling off” to 60 percent for the game, en route to a lopsided win.
Center Austn Rentfrow was good on 11 of 17 shots and led the way with a double-double of 26 points and 13 rebounds.
Mason Wooten was close behind, hitting 8 of 12 shots, including 1 of 2 from 3-point range, for 21 points. He matched Rentfrow’s 13 rebounds.
Sophomore D.J. Pigg didn’t miss a shot, nailing 4 of 4 from behind the arc and nailing his only 2-point try, and finished with 14.
Murray was led by Dylan Boone, who had 14 before fouling out on a personal foul followed by a technical foul with just under five minutes left in the game.
The Tigers, who had ended a 30-game losing streak to Marshall County when they won 50-46 on the Marshals’ home court Feb. 8, ended the season with a 15-11 record.
Murray 12 18 36 52
Marshall Co. 18 36 55 68
MURRAY: Preston English 5, Duane Curtis 12, Dylan Boone 14, James Boone 11, Tandyn Sheppard 6, Desjahvonni Miles 2, Cam Kelly, Adam Stubblefield, Ethan Clark, Tre Hornbuckle 2
MARSHALL CO.: Landon Taylor 7, D.J. Pigg 14, Mason Wooten 21, Collin Travis, Austin Rentfrow 26, Dawson Jolley, Drew Warnick