MURRAY -- As the minutes rolled down in the fourth quarter, Calloway County head coach Brad Cleaver had a smile on his face as he began pulling his starters and letting the bench grab some minutes.
"I'm so proud for the guys," Cleaver said. "It's all them. Just real proud of them."
A Laker alumnus himself, Cleaver got to give back to the school that he put so much work into as a player, coaching his Calloway County team to a 62-43 win over Trigg County in the Kentucky 2A Section 1 championship game in Murray, advancing the Lakers to the 2A State Tournament.
The Lakers (12-6) used an enormous third quarter to put the game away.
Going into the break up 29-22, the Lakers opened the second half on an 18-3 run to put them up 46-25 and suck all the life out of the Wildcats along the way.
"I told them just to rely on their training and just take a deep breath and relax and let's go out and trust our hard work and trust what we've been working on for a long time, and it was just that simple," Cleaver said. "When you put in as much work as they do and work this hard, at the end of the day, that's what's going to pay off and that's what they can pull from. The hard work that they've put in."
For Cleaver, this is his first championship at the helm of the Lakers, and while the state championship is the end game, he's happy to cut down the nets at any time.
"That was one of the goals when I got here," Cleaver said. "Just provide the kids with the tools to help them be able to do this today. And that's all any coach could ask for, and I'm just grateful and feel blessed."
For the Wildcats (7-8) it was a struggle after a hot start out of the gates.
Trigg County coach Chad Burgett's group hopped out to a 6-1 lead out of the gates, and the young team put together a very competitive first half. Burgett said the inexperience of his team was a catalyst in the Wildcats' struggles in the third.
"There's a body language that championship teams have," Burgett said. "There's a nervous energy in the room, and right now this team doesn't have that nervous energy. It's very important to be loose. It's also important to have that competitive edge and just do the little things that allow you to win. Right now, we're still trying to develop those habits."
But moments and games like Saturday afternoon's contest will pay big dividends for Burgett's young team.
"It's something for our kids to look through, and it gives you that trial run before the real thing happens," Burgett said. "It's like I told our guys. The sun is going to come up tomorrow and we've played half of our games. When you're starting two eighth graders, improvement can happen pretty drastically. We're looking forward to that."
The Lakers will make their first appearance in the 2A State Tournament at 5 p.m. Thursday against Lexington Catholic, the third-ranked team in the state.
Trigg 8 14 8 13 - 43
Calloway 11 18 24 9 - 62
TRIGG -- Jhaden Vaughn 15, JaKobe Bridges 7, Shaun Terrell 6, Kenny Adams 5, Kion Thompson 3, Khyran Vaughn 3, Jordan Miles 2, Hayden Cunningham 2.
FG: 11-36. 3PT: 3-13 (Thompson, Bridges 2).
FT: 12-21. Reb: 23. PF: 16. TO: 14.
CALLOWAY -- Chandler Steele 14, Kade Mize 9, Evan Garrison 9, Cade Butler 8, Ki Franklin 8, Jarrett Darnell 6, Montrell Rogers 6, Jackson Chapman 2.
FG: 16-29. 3PT: 5-14 (Darnell 2, Butler 2, Mize).
FT: 15-26. Reb: 31. PF: 18. TO: 17.