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Eventual champs bounce Commanders from district semis

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By Brandon Mattingly

 

Washington County vs. Bethlehem
Score:
75-46 Bethlehem
When: Tuesday, Feb. 21
Where: Washington County High School
Key players: WCHS - Markuise Stateman, Alex Marshall NCHS – Jordan Cooper-Livers
Game highlights: The Washington County Commanders’ (6-22) season came to an end last Tuesday night with a 75-46 loss at home to Bethlehem (25-5) in the second round of the 19th District tournament.
The Commanders held the Eagles to 3-of-16 from three-point range, but were pounded inside by Bethlehem’s 25-of-33 (75.8 percent) shooting from inside the arc.

The Commanders kept the Eagles’ offense in check early though, trailing 13-10 after the first quarter. Five quick points and an assist from Washington County senior Markuise Stateman gave WC a quick 7-3 lead, but Bethlehem senior Jordan Cooper-Livers’ 10 first-quarter points helped Bethlehem rally for an 8-0 run to turn the game around quickly. The senior was the driving force behind the Eagles’ attack throughout the game.

“We worked on it for two weeks with him, but when he gets the ball in the lane he’s almost unstoppable,” Washington County Head Coach Russell Burkhead said of the Bethlehem point guard. “I know this young man didn’t get voted for 5th Region Player of the Year, I think he finished third in the ballot, but that kid can definitely play.”

The second quarter was when the Eagles made their biggest move. Bethlehem scored the first nine points of the period, capped by a three-point play by senior Ben Rossoll. By the time the Eagles came up with a steal and Cooper-Livers finished an easy bucket with 3:30 left in the half, they had built a commanding lead at 28-11. Washington County was held to a single field goal in the second quarter, a three-point play by junior Morgan Churchill with about a minute left on the clock.

“(Bethlehem) just extended their defense and turned it up,” Burkhead said. “I don’t think we got but about three shots off in the second quarter. They just took us out of what we were trying to do.”

The Commanders were unable to bounce back in the second half, with Bethlehem maintaining a 20-point lead most of the way from there. The WC press did force Bethlehem into back-to-back turnovers to cut the lead back to 17 points momentarily in the third quarter. Washington County, though, then had its own rash of mistakes leading to a pair of easy baskets for Bethlehem, including a senior Jacob Browning jumper that beat the buzzer to put the Eagles up by 22 with a quarter to play.

Bethlehem coasted the rest of the way, spending much of the final period at the free-throw line, where they pushed the final margin to 29 points.
Seniors Stateman and Alex Marshall led the Commanders with 12 points a piece. Junior Tylyn Byas added seven points and team-highs in rebounds (four) and steals (three).

Cooper-Livers’ 28 points led all scorers, with junior Shane Beisler joining him in double figures with 12 points to go with three assists.

Bethlehem went on to defeat Bardstown 61-52 in the district championship on Friday night.

The season was one with plenty of tests for the Commanders, who found themselves in numerous close games that often took overtime to decide. Through all of the challenges, Burkhead said the final product was a team that was better at the end of the year than it was at the start.

“I thought we got a lot better,” he said. “Jared Young is leaps and bounds ahead of where he started. Tylyn Byas got better every night out. Markuise Stateman and Alex Marshall, what can you say about those two? Markuise competed every night and may have been the smallest point guard in the state and by the end Alex was putting up 18 or so points a game for us. I can’t say enough about either of those two young men.”

Stateman and Marshall were named as WC’s representatives for the 19th District all-tournament team.