With 25 seconds remaining in the third quarter between Warren Central and Woodford County, Yellow Jackets star sophomore Jasper Johnson scored on consecutive possessions to tie the game.
The Dragons (35-1) had led for the majority of the 2023 UK HealthCare Boys’ Sweet 16 semifinal game, but Johnson and his Woodford County teammates always lurked — never too far behind.
“We knew they was a transition team, but we also a transition team,” Woodford County head coach Jaron Brown said. “We didn’t look at them as a mismatch. I felt like we could play with them just like anybody else.”
Many coaches, especially one seeking a return trip to the Sweet 16 championship game, would have called a timeout in hopes of stopping the Yellow Jackets’ building momentum.
But Warren Central head coach William Unseld isn’t one of those coaches.
“I just sat back on the table,” Unseld said. “They tied it up, I didn’t call a timeout. I let my veterans go play. And we had one timeout, and I just sat there and smiled. And I was watching them coach each other.”
Warren Central starting point guard Izayiah Villafuerte, one of seven seniors on the Dragons’ roster, would take the lead to guide his team to what would become a 56-48 victory over Woodford County.
It’s what Villafuerte typically does, according to senior forward Chappelle Whitney.
“Our point guard (Villafuerte), he really gets us going,” Whitney said. “He tells us what to do. Defenses, offenses, he calls the plays, the sets, all the little things.”
Woodford County had outscored Warren Central in both the second and third quarters, but the Dragons knew they would finish on top.
“I think we’ve been in all these moments, I say déjà vu,” Whitney said. “During the season we played a lot of those games … even last year in the state tournament we played close games. We trailed almost all the games in the state tournament and we came back and got the win.”
Over the past two seasons, the Dragons have amassed an impressive overall record of 64-5. Following last year’s 43-42 championship loss to George Rogers Clark, nine players were back to make another deep run.
“They tied it up and I was like, ‘We just need to go score,’” Unseld said. “And Chappelle got a basket, Kade (Unseld) got one. (Damarion Walkup) was unbelievable today. But it’s nice, having those guys who’ve been through it … I mean, you know they’ve won a lot of basketball games.”
Whitney (18 points), Kade Unseld (17) and Walkup (16) each scored in double figures for the Dragons, with Whitney one rebound shy of a double-double.
William Unseld cites Whitney’s defense as a major factor in the semifinals. Tasked with limiting Woodford County’s leading scorer, Whitney helped hold the sharpshooter to just 3 of 16 from the field.
“He makes us special, but he was unbelievable today,” William Unseld said of Whitney. “Big time. He’s a big time defender. And he knows that. He loves that.”
The Dragons will face the George Rogers Clark, a winner against Frederick Douglass, again in championship Saturday night. Prior to the outcome of that game, Unseld said he knows it will be a tough matchup either way.
“It’s gonna be a battle,” Unseld said.
This story was originally published March 18, 2023, 3:23 PM.