Upset over Jeff West set the stage
Initially, it was a shocking upset. But when it was all over, Baldwin High School's improbable 68-57 win over No. 1-seeded Jefferson County West in the Class 4A State Tournament opener was the first step for the Bulldogs in gaining respect.
BHS carried that through by eventually finishing third, the best showing ever for a Bulldog boys' basketball team. But it was that win over Jeff West that really turned the tables.
"It will make people set up and notice," said coach Bobby Taul. "We were the Rodney Dangerfield of Class 4A. We didn't get any respect.
"Jeff West was supposed to win it all," Taul said. "That gave us the respect our program has to have. That was a big step in getting the recognition state wide."
The third-year head coach called it the biggest win during his tenure, adding that it wasn't a "fluke" because his team went out and did what needed to be done to win.
"The kids went out and did everything we wanted them to do," said Taul. "We executed our game plan. When they believe in what they're doing and believe in themselves, they can do anything."
The Bulldogs showed that big-time by outplaying the heavily favored Jeff West Tigers. And probably most important, BHS hit free throws 24 of 29, 82 percent like never before.
"That's unbelievable," Taul said of the free throw numbers. "That was the confidence the kids had. That's something we talked about being the difference and they went out and did it."
Baldwin High had to battle a case of the first-state-appearance jitters to open the game. Jeff West's press rattled the Dogs and the Tigers quickly went up 9-2. But buckets by Ben Cosman and Colin Barker, plus a 3-pointer by Joe Kivett pulled BHS back in and served notice of what was to come.
Jeff West had a 20-13 first quarter lead and moved it to eight points several times in the second frame. But it was the Hugh show, as in Hugh Murphy, that set the stage for the upset. Murphy, a 6-foot-2 sophomore, scored 11 first-half points as the sizable Baldwin crowd chanted the "H-uuu-gh" call.
Murphy hit a follow shot and senior Andy Meinen added an inside move to pull BHS within three at 31-28 with 29 seconds left in the half. Barker then brought the upset dream into focus when his desperation 3-pointer from just across the half-court line banked off the glass and into the net to knot the score at 31 as the half-time buzzer sounded.
"Hugh played big and Colin's 3 was huge," said Taul.
Jeff West opened the second half with a bucket to take its last lead of the day at 33-31. Junior Heath Knight hit a follow shot, then added a 3-pointer at the 5:52 mark to put the Bulldogs up for good at 36-33. Knight added an old-fashioned three-point play 20 seconds later to advance it to six. By the time the quarter was over, BHS was up 45-40.
Knight then hit another 3-pointer early in the fourth frame for a 48-40 lead and the smell of upset was clearly in the air. Jeff West battled back, but layups by Knight and Cosman and a ton of free throws put the game away.
Down the stretch in the last 3:01, BHS hit 15 of 16 free throws, with senior Blake Regnier hitting four-of-four; Kivett five-of-six; Knight, Murphy and Barker two-of-two. That put the explanation point on the 11-point win.
"Every time they did something, we countered," said Taul. "We were coming back and hitting free throws or scoring a bucket."
Knight led the way with 15 points, followed by Cosman and Murphy both with 13, Kivett with 12, Barker seven, Regnier six and Meinen two.