By Mike Marsee
SOMERSET — Colton Ralston, it’s all of us.
Who among us hasn’t dreamed of making that buzz-pounding basket for a championship, or imagined what the next few seconds of celebration might look like?
Ralston lived that dream Tuesday night when he landed a shot that would be the envy of any boy or girl who has ever picked up a basketball.
The junior guard recovered a stray ball and fired a shot just before time expired that sent Lincoln County to the Boys’ Sweet 16.
His 15-foot jumper gave the Patriots a 42-40 overtime victory over Pulaski County in the 12th Regional Boys’ Tournament Championship Game and gave him a memory that will last a lifetime.
Ralston said he had never hit a game-winning shot at any level before, but he imagined the moment like all young basketball players do.
“Before I came here, I was imagining it, so it’s crazy,” he said. “It’s much better here. Going to the gym every night, you shoot the same shots over and over again, but it feels really good right now.
The scene that followed the shot was one of joyful chaos. Ralston rushed to the other end of the floor as his teammates rushed towards him and Lincoln’s student section stormed the field.
“That’s why we do what we do,” Lincoln coach Jeff Jackson said. “It makes it fun.”
The basket that gave Lincoln (29-7) its sixth regional championship comes on the heels of a missed shot on the other side of the basket by Lincoln’s Jaxon Smith. Here’s a look at how the last few seconds unfolded:
Smith brought the ball over the halfway line and headed straight for the baseline. Pulaski defenseman Zach Travis stayed with Smith as he moved along the right edge of the free throw lane and challenged his shot once he was parallel to the basket.
“Jaxon got to the baseline and made a good strong move and shot one,” Jackson said. “And we sometimes tell our kids it’s not the shot, it’s the return, so don’t look at the ball.”
Smith’s shot from the right side was at least a foot over the edge, and Lincoln’s Clayton Davis and Pulaski’s Carson Fraley and Cayden Lancaster waited for it to fall down the left side.
All three got up for the ball, but none of them could get their hands on it. They all fell to the ground and the ball bounced behind them and straight into the hands of Ralston, who had moved in from the left corner.
“We missed a shot and Clayton rushed to try and get the rebound. He didn’t understand it, I picked it up and shot it,” Ralston said.
Pulaski’s Gavin Stevens came in from Ralston’s right, but he didn’t arrive in time to challenge the shot. Ralston said he only saw one thing when he caught the ball and put his feet down.
“I saw the rim,” Ralston said. “When I got it, I saw we were going to Rupp (Arena).”
Smith saw it all from the other side of the lane.
“I saw (my shot) go over the edge and I saw it swing over to Colton. As soon as Colton shot, I knew it was going to go in,” Smith said.
The buzzer sounded after the ball left Ralston’s hand but before it fell through the rim.
“The ball bounced in Colton’s direction and he didn’t hesitate to put it in the air,” Jackson said. “I knew it was good when it left his hand, and I knew it was ticking the clock.”
The same was true for Jackson Sims, who was farther from the game than any other Patriot on the court, but had a good view of the whole game.
“I was at midcourt ready for (Pulaski) to come back (the other way), because I didn’t think Colton had that shot,” Sims said. “But when he took it out I knew he was going to go in, so I was already celebrating with about a second to go.”
It wasn’t long before he had plenty of company as the celebration headed his way.
“My God, that was crazy,” Sims said. “I saw the whole cheer section running towards me, the team, I got tackled.”
Shooting is second nature to Ralston, who has the green light from Jackson to shoot at will. He’s the team’s best and most prolific 3-point shooter—he’s made 39% of his 226 attempts from behind the line—and is second on the team with 13.1 points per game.
He hit a critical 3-point shot on kick with 1:37 left in overtime, giving Lincoln a 40-37 lead.
Now he and his teammates will aim for the Rupp Arena rims. Lincoln will face No. 6 Region champion Jeffersontown (24-8) at 11 a.m. on March 16 in the first round of the Boys’ Sweet 16.
But in the wake of the Patriots’ win and the resulting pandemonium, Ralston said he still couldn’t understand what it meant to hit the shot of a lifetime.
“It’s not sunk yet,” he said. “I’m going to feel good for a while, but then we have to prepare for Wednesday.”