Squad Up is still the team to beat at the downtown Maysville gym at the start of August.
Chris Lofton made a layup late to give Squad Up a lead over Team Gibbs, before the Mason County graduate came away with a steal to close out his team’s second straight Maysville Classic title, 55-51.
“For me, it’s fun coming back and playing in my home town. I love Maysville. They’ve been supporting me for years and for me to come back and play – you know, I have to,” said Lofton. “At first this weekend I was like, ‘Maybe I need to rest.’ Maysville – they probably want to see me play. They haven’t seen me play in a while, so I was like, ‘You know what? Let’s go.’”
Team Gibbs took a double-digit lead with under eight minutes to play when Fleming County graduate Troy Steward crossed over his defender and hit a step-back 3-pointer. Steward was playing with several teammates from Georgetown College on Team Gibbs, which also included Troy Gibbs, a member of the 2017 Squad Up team.
Squad Up chipped away from there. A Mikah Turner 3-pointer made it 45-39, and then Kevin Bridgewater got hot.
“My body was sore and I was cramping. I’m known as a scoring point guard, so they just told me to come in and be aggressive the last few minutes,” said Bridgewater. “That’s what I did and, you know, once you make one or two and start feeling it, defenses’ eyes start getting big – I just felt like nobody could stop me at the end of the game.”
Bridgewater, a Columbia, Kentucky native who played AAU basketball with Lofton, went on personal a 12-4 run to draw Squad Up even with Team Gibbs, 51-51, with about a minute left. Bridgewater was presented with the first-ever Ron Bailey MVP Trophy following the game.
“It feels good to be the first. That goes down in history,” said Bridgewater. “That means I’ll always be remembered in Maysville.”
Tied at 51, Bridgewater brought the ball down the court and handed it off to Lofton, who passed it off and quickly got it back heading to the corner closest to Squad Up’s bench in the downtown Maysville gym. Lofton then spun around his defender and drove along the baseline to the basket to lay the ball in for a two-point lead.
“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned I’ve got to conserve my energy. Back in the day, I used to just go all out every game and, you know, I’m 32 now, so I’m finding ways to conserve my energy and just try to pick my spots and let my teammates do their thing,” said Lofton. “In late ball situations, I always want it in my hands. That’s what I wanted to do.”
Team Gibbs was called for an offensive foul at the other end with 19.7 seconds left, giving Squad Up back the ball.
Bridgewater was sent to the line as Team Gibbs was forced to foul and made two free throws, giving Squad Up a 55-51 lead.
Lofton was called for a foul near midcourt as Steward attempted to dribble the ball down the floor, giving Team Gibbs the ball out of bounds. Lofton grabbed the ball on the inbound attempt with 13.5 seconds left, capping off Squad Up’s second straight Maysville Classic title.
The two teams played close throughout the first half. Steward hit three straight 3-pointers for Team Gibbs to end the first half, with the last coming after a fadaway shot from Lofton. The Mason County graduate went down the floor after Steward’s make and finished a shot at the rim to give Squad Up a 26-24 advantage.
“That’s my cousin. I’m proud of him, the way he’s become and the player he’s developed into. Every time we’re on the court together is very special.
For Steward, playing at the “Dirt Bowl” is something he’s looked forward to since he was young.
“The Dirt Bowl meant more to him than going to any other game. Every year he wanted to come to the Dirt Bowl no matter what was going on,” said his mother, Krista Steward. “Even now that he’s in college playing, he still wants to play because it’s one of the biggest things. It’s part of our history and part of life.”
Squad Up advanced to the championship game with a 78-66 victory in the quarterfinals and a 77-72 win over Newport, who beat them in the championship game two years ago.
Team Gibbs won their quarterfinal match, 71-53, before a huge block helped them hang on for an 82-80 win over the Cincinnati Bulldogs in the semifinals.
“You can’t ask for much more. From what I’ve heard already, it’s been a good weekend. A lot of people were happy with what was going on,” said event organizer LaMont Johnson. “I’m very pleased with how the brackets came out and how the semifinals came out and how the championship game came out.”