The 12th Region Tournaments are upon us, and the pairings give us reason to believe the next nine days will be as wild as we’ve thought all season.
Both the boys and girls tournaments could be full of surprises, as the regionals almost always are. However, those who say any team can win it are overstating the issue.
I say there are five teams on the girls side and three, maybe four in the boys bracket that can win it, though I’m not naming names. Anyone coming from outside those boundaries would be a real surprise.
However, pretty much any team in the field could win any given game, and that’s what will make the coming days so much fun.
Here’s a closer look at the first-round games:
At Pulaski County
Mercer County (13-17) vs. Southwestern (17-13), 6:30 p.m. today: They just this game a few days ago, when Southwestern beat Mercer 54-51 in the teams’ regular-season finale. … Southwestern is a talented team that struggled at times this season. It lost five games after Feb. 1, including two to Wayne County. The Lady Warriors are considered a contender, but there are enough questionable losses on their resume to consider them very beatable. … Mercer is a rebuilding team, but it’s still surprising to see the Titans with the worst record in the field. They’re getting better,
Rockcastle County (21-10) vs. Lincoln County (17-13), 8:30 p.m. today: A rematch of last year’s regional final and of an early-season game in which Rockcastle smothered Lincoln 62-28. … Rockcastle is bidding for its second straight 12th Region title and its fourth straight trip to the Girls Sweet Sixteen and rates a slight edge in this field thanks to experience and an excess of talent. The Lady Rockets lost only one game within the region, by one point to Casey County in January, and they avenged that with a 26-point win in last week’s 47th District final. … Lincoln has improved a great deal since that lopsided early-season game, but the Lady Patriots’ big problem remains their inability to score. They’ve often made up for that with good defense, and they’ll have to keep the score low to beat Rockcastle.
Boyle County (15-14) vs. East Jessamine (15-15), 6:30 p.m. Tuesday: East Jessamine won a regular-season meeting 69-62 on Dec. 4, but that seems like a long time ago when talking about these two teams. … Boyle has improved by leaps and bounds, as you’d expect from a team that starts three freshmen and a sophomore. The Lady Rebels have won nine of their last 12, including victories over Lincoln County and Southwestern. Relying on so much youth could hurt them one of these nights, but it’s working well right now. … East Jessamine is in the 12th Region Tournament for the first time ever (it joined the region last season) after beating Burgin in a district semifinal that could have gone either way. Former Burgin coach Ralph Sallee has this program on the rise, and their progress has been considerable this year and will be worth following in seasons ahead.
Wayne County (19-9) vs. Casey County (20-10), 8:30 p.m. Tuesday: In many regional tourneys, there’s one first-round game that has the qualities of a championship matchup, and this is it. Casey and Wayne are two of the top title contenders who had the bad luck of drawing each other. … Wayne relies on young players at some key positions — there are no seniors — and has paid for that at times this season, but the Lady Cardinals’ only losses after Feb. 1 were to Mercer County and Lexington Catholic, and the Mercer loss might be the only “bad” loss on their list. … Casey is still very much a threat despite last week’s lopsided loss to Rockcastle County. Coach Randy Salyers didn’t seem too upset by that loss, at least not publicly, and it’s clear he thinks the Lady Rebels can regroup. Sure, they’re low on size, but they have enough outside shooting threats to mow down any opponent in this field. And the Rockcastle loss was one of only two in their last 12 games, the other to Lexington Christian.
The semifinals are at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Friday. The championship is at 7 p.m. Saturday.
At Lincoln County
West Jessamine (19-9) vs. Wayne County (14-17), 6 p.m. Wednesday: Without the records in parentheses, this would look one of the best first-round matchups. These two teams from opposite ends of the region are closer than they appear. … West Jessamine’s only losses since the first week of January — 15 games — were to Scott County, Sayre and Lafayette, and its only losses within the region were to Boyle County and East Jessamine. First-year coach Robert Hammonds has relied on defense, and the Colts have given up more than 60 points only once, to Scott. … This isn’t the type of Wayne team that ruled the region a few years ago, but it’s also nothing like the nearly unwatchable team that went 3-24 last season. The Cardinals are better for that experience and will continue to get better for their experience this week, and this team is good enough to give coach Rodney Woods a puncher’s chance. They lost nine of their last 12 but reached the regional with their third win over Mccreary Central, which was considered a title threat in the preseason. Other “good” wins include East Jessamine and Mercer County.
Pulaski County (21-9) vs. Lincoln County (21-9), 8 p.m. Wednesday: The first-round game not to miss, this is battle between two teams with serious title aspirations. Lincoln won the first meeting 72-60 Jan. 15 at Pulaski. … Lincoln is looking to win the region for the first time since 1980 with a balanced team that can with with perimeter shooting, penetration and defense. The Patriots lost only three of their 16 games after Jan. 1, two to Boyle County and one each to Madison Central and McCreary Central. The losses to Boyle, which they beat once, and McCreary were their only losses within the region. … Pulaski didn’t figure to be a top contender when the season began, but the Maroons got stronger as the season went on and got a signature win in the final week over Boyle County. They won 10 of their last 11, losing only to West Jessamine, and won their second straight 47th District crown after a 13-year district title drought. Pulaski hasn’t won the region since 1992.
Boyle County (16-12) vs. East Jessamine (15-14), 6 p.m. Thursday: Another good first-round game between two teams that are better than their respective records. They split two December games, with East Jessamine winning 63-52 at home and Boyle winning 54-40 in a Lexington tourney. … Defending champion Boyle gets the nod as the favorite to win this year because of key off-season additions, seasoning from a tough early-season schedule and the improvement of its role players. The Rebels lost nine of their first 13 and have lost three times since Feb. 15 — to South Laurel, Bryan Station and Pulaski County. … East Jessamine has lost four games since Feb. 9, two to West Jessamine and one each to Lexington Christian and Wayne County. The Jaguars struggled to reach 50 points in each of those losses and a few others. West Jessamine held them to 37 in last week’s 46th District final.
Southwestern (17-10) vs. Somerset (14-14), 8 p.m. Thursday: A backyard brawl between two apparently friendly Pulaski County neighbors who split two regular-season games. Southwestern won at home 61-60 on Dec. 9; Somerset won at home 57-41 on Jan. 13. … It’s easy to forget that Southwestern was in the regional final last season, but the Warriors won’t forget how close they came to getting to Rupp Arena for the first time. Three starters returned from that team. They have lost four times since Jan. 30, to West Jessamine, Lincoln County, Pulaski County and Mercer County, and they won the 48th District crown with a one-point win over Wayne County. … Somerset lost five of its last eight games beginning with a first-round All “A” Classic loss to Hazard. The Briar Jumpers are a deep team despite being hit hard by graduation last season. They’re back in the regional for the first time in six years.
The semifinals are at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. March 12. The championship is at 7 p.m. March 13.
A note about admission prices: Tickets are $5 to both tournaments this season. Officials at Pulaski and Lincoln counties went to $6 last season, but the process of making change for all those 10s and 20s (and maybe a few complaints) led to long lines at the gate. They think charging $5 instead of $6 will get people into the building a bit faster. Tourney organizers always get their share of grief for one reason or another, but they should also get this compliment for a move that will make things just a little easier on the fans and their wallets.