Archive for March, 2009

Gone fishin'

The blog gets a break while I take a vacation. See you in a few days.

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Gone fishin’

The blog gets a break while I take a vacation. See you in a few days.

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Pulaski basketball coach resigns

Basketball season is barely over and the first coaching opening in the 12th Region has already popped up at Pulaski County, where boys coach Mark Flynn has resigned after 3 1/2 seasons. Read more in Steve Cornelius’ story today in the (Somerset) Commonwealth Journal.

Flynn was promoted from assistant coach to head coach in January 2006 after Dave Fraley resigned. His teams won three straight 47th District titles from 2006-08. He told the newspaper that his decision was based primarily on personal reasons, including his two small children.

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Time to go outside

The spring sports season gets under way this afternoon on one of the earliest opening days ever. Baseball, softball and a few tennis teams are kicking off their seasons today, and the track and field season isn’t far behind.

It will be a hotly contested race for the 12th Region baseball title, with Boyle County, Danville and Mercer County again in the mix. The regional favorite, however, figures to be West Jessamine, which returns most of its lineup after winning the championship last year.

Defending regional softball champion Garrard County has a number of new faces in its lineup but should still be one of the top teams in the region, and an improved Boyle County team might be a player as well.

In tennis, the two best local teams last season, the Garrard County boys and Mercer County girls, will have much different looks this season, while Boyle County’s CeCe Witten and Lincoln County’s Haley Hart will once again be ranked among the very best players in the state.

In track and field, expect strong showings from the girls teams at Danville, Boyle County and Mercer County and the boys team at Danville, as well as the usually high number of outstanding individual performances from those schools and others

Here are this season’s new spring sports coaches at Advocate-area schools:

  • Burgin: Chris Beckerson, track and field.
  • Casey County: Neal King, baseball.
  • Garrard County: Ed Rall, baseball.
  • Lincoln County: Kalen Gibson, baseball; Clinton Hammack, softball.
  • Mercer County: Stephen Lyons, softball.

As for why things are getting started so early, the first day that the spring teams are allowed to play is always the first Monday after the second state basketball tournament. So even though the weather is nice as the season begins, you can expect some cool days and nights ahead for early-season competitions.

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Just happy to be there — no, really

If you were looking for an ideal illustration of a team that’s “happy to be there” at the Boys Sweet Sixteen, the West Jessamine Colts fit the bill perfectly.

No, they weren’t one of those teams that took a first-round beating and got back on the bus, which is the type of team you usually associate with that phrase. And they would have been even happier to have had a chance to play for the state championship Saturday night. But when their season ended with a 52-48 semifinal loss to Central on Saturday morning, there was a prevailing feeling that they enjoyed almost every minute of their three-game run in Rupp Arena.

“I think we left a legacy, and it just feels good being part of that team,” senior Jonathan Rehner said.

The part they didn’t enjoy, of course, would have been the last couple of minutes of their loss, when they finally gave way after battling tooth and nail against a team almost no one thought they could keep up with.

“We didn’t match up with them at any position,” coach Robert Hammond said. “They were faster than us, they were bigger than us, they beat us on the boards. To be honest, I don’t think we should’ve been in the game, but we were. We didn’t match up well, but I thought the kids gave me all they had.”

The game was tied at 46-all with 3:29 remaining, but 3:24 of that time was used up before West Jessamine scored again. And the Colts found themselves in a bad way in the final seconds when they needed to foul to stop the clock and put Central on the line, but they had three fouls to give before Central got into the bonus and only five seconds to give them.

Jarrod Polson scored 23 points to lead West Jessamine, one of only three 12th Region teams in the last 20 years to win even a single game at the boys state tourney. Dylan Pohl had six rebounds, but the Colts were beaten 30-19 on the boards.

* * *

Hammonds and his players made two or three references during their postgame press conferences this week to the fact that West Jessamine was ranked ninth in the 12th Region in the preseason, which illustrates just how much of a crapshoot — and how wrong — preseason rankings can be.

I had the Colts eighth in a regional preview I wrote for The Cats’ Pause Basketball Yearbook, behind 46th District rivals East Jessamine and Mercer County, and they were seventh in the preview.

What about next season, when West Jessamine returns three starters who won two games at Rupp Arena? It would be awfully hard to pick against the Colts after what they’ve done this month, but serious consideration will also have to be given to McCreary Central, which returns three starters to a team that lost by three points in the regional final.

* * *

Those of us who like to talk basketball spent a lot of time this winter discussing just how bad the 12th Region was compared to the rest of the state, then spent this week watching West Jessamine shoot that argument full of holes.

The top teams in only one of the state’s other 15 regions (the 1st) were consistently rated below those in the 12th this season, yet far stronger regions (were 4th, 7th and 10th, for example) didn’t get their teams as far in the state tournament as did the 12th.

Did West Jessamine benefit from a good draw? You bet. But so did Hazard, the team the Colts beat in the first round, and Adair County and Grayson County, the others in their quarter of the bracket. And none of them could do what West Jessamine did.

* * *

Finally, a useless but interesting nugget from Burgin coach Don Irvine, who said West Jessamine became the ninth team to reach the Sweet Sixteen after knocking one of his teams out in the first round of a district tournament, and the fourth of those teams to reach the state semifinals.

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A rare year in the 12th Region

It isn’t every year that the 12th Region gets a team into the semifinals of a state basketball tournament, and it’s almost unheard of that it would happen twice in the same year.

But it has happened this year. West Jessamine’s 72-67 victory over Grayson County in a quarterfinal game today at the Boys Sweet Sixteen, coupled with Casey County’s success last week in the Girls Sweet Sixteen, gave the 12th two semifinalists in one season.

How many times has that happened before? Exactly once.

It was just three years ago, when South Laurel pulled this rare double all by itself. The Cardinals won the boys championship with victories over Ohio County, Elizabethtown, Pleasure Ridge Park and Warren Central, and the Lady Cardinals reached the semifinals of the girls tournament wins wins over Ohio and Montgomery County before losing to Lexington Catholic.

There may be those who say that Casey’s girls and West Jessamine’s boys had more favorable roads to the round of four than the other semifinalists, and that may be true. But getting to play on Saturday morning (and perhaps beyond in West Jessamine’s case) is still a noteworthy feat for any team — from any region.

I’ve taken a lot of heat from some of my friends on press row in about the state of basketball — and particularly boys basketball — in the 12th Region in recent years, and most of it has been merited. But this year I can finally stick up for my region, and all of us who follow teams in the 12th can feel a little better about that.

* * *

West Jessamine won its second close game of the tournament, getting 22 points, nine rebounds and seven assists from Jarrod Polson and placing three other scorers in double figures. The Colts led for the last 19 minutes, 14 seconds as they secure their spot in the Saturday morning session.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Polson said. “At the beginning of the season, no one would’ve thought that we’d have gotten this far. … I’d have been shocked.”

The Colts shot 56.8 percent from the field and also made hay at the free-throw line, where they were 26-for-36. Polson went 8-for-11 at the line, Nick Ziemann and Jonathan Rehner were each 6-for-8 and Randy Troyer was 4-for-7. They were one made free throw away from becoming the 20th team in state tournament history to score at least 27 points at the foul line.

West Jessamine plays Central in a Saturday morning semifinal. Central advanced with a 71-65 upset of Eastern, one of the favorites to win the tournament and a team that had beaten Central 78-55 on Feb. 10.

West Jessamine coach Robert Hammonds realized his team would face a much tougher foe in its semifinal than the first two it has seen, but he said after his game and before the Central-Easter game, “Really, there’s no pressure on us. If we come out and hit some shots early, who knows?”

* * *

A former 12th Region was honored as part of this year’s class for the Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches’ Court of Honor today.

Gerald Sinclair, whose coaching stops included Forkland, Wayne County and Boyle County before he led Logan County to the 1984 state championship, was the 4th Region honoree.

Former Somerset, Marshall County and Henry Clay coach Kirk Chiles was honored from the 12th Region.

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Business is good at the Sweet Sixteen

Times may be tough, but that isn’t being reflected at the Rupp Arena turnstiles for the Boys Sweet Sixteen this week.

The first round ended Thursday night with a total attendance of 62,897 over four sessions, including a crowd of 21,048 for the final session (Mason County vs. Shelby Valley, Anderson County vs. Elliott County) that was the largest ever for a first-round session. At one point, there were even coaches relegated to the upper deck and trying to horse-trade their way downstairs to better seats.

Single-session attendance records have much to do with the attraction of the participating teams — for instance, Elliott County is wildly popular with its own fan base but also a curiousity for the rest of us — but the total proves continues to maintain its level of popularity — in this format, at this location. Here’s hoping neither of those things changes.

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Spurlin, Jackson win boys regional awards

Ethan Spurlin and Jeff Jackson of Lincoln County have been voted the 12th Region player and coach of the year by the Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches.

Spurlin was the area’s leading scorer with about 20 points per game, and he led Lincoln in rebounds (7) and assists (4) as well. His award comes with an automatic invitation to the Kentucky all-star tryouts next month.

Jackson led the Patriots to a 20-10 record that included their second straight 45th District championship. They reached the regional semifinals before losing to McCreary Central.

The two will receive their awards Friday at the Boys Sweet Sixteen, along with the other regional winners. Click here for the full list.

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West wins one in Rupp

The 12th Region’s run of state tournament success continued today when West Jessamine won the opening game of the Boys Sweet Sixteen, making the Colts only the second team from our region to win a boys state tournament game in the last 13 years.

They took the hard way to a 51-40 victory over Hazard, rallying from 11 points down in the final 12 minutes, 55 seconds. Click these links for Casey Castle’s story from The Jessamine Journal and the official box score from the game.

Hazard scored with 4:56 left in the third quarter to take a 39-28 lead that equaled its largest of the game, but the Bulldogs got only one more point the rest of the way, and they missed their last 20 field-goal attempts.

West Jessamine had something to do with that, of course, and reserve guard Randy Troyer had a lot to do with it. Troyer, a senior who seldom saw action in the Colts’ three regional tournament wins, played 13 minutes, 50 seconds of lockdown defense on Hazard star Josh Whitaker in the second half. Whitaker had 14 points in the first half but only four in the second, when he was 1-for-6 from the field.

“When we put him on Whitaker, their offense really didn’t do anything,” West Jessamine guard Jarrod Polson said.

For his part, Troyer said he prides himself on playing good defense. “Usually I have to guard Jarrod in practice … and he can be a handful. There were times (Wednesday) when I wanted to come out, and I knew I couldn’t,” he said.

Hazard’s shooters were a bitter cold 4-for-25 in the second half, and West Jessamine coach Robert Hammonds said he thinks the Colts’ defense was a factor. “We really went over the scouting report. and we really thought we knew them to the best of our ability,” Hammonds said.

Polson scored 14 points and Jonathan Rehner added 10 for West Jessamine, which won the school’s first-ever state tournament game and will play Grayson County in a Friday quarterfinal. The Colts shot 46 percent from the field, while Hazard, which was at 48 percent at halftime, finished at 32 percent.

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A few thoughts on Casey fans

Casey County brought the kind of following to the Girls Sweet Sixteen last week that turns heads, even among those who have been coming to the state tournament for a long time. Perhaps 2,000 or more turned out for at least two of the Lady Rebels’ three games.

Whether it helped them or not is a subjective question that I can’t answer, but they’re pretty sure it did. Consider these comments I found while cleaning out my notebook this week:

“I have to say how proud I am of my team and my school and my community, the town of Liberty and the county of Casey. They have supported us extremely well.” — coach Randy Salyers

“I’ve been coming to the state tournament for 14 years, and I think we probably had the biggest fan following I’ve ever seen.” — Salyers

“It really kept us energized and pumped up, having that many fans behind us. It just felt like we were unstoppable.” — center Megan Pittman

“Our community has supported us since we started, but for all these people to come all the way to Bowling Green meant everything, seeing all those people in blue shirts.” — guard Natalie Wesley

“It’s amazing. I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world.” — guard Lauren Hatter

“To see that sea of Columbia blue says a lot about our community. That’s all the girls were talking about when we headed back to the hotel (after the first-round game), ‘Did you see our crowd?’ It almost felt like Casey was playing at home.” — athletic director Victor Black

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