We’ve just passed the midpoint of the high school basketball season, and enough time has elapsed to give us a pretty good handle on how the 12th Region races are shaping up. I picked the Lincoln County boys and the Rockcastle County girls in a couple of preseason previews I wrote for other publications (with considerable help from the region’s coaches), and I’ll stand by those picks.
But there are always a few unexpected developments, and I’m using the midseason milestone (which was last week, but we’re close enough) to call attention to some of the surprises.
The biggest of them is in Lancaster, where the Garrard County boys are working on the region’s most impressive turnaround this season. After going 5-19 and taking a number of fairly sound beatings last season, the Golden Lions are 10-7 and might finish the regular season with 15 wins or so.
In calling the Lions my biggest surprise, I have to admit being way off in my preseason assessment of them. Coach Scott Bolin couldn’t believe this fall that I didn’t consider Garrard for a list of the top 10 teams in the region. I, on the other hand, thought this would be a better year than last, but still not all that good.
If I ranked the top 10 teams in the region today, I’m still not sure whether Garrard would be on that list, but it would get serious consideration now. And if the Lions continue to improve at the same pace, they’ll certainly be a top-10 team by March. Regardless, Bolin was a lot closer to being right than I was.
The other eye-catching boys team in this area is Mercer County. I did list the Titans as a top-10 team, but they adapted to first-year coach Nelson Cundiff’s system better and got out of the gate faster than I imagined. That system, which utilizes a fast pace and plenty of players, suits a team like Mercer that has decent speed and the depth created by the Mercer-Harrodsburg merger.
The Titans are in a slump, having slipped to 10-7 thanks to a current three-game losing streak that includes defeats against 46th District rivals East Jessamine and West Jessamine. They’ll have to beat one of those teams to get out of the district, but they showed me enough in the first half of the season to convince me that they could.
Mercer also has the biggest surprise among area girls teams, but it isn’t a pleasant one. Everyone knew that Mercer’s run of seven straight 20-win seasons would probably end this winter, because there just wasn’t enough experience to sustain another such year, but it still comes as a shock to the system to see the Titans sitting at 8-8.
The jolts included a 50-point loss to a Central Hardin team considered to be one of the 10 best in the state, a 27-point loss to a Letcher County Central team that certainly isn’t, and most recently Tuesday’s loss at Burgin, which might be the ultimate indicator of a sea change.
Mercer has young talent and should bounce back in time, but some of its results for the rest of this season might look a little strange.