It's tenth region tournament time in Maysville. Nothing like it. Arguably the best high-school basketball atmosphere in the Commonwealth; and that's saying something. Seating for 5400 on wooden bleachers when the stage is opened up. The two state championship trophies and the uni shirts of Lyons, Feldhaus, Lofton and Miller in the trophy case as you walk in. Popcorn and pep bands (check out Mason County's version of that high-school pep band standard, Free Bird). Cars parked all the way out to U.S. Highway 68. If you're a high school hoops fan, it doesn't get any better than this. Win or go home.
WELCOME TO THE FIELDHOUSE!!
Game 1 quarterfinal; Monday, February 25, 6:00 PM; Robertson County - Campbell County
Robertson County (22-8, 11-5 region, 38th District runnerup; head coach Patrick Kelsch). By just about any standard, the Black Devils have enjoyed a heck of a season. The smallest school in the field by far (79 boys in 2018) has posted its third straight winning campaign and second 20-win season in a row. Detractors will decry the strength of schedule and perhaps with justification; with a schedule peppered with the likes of Big Bone Baptist home school, Beth Haven and Menifee County. But by most accounts this squad was still a year away from making real noise in the tenth, having graduated 2,000-point scorer Mason Burden last season and having ZERO seniors on the roster in 2019. Ol' pap gives the Devils a pass this time around on the schedule and its potential preparation for the postseason. Best win of the season was probably on the road at Montgomery County in late January; but a late-season loss at Bracken County and the district final loss at home to Harrison County were unexpected and have me wondering if the young Devils are quite ready for the bright lights.
The Devils are led by big man Alex Schalch at 19.7 points (58%) and 7.3 rebounds per contest. His stats are closely mirrored by those of Justin Becker at 19.3 (59%) and 7.2; and the pair are the region's 5th and 6th leading scorers. Sophomore sharpshooter Sebastian Dixon (13.8; 41% from distance); Ross Becker (8.9; 59%) and Brandon Dice (6.6; 59%) provide plenty of support.
Campbell County (26-4, 12-0 region, 37th District champions; head coach Aric Russell). While this ancient observer had Coach Russell's Camels a close second to Clark County at the beginning of the season, Campbell won the matchup between those two teams in the season opener and hasn't looked back. The Camels have lost three games to Kentucky teams by a total of nine points, all on the road, to 27-win Beechwood, 22-win Lexington Christian and 24-win Walton Verona. Campbell earned the 10th region tournament berth by surviving the usual 37th district gauntlet; squeaking by Bishop Brossart 63-59; then outlasting Scott 61-52.
10th Region player-of-the-year Reid Jolly did the heavy lifting in the district tourney as he has all season; notching a monster 37/11 double-double against the Mustangs and 25/15 in the district final. On the season, the senior (and I say this with the utmost respect - a LOT of 10th region coaches and players will be happy to see him graduate) big man averages a 22.6/10.1 double-double while connecting at a 65% clip from the field. Drew Wilson isn't far behind at over 18 per game; while Tanner Lawrence (9.6 PPG; 67.6% from the field; leads the region), Noah Wirth and Jordan Gross have all seen significant action in all 30 games.
Papa's peerless prediction: If the Devils can somehow get Jolly in foul trouble with their bigs; they can make a game of this one; but I can't see Campbell being seriously threatened. Camels 78, Devils 60.
Game 2 quarterfinal; Monday, February 25, 7:30 PM; Bourbon County - Mason County
Bourbon County (21-10, 11-5 region, 40th District runnerup, head coach Lamont Campbell). The Colonels are 4-2 for their last six games, but the two losses were by a combined four points to powerhouse Clark County; the second being a double-overtime thriller in the 40th district finals. They served notice in mid-December that they would be a factor in the region by traveling to Falmouth and thumping Dontaie Allen and the Wildcats by 18. It took a few games for some of their new players to jell, but Bourbon strung together 11 straight wins in mid-season, including 2A sectional victories over Mercer County and Scott. The Colonels avenged two losses to Montgomery County by taking the district opener prior to the thriller in the finals.
The Colonels boast a balanced scoring attack with Jace Wallace, CaMarr Myers and Nakyir Joyce all at 12+ points per game. Shooting has been spotty all year; but when Bourbon hits their threes at anything over their season's 29% average, they can play with just about anyone in the region.
Mason County (14-15, 6-8 region, 39th District champions, head coach Brian Kirk). The Royals enter the district tournament on only their second three-game winning streak of the season; being pushed by Augusta in the district semis and taken to the absolute limit by Bracken County in the finals with Jaylen Lofton leading the scoring parade in both games. Lofton leads the team at 14.9 PPG; while Xylon Frey pitches in just under 11 per game and is the squad's leading rebounder at 6.8. Carson Brammer, Jeremiah Jones and Braden May add another 26 points per contest.
As is the case with Bourbon County; Mason struggles with shooting. In their last four games - all at home - the Royals shot an abysmal 12-72 from behind the arc. For the season, they are 41% from the field, 27% from three-point land; and under 57% from the charity stripe. To their credit, Mason County responded after getting run out of The Fieldhouse by Brossart with a nice win over Rowan County prior to the tight district games.
Papa's peerless prediction: Bourbon won the regular-season matchup by 4 in early December when they were still putting the new pieces together. This has the potential to be the closest of the four quarterfinal tilts; but I think the Colonels make a few more threes and close the Royals' season out. Colonels 69, Royals 59.
Game 3 quarterfinal; Tuesday, February 26, 6:00 PM; Harrison County - Scott
Harrison County (11-18, 5-10 region, 38th District champions; head coach Larry Kendall). The Thorobreds took some heat for sitting a bunch of starters in a late-season district game loss to Robertson County, but the strategy worked as Harrison got a favorable district seed; defeated Pendleton County by 14 and edged the Black Devils 72-70 in the district final. Although only boasting 11 wins on the season, the 'breds fished up with seven wins out of their last twelve.
The reliable Spencer Free leads Harrison County with 18 PPG and is the tenth's ninth-leading scorer. He converts a deadly 88% from the free-throw line and is the team's leading rebounder at just under 6 per game. Running mates Quenton Turley and Thomas Thompson chip in 14 and 11 per contest; with Thompson shooting 53% from the field.
Scott (18-11, 8-3 region, 37th District runnerup; head coach Steve Fromeyer). The Eagles have wavered between the region's 3 and 4 spots pretty much all season long. Big late-season wins over Simon Kenton and Cooper served notice that Coach Fromeyer's squad was ready for the post-season. The Eagles coasted by Calvary Christian in the district semifinal behind 18 from senior forward Trey Meister and 17 from senior center Hunter Smith; but lost to Reid Jolly and Campbell County in the district final by 9.
Meister has been the Eagles' go-to guy all season, particularly with Chad Ohmer's injury woes. Ohmer is the team's second-leading scorer at 13.6 per game, but has missed thirteen games with a bum ankle. Nathan Joyce connects at over 61% from the field; with Ohmer, Smith and David Hunter making over half of their shots as well.
Papa's peerless prediction: The two teams met in Cynthiana early in the year; and in spite of Spencer Free's 40-point eruption, the Eagles prevailed by the score of 73-62. I forecast a similar result here. Eagles 75, Thorobreds 61.
Game 4 quarterfinal; Tuesday, February 26; 7:30 PM; Bracken County - George Rogers Clark
Bracken County (14-17, 7-9 region, 39th District runnerup; head coach Jason Hinson). The Polar Bears avenged an early-season blowout at the hands of Robertson County with a 1-point win in February; and very nearly pulled off the same feat against Mason County last week; falling 71-70 in the district finals as a couple of late shots failed to fall. Tad Fisher brought his football mentality to the hardwood in Bracken's district semifinal win over St. Patrick; pulling down 22 rebounds; while freshman Kason Hinson (last name not a coincidence) scored a game-high 24. Hinson bettered his performance in the district final against the Royals; scoring 27 and getting to the line 15 times.
For the season, the Bears boast balanced scoring from Jhace Cummins (11.5), Fisher (11.5), Hinson (11.4) and Collin Jefferson (9.8); and Fisher hauls down over 10 boards per contest. After a midseason swoon where Bracken struggled mightily to put the ball in the hole (under 40 points for three straight); they've scored 71, 93, 80 and 70 in four of their last five.
George Rogers Clark (24-7, 10-1 region, 40th District champions; head coach Josh Cook). After dropping the first game of the regular season to Campbell County; Clark didn't lose another tenth region game all year. An ambitious out-of-region schedule including the likes of Madison Central, Woodford County, Newport, Frederick Douglass and Henry Clay has the Cards battle-tested at tournament time. The Cards thumped Paris in the district opener; then hung on for dear life and got by Bourbon County in double overtime with a buzzer-beating triple from Jordan Graham to take the district crown for the second straight season.
Senior swingman Brennan Canada heads up an eight-man rotation at 15,3 points per game; with Graham and Jared Wellman each at 11.8 Canada also hauls down nearly ten boards a game; and the Cards average nearly 37 boards per contest. While GRC doesn't light up the stat sheet individually; they play a good schedule; as much talent in the starting rotation as anyone in the region and spread the ball around.
Papa's peerless prognostication: This one should be over early; and will most likely be the only regional game with a running clock; although stranger things have happened. Lots of Cardinals will wind up seeing action. Cardinals 82, Polar Bears 48.
Game 1, Friday, March 1, 6:00 PM. Papa's peerless prediction: Campbell County 76, Bourbon County 64
Game 2, Friday, March 1, 7:30 PM. Papa's peerless prediction: GRC 66, Scott 60
Saturday, March 2, 7:00 PM. Papa's peerless prediction: I'm gonna go against the grain here and say GRC 72, Campbell County 69. Instant classic.