Bluegrasspreps.com - Region 3 - Apollo Sweet 16 Preview
Apollo entered the season with some unfinished business. Last year’s team went 22-6 in the regular season and was the favorite heading into tournament play, but they were bounced in the first round of district by Daviess County in overtime. The Eagles had to go back to the drawing board without its leaders, 3rd region player of the year, Zach Hopewell and point guard Tabor Shadowen. The team would return a solid core of seniors in Nathan Boyle, Alex Gray, James Graham and Cory Wilson. Over the summer, guard Hunter Shelton returned to the program from prep school and Angel Saldana transferred into the area from Puerto Rico, after being displaced from a devastating hurricane. Star baseball player Zach Greer came out to play basketball for the first time since middle school.
The season began with the 4th region champions, Warren Central. It was an intense back and forth game, that saw Apollo’s game winning layup rim off at the buzzer. They lost by 1. That became the theme for most of the regular season. 10 of the teams 14 losses came by 4 points or less, with 4 of those coming in overtime. Every time it looked like they were about to turn the corner, they would suffer a puzzling defeat. They would find a few nice wins ,like at 1st region champion McCracken County, or a Zach Greer tip in at the buzzer to knock off Muhlenberg County in overtime, or an upset win over Owensboro in early February. Every success however, was met with a setback. Tough overtime losses to Daviess County and Hancock County near the end of the season made it seem like the team would never turn the corner.
Owensboro won a coin toss with Daviess County to win the #1 seed. That would match them up against Apollo. Owensboro was a heavy favorite to win the region, but Apollo had just defeated them 3 weeks prior. Apollo came out and played one of its best games of the season and defeated the Devils 61-58. They would go on to lose the 9th district tourney to Owensboro Catholic, after Luke Hayden drilled a contested 30 foot bucket as time expired to take the game into overtime. Even with the loss you could tell that Apollo had turned the corner.
Right out of the gate, they drew Meade County, who many agreed was the toughest draw of any district champion. Alex Gray set the tone with his defense, in Apollo’s box and one against Meade star Aiden Matthews. His offense did the rest, especially red hot Hayden Shelton who finished the game with 23. They moved on to take on Ohio County, a team who had defeated them in the regular season. While the Hartford Eagles played well, but Apollo played on a championship level. They survived a barrage of 3 point shots from Ohio and got an unbelievable game from James Graham (who was 8-8 with 8 blocks on defense) to advance to the title game. In the championship, they would face Owensboro Catholic for a 5th time. Apollo came out of the gates and played what was probably their best half of the season, led by Hayden Shelton's 3 triples. They were able to survice a Tim Riley adjustment with a big time 4th quarter effort from Alex Gray. The Eagles finished the season 1-4 against the Aces, but it was the only one that really mattered. This is Apollo's 10th 3rd region title and its first since 2012.
PG - Angel Saldana 6-1, (8.6 ppg) - one of the most improved players in the 3rd region, Saldana is as quick as any guard ive seen all season. Needs to play under control and stay away from falling in love with the jump shot. This is his first season of organized basketball, which is impressive when you watch him play.
SG - Hayden Shelton - 6-2 (13.5 ppg) - Shelton has been absolutely locked in during the postseason, hitting big shot after big shot. He spent last year playing in prep school. He is a great pure shooter than can find his mid range jumper off the dribble.
SG - Nathan Boyle - 6-4 (15.3 ppg) - Boyle is one of the best pure shooters ive have ever seen come through Apollo. He has drawn the attention of every team Apollo has played this year, and because of that he has developed an ability to drive to the basket. He has one of quickest releases ive seen from a shooter.
F - Alex Gray - 6-3 (12.5 ppg/6.4 rpg) - Gray is the garbage man for Apollo. Hes probably played all 5 spots on the floor during his career. He thrives in his role under the basket, getting rebounds and playing tough defense.
C - James Graham - 6-7 (8.5 ppg/6.3 rpg) - Graham has really developed into a player over the past few weeks. Hes been a great shot blocker all year, getting about 6 per game on average. It hasnt been until recently that he developed confidence on offense. He must stay out of foul trouble. If he does, he has a chance to turn some heads at Rupp.