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Overview: As the competition picks up, we have some change near the top after four weeks of play. Highlights include: Timmy Dalton of Lawrence County and his continued assault on the record books, Mason Blair and Cole Crace making their case as the best back court in the state, and some middle of the pack teams being better than expected. The 15th Region is getting good as teams gear up for post-Christmas tournaments! Here is our updated rankings:

1. Johnson Central (9-1) – The Golden Eagles traveled to Raceland for the Derby Classic in week four and came away with the championship. In the first game of the tournament, JC opened with a Greenup County team they defeated on the road in the season opener 80-74. This game would see a similar outcome, but took a much different path in what could be described as a tale of two halves. In the first sixteen minutes of play, the Musketeers built a 23 point lead (1:32 mark of 2nd quarter), taking a commanding 20 point lead into halftime. The final sixteen minutes would be much different as the Golden Eagles came storming back after a spirited halftime speech. Powered by four Jacob Rice triples, a relentless Cole Crace attacking the basket, and Austin Davis hitting big shot after big shot in the third, Johnson Central was able to turn that 23 point deficit into a one point lead in just under 12 minutes of game time. JC would take the lead for good on a Mason Blair 3FG near the five minute mark of the 4th and would stretch that lead to as many as eight with just a few minutes to play. In the game, Cole Crace (28 points, 10 assists, 8 rebounds) and Mason Blair (20 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists) would pace four in double figures as Jacob Rice (16 points – 4 made 3FG) and Austin Davis (12 points – 4 made 3FG) had major contributions.

Game two of the tournament would pit the Golden Eagles against the Bearcats of Anderson County. Using the momentum from the previous game, JC jumped on Anderson 32-16 after one period of play and never looked back, winning 81-65. Crace (28 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists) and Blair (33 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals) would again come up big, leading JC to a good win over a talented team despite being out-rebounded 51-36.

The championship would see Johnson Central face Lawrence County for the second time on the season (JC won 93-78). In first meeting at Lawrence County, fans were treated to a show as Mason Blair scored 50 points (12 made 3FG) and Timmy Dalton scored 42 points (10 rebounds). The rematch would be more of the same. Blair would go for 31 points (7 made 3FG), 4 rebounds, and 2 assists while Dalton would go for 44 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists (Scoring 22 points in the fourth). The difference in the game, however, was Cole Crace. The super athletic guard had another impressive stat line (26 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists), getting to the basket whenever he wanted and finishing through contact. The Golden Eagles would win 75-73, having never trailed in the game and leading by as many as 20 in the first half (Timmy Dalton hit a 3FG as time expired in the game). This was the 2nd time Head Coach Tommy McKenzie and Johnson Central won the Derby Classic; also won the last time they entered (December 2011). In this year’s tournament, three teams came away with 2-1 records and the Golden Eagles gave each of them their only loss. Collectively Mason Blair and Cole Crace showed-out for Johnson Central, staking their claim as the best back-court duo in the state. JC will travel to Henry County in week five for the Henry County Invitational Tournament. They open with Shelby County on Tuesday night!

2. Sheldon Clark (6-2) – The Cardinals went 2-0 in week four with big district wins at home versus Paintsville (81-68) and Magoffin County (70-58). What is even more impressive about the wins is senior standout Dylan James did not play in the Paintsville game as he is still nursing a bad ankle sprain (suffered in Rowan County game last week) and played limited minutes in the Magoffin County game. In the Paintsville game Bradley Dalton (30 points, 7 made 3FG) and Dave Cantrall (20 points, 6 rebounds) led the way for Sheldon Clark as Dylan’s younger brother Trey James (6’8’’ 8th grader) got his first career start (6 points, 10 rebounds, 8 blocks). Balanced scoring was the key in the Magoffin County game as Sheldon Clark dominated in every facet of competition (the score was not indicative of how much the Cardinals controlled this game – complete stats were not available at time of print but Sheldon Clark never trailed). In week five Sheldon Clark will participate in the Traditional Bank Holiday Classic at Lexington Catholic where they open with Russellville. This is a deep, talented, team that has all the pieces to win the region.

3. Lawrence County (9-5) – Timmy Dalton continues to lead the young Bulldogs as his assault on the record books continue. In week four Lawrence County went 2-1 at Raceland with wins against Fairview (77-55) and Lewis County (92-69) and a loss in the Derby Classic Championship to Johnson Central (73-75). In the three games, Dalton went for 29 points and 17 rebounds (Fairview), 53 points and 14 rebounds (Lewis County), and 44 points and 9 rebounds (Johnson Central). He is averaging nearly 38 ppg and over 10 rpg on the season and is on pace for a top 5 scoring season in KHSAA history (should break 3,000 career point mark). Lawrence County is better than what most expected and move into the top three this week. Their losses have come to 15th Region power Johnson Central (twice), an undefeated Southwestern team, a solid Madison Southern team, and an 8-1 Boyd County team. Needless to say they have no bad losses and with Dalton have been in almost every game. In week five, the Bulldogs will be off as they rest for the Holiday season!

4. Magoffin County (6-4) – The Hornets dropped their only game in week four in a 58-70 loss at Sheldon Clark (57th District play). The score of the game was closer than the play indicated as Sheldon Clark led by as many as 20 in the 2nd half. Magoffin was forced to hit tough shot after tough shot with Jaren Lovely seeing constant double teams and Trenton Russell being face guarded almost the entirety of the game. The inability to spread the floor with shooters is something that must be addressed for the Hornets to climb back up the rankings and become the contender many thought they were in the preseason. As it stands, Lovely and Russell have a huge scoring burden for the Hornets to even be in the game against the top of the region. That’s a tall order with limited bench play but the season is still young and districts are two months away. The Hornets should get back on the win train as they compete in the Mountain School Boy Classic at Belfry in week five. They will face East Ridge, Letcher Central, and Shelby Valley in that order.

5. Pikeville (5-3) – Pikeville went 2-1 in week four with losses on the road to South Laurel (30-58: Running Clock early 3rd quarter) and Madison Southern (61-67) to go along with a win at home versus Ambassador Christian Academy out of Williamson, WV (74-38). Pikeville has the potential to be very good but it is still unknown as they have no quality wins to their credit. In fact, the Panthers five wins have come against opponents who have a combined record of 13-32. In week five, Pikeville will travel to Daytona Beach for the Sunshine Classic where they will open with Rowan County. No stats had been posted for week four at time of print.

6. East Ridge (5-3) –
The Warriors played no games in week four but will return to action in week five with the Mountain School Boy Classic at Belfry. In the event, East Ridge will face Magoffin County (rematch they won 39-38 earlier in the season), Fleming County, and Madison Southern in that order. Like always, they will be tough to beat in controlled, half-court game. Expect Randy McCoy to have them playing well with a full week of practice.

7. Paintsville (5-3) – The Tigers went 2-2 in week four with a loss in 57th District play to Sheldon Clark (61-68: Mason Moore 20 points, Seth Williams 16 points) and a loss in the opening game of the red bracket (lowest of three brackets) at the Smokey Mountain Classic in Gatlinburg, TN to Landrum, SC (62-98: Mason Moore 21 points, Seth Williams 14 points). Paintsville would bounce back while in Gatlinburg to win their last two games over South Floyd (64-57: Seth Williams 19 points, Mason Moore 17 points) and Concord Christian, TN (60-40: Seth Williams 22 points, Mason Moore 14 points). Per reports, three players were dismissed from the squad for violation of team rules while in Gatlinburg. It is unclear what impact, if any the loss of the players will have but it was good to close the week on a winning note, especially against a solid South Floyd team. In week five, Paintsville will travel to Greenup County for the Stultz Pharmacy Holiday Classic where they will open with East Carter and then face either the winner or loser between Anderson County and West Carter.

8. South Floyd (5-4) – The Raiders were a late addition to the Smokey Mountain Classic in Gatlinburg, TN as they were placed in the red bracket (Rated Yellow – Blue – Red in that order), replacing Richland, TN. South Floyd would only manage a 1-2 record in the tournament with an opening loss to Jackson County 76-88 followed by a loss to Paintsville 57-64. The men in silver and black would pick up a win in the 7th place game versus district rival Betsy Layne 71-63. Roger Tackett and Brady Conn continued to put up monster numbers (Conn averaging nearly 14 rpg on the season now) but South Floyd seems to be playing down to their competition with the talent they have. They will be in the Pine Mountain Classic in week five as they will face Pineville, McCreary Central, and Middlesboro in that order. Don’t be surprised to see South Floyd win all three games.

9. Belfry (3-4) – After opening the season strong, the Pirates went 0-3 in week four in the Peoples Exchange Bank Holiday Invitational at Henry Clay. Losses to Henderson County (62-70), Russellville (67-76), and Warren Central (40-65) will pay dividends later in the season as this could be the sleeper team in the region. In week five, Belfry will host the Mountain School Boy Classic where they will face Fleming County, Madison Southern, and Prestonsburg in that order. Look for them to pick up a few wins this week!

10. Pike Central (6-5) – The Hawks are tough to figure out as they have good talent at key positions, but can’t seem to bring the needed intensity night in and night out. Week four saw them go 1-2 in the Berea Invitational Tournament with losses to CAL-Louisville (42-74) and Barbourville (65-68) and a win against Grace Baptist Academy, MS (77-41). Good competition that will prepare them for post season play nonetheless. In week five, Pike Central has only one game against June Buchanan at home.

11. Shelby Valley (7-3) – Week four saw the Wildcats go 1-0 with a bounce back win against June Buchanan 50-43 after a three game losing streak. The Wildcats have no quality wins on the season but will have a chance to get one in week five as they face Madison Southern, Trimble County, and Magoffin County in that order (Mountain School Boy Classic at Belfry). This team is young, but yet to strike any fear into the top teams of the region despite the good record.

12. Allen Central (4-7) – The Rebels went 1-3 in week four with their only win coming against June Buchanan at home 70-55. Allen Central would go on to lose all three games in the blue bracket (Second highest rated bracket) of the Smokey Mountain Classic at Galtinburg, TN although the last two were very competitive with close final margins. The Rebels will make the trip to Greenup County for the Stultz Pharmacy Holiday Classic in week five where they will open with Greenup County then face the either the winner or loser of Bath County and Bishop Brossart. Despite being ranked so low, Allen Central is still expected to be in the regional tournament as either a winner or runner-up from the 58th District.

13. Phelps (3-5) – The Hornets went 1-1 in week four with a running clock win over Riverside Christian at home 79-44 and a tough loss on the road to Raceland 51-58. Junior standout Christian Mounts was over 20 points in both contest. Phelps will be in the Mountain School Boy Classic in week five at Belfry where they will face Trimble County, Prestonsburg, and Fleming County in that order. The Hornets will be favored in two of the three games.

14. Prestonsburg (1-9) –
The Blackcats dropped two more in week four in the form of a 40-65 home loss the Elliott County and a 63-73 loss on the road to Fleming County. As it stands, the only win on the season is still Piarist. Prestonsburg will compete in the Mountains School Boy Classic at Belfry in week five where they will face Letcher Central, Phelps, and Belfry in that order. The talent is young and still learning how to compete, but you have to wonder how many wins are in the future as the schedule does not get much easier.

15. Betsy Layne (0-11) – The Bobcats picked up three more losses in week four as they fell to Forrest, TN (68-88), Concord Christian, TN (45-69), and South Floyd (63-71) all in the Smokey Mountain Classic in Gatlinburg (lowest rated bracket – red). This is going to be a long year for Betsy Layne and Head Coach Keathley as they have no games left on their schedule where they will be the favorite. Hopefully a win is in the future for this young squad!

16. Piarist (1-11) – The Knights got their first win since February 10th of 2015 (defeated Riverside Christian 78-54 then) as they defeated Riverside Christian 54-40 this past Friday in the Rose Hill All Private School Invitational. It’s good to see them get a win and hopefully they can pick up a few more as the year progresses. They are improving at scoring the ball!

Note: Teams in the Smokey Mountain Classic cannot chose their bracket. They are slotted by tournament directors.

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