(23-8: 59th District Champion / 15th Region Champion)
The Pikeville Panthers advanced to the state tournament for the first time in 18 years as they won the 15th Region this season. With great guard play, grit, and clutch performances by their star Wyatt Battaile, Pikeville blazed through the 15th Region Tournament by knocking off Belfry 72-62 in the quarterfinals, South Floyd 82-75 after trailing by seven in the 4th quarter in the semifinals, and Johnson Central 95-84 after trailing by 18 at the five minute mark of the 2nd quarter in the Championship. The Panthers are peaking at the right time, winning 6 in a row and 15 of their last 17 (one win was a forfeit by Piarist). They play poised under pressure even if they get down and have shown the ability to play a possession by possession half-court game, or up tempo pressing game. Look for them to mix up what they do with opportunistic presses and ball control at the end of quarters.
Pikeville is guard dominated and can shoot the 3FG really well. They won’t beat themselves and move the ball from side to side very well while looking for the best shot. You will see a lot of elite guard training in the way they play as every player will get in triple threat and look to score, ball fake, or shot fake before making a pass. Conner Roberts, Evan Rhodes, and Kyle Watkins make up a trio of solid players who can all dribble, pass, and shoot. They are difficult to press and rebound extremely well from the perimeter. The Panthers also have a go to, big time play maker, in junior wing Wyatt Battaile (currently the only player in the 15th region to hold a Division 1 scholarship offer for basketball – Mercer). Battaile is a tremendous athlete who can create his own shot with ease, run the point, and guard any position on the floor. He does a great job getting his teammates involved and doesn’t seem to force the game at any time. His calling card? The mid-range jump shot. Don’t be surprised to see a high flying dunk and a few deep triples from Mr. Battaile during the game, but make no mistake this is the person who is going to be making the decisions down the stretch for the Panthers.
Coaching is tremendous for Pikeville. Elisha Justice leads the way in his first year in the maroon and white after leaving a successful two year run at June Buchanan. On his bench he has Jason Booher (Pikeville AD and assistant coach) who coached him to two regional titles and a state title while at Shelby Valley. Booher has 1 state title and 5 regional titles to his credit (4 at Shelby Valley: 1 at Covington Holmes) and has been named state wide COY (2009). He is no stranger to pulling upsets at Rupp Arena and game plans very well when given time. Greg Newsome completes the all-star coaching staff, having led Shelby Valley to a regional title himself as head coach. Although he only has one regional title as a head coach, anyone in the mountains will tell you of his value as he has been part of 10 other regional titles as either a player or a coach. The man knows how to train and game plan players. Needless to say, Justice (Pitino disciple), Booher, and Newsome will have the Panthers ready to play come Wednesday afternoon.
Its also interesting to note that Pikeville’s opponents (Perry Central) got two players eligible to play early in the season (Prince and Iggy as they are often referred to). The two big’s played for Head Coach Elisha Justice last season at June Buchanan so he knows their abilities well.
Pikeville’s only true weakness might be rebounding and size. Cade Byers has the potential to put up big numbers down low, but against 6’8’’ and 6’9’’ players might struggle. Although they can, the Panthers don’t want to play a slow game against Perry Central and probably wont try to unless they have a late lead. The team is deep and very exciting to watch. Many will be impressed with Battaile as he could be could be a Mr. Basketball and Mr. Football candidate next season.
Quick Reference Guide
Head Coach: Elisha Justice
Head Coach Career Record: 55-28 (0.6627) (In 1st Season with Pikeville: 3rd Overall)
(32-20 while coaching June Buchanan [2015-2016])
Colors: Maroon and White
All Time Record: 1595-1087-1 (0.5941)(Tie occurred in 1916: No overtime rule)
Regional Titles: (10) 1949, 1950, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1957, 1959, 1974, 1999, 2017
Record Last 5 Years (Not including this season): Overall (87-70) vs. 15th Region (65-41)
2015-16 17-16 (Lost Regional Quarterfinal)
2014-15 17-13 (Lost 59th District)
2013-14 11-18 (Lost 59th District)
2012-13 22-11 (Lost Regional Semifinal)
2011-12 20-12 (Lost Regional Quarterfinal)