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2012 KY Sweet 16 Preview - Apollo vs. Clark County


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Apollo

 

Apollo prepped for the postseason by losing seven of its nine games after the middle of January.

 

Then came a squeaker past a 20-loss Owensboro team in the district semifinals and a crunching defeat at the hands of crosstown rival Daviess County.

 

So how did Apollo make it to the Sweet 16?

 

"We're a little bit of a surprise, even to ourselves," deadpanned coach Steve Sergeant. "We didn't go in the postseason with a lot of momentum."

 

Yet, somehow the Eagles are Lexington-bound, having beaten the two Third Region favorites, Ohio County and Muhlenberg County, in a pair of dramatic games in the regional tournament. Having come into the regional tournament with a .500 record, Apollo takes a 17-14 mark into its first-round game with Clark County.

 

"We looked at it as that we were a worse matchup for (Ohio) than they were for us," said Sergeant, who came to Apollo two years ago after coaching stops at Spalding University and Seneca. "We got by them and beat (Muhlenberg) on a tip-in with one second left, and here we are."

 

The tip-in was courtesy of 6-6, 224-pound forward Michael Berry, one-half of the reason the Eagles can cause so many matchup problems. The bigger (much bigger) half of the equation is 6-6 strongman Hunter Bivin, who is better known as one of the state's top college football prospects.

 

Bivin's recruitment has blown up in recent weeks, with him getting scholarship offers from a slew of BCS programs. He started the season at around 290 pounds, then shed 30 and is "back around 270 right now," according to Sergeant.

 

"He's really improved his game, learned how to use his body and shoulder and hips," Sergeant said. "He's skilled, not just a big body. He can put the ball on the floor a little and doesn't have a bad touch on his shot. He doesn't just take up space, but he knows how to use it."

 

Between them, Berry and Bivin average 24 points and 15 rebounds per game and lead a team that's been outrebounded in just two games since Christmas.

 

"Berry is a good athlete that can hit the mid-range jumper and his passing skills have improved. He's really gotten better in the last month, and those two have developed their game of playing with each other and feeding off each other.

 

"We call it 'playing two-on-two in the driveway,' which is what we call the lane. We're confident that if they get catch the ball in the lane, they're going to be able to score 65 percent of the time."

 

Sophomore Hunter Shelton, a 6-3 forward, averages 14 points per game and shoots nearly 50 percent from 3-point range.

 

"We don't force a lot of turnovers and we're not real quick," Sergeant said. "Most of our opportunities come off the rim with the rebound. We need to be efficient on offense."

 

 

Clark County

 

In some ways, Clark County is a Cinderella story.

 

The Cardinals return just one starter from a team that made it to the Sweet 16 quarter finals a year ago, losing to top-ranked Eastern. Among the losses were three Division I athletes, two of them basketball players.

 

In a sense, the return is even less than that.

 

"We only returned one point we scored in the state tournament, and that was from Charlie (Rogers)," said Clark coach Scott Humphrey. "Bopper (Stenzel) started but didn't score."

 

Yet the Cardinals, back to a guard-oriented team after the loss of Vinny Zollo, Cory Rogers and Co., responded with a season better than anyone expected. Clark is 30-5 and, after an early-season loss at Montgomery County, won every game within the 10th Region by double digits.

 

"It was a big surprise for our community and for all of our fans, but I don't think it was a surprise in our locker room," Humphrey said. "We felt like we had a legitimate chance to win the 10th Region.

 

"But winning 30 games, with the win streaks that we've been on and winning the region like we did ... it would be foolish to think we would've put something like that together."

 

Stenzel, a 6-1 senior, has emerged out of the long shadow cast by his brother Robbie (now at Eastern Kentucky) and become one of the Cardinals' go-to guys, scoring 17 points per game and shooting 35 percent from 3-point range.

 

Adam Fatkin, a 6-6 senior, leads Clark in scoring and rebounding, averaging just shy of a double-double at 19.7 points and 9.7 rebounds per game.

 

The Cardinals' forte, however, is defense.

 

"This team just embraces defense," Humphrey said. "There are times we look pretty ugly on the offensive end, we're inconsistent and we've had some long stretches where we haven't scored. But from tip to end, we're pretty good defensively.

 

Apollo, Clark's first-round foe, doesn't look to be a good match on paper, but the Eagles' regional tournament win over Ohio County was enough to convince Humphrey that they will be a tough out.

 

"We watched Ohio play over Christmas, and I had a lot of respect for them," Humphrey said. "Any team that can beat them is worthy of a state tournament appearance."

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Great preview. I might add on GRC. Watch the defense play of Charlie Rogers. The kids loves to play defense and feeds off of it. In the regional tourney he held leading scorer Nate McGoveny of Campbell Co to 0 points in the first half and only 8 for the game. Another one is Taylor Howard. This is the kid that was playing at the Y last year. Can hit the 3, plays good defense and good ball handler. Another good defense player is Vancleeve. Not a big scorer but can hit the 3 when needed. Good at getting steals and making the other team turn the ball over.

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