Saturday, February 28, 2009

First Region boys pairings

Carlisle County (20-5) vs. Marshall County (19-9), 6 p.m.
Paducah Tilghman (21-5) vs. Mayfield (14-11), 7:45 p.m.

Graves County (20-9) vs. Fulton County (10-15), 6 p.m.
Calloway County (22-6) vs. Heath (11-15), 7:45 p.m.

March 9
Semifinals, 6 p.m.

March 10
Championship, 7 p.m.

Interesting ... Fourth Region officials will work the First Region tournament on both the boys' and girls' sides. No one can remember that ever happening before. As long as anyone can recall, the First Region has always been worked by the Second or Third region officials.

The district winners are placed first in the bracket, which means that Marshall had a 50-50 chance of a first-round meeting with Tilghman. They've generally been considered the two favorites for much of the season, and their regular-season game was postponed because of the ice storm that rolled through western Kentucky in late January. The game wasn't rescheduled.

Instead, we got the next best thing: Marshall and Carlisle haven't played each other this season, either. They were postponed twice because of inclement weather.

Carlisle coach Brian O'Neill certainly wasn't surprised. The Comets have drawn Marshall in the first round in their last six regional tournament appearances, dating back to 2002. They also beat the Marshals in the 2001 semifinals on the way to the regional title.

"I've drawn Marshall in volleyball and softball," said O'Neill, who is also Carlisle's athletic director. "I just knew we would get them again."

More details to follow.

First Region girls pairings

Paducah Tilghman (22-7) vs. Carlisle County (10-16), 6 p.m.
Ballard Memorial (22-7) vs. Calloway County (21-7), 7:45 p.m.

Hickman County (11-10) vs. Graves County (12-13), 6 p.m.
Marshall County (22-7) vs. Heath (12-11), 7:45 p.m.

Semifinals, 6 p.m.

Championship, 7 p.m.

Marshall County comes out smelling like a rose, with all of the other top contenders — Calloway County, Ballard Memorial and Paducah Tilghman — in the other bracket.

The first-round matchup of Ballard and Calloway not only matches up two of the top three teams in the region, but there are some lingering bad feelings stemming from last year's regional semifinal, when many Lady Bombers supporters felt that Calloway went out of its way to run up the score on them in the fourth quarter.

More details later.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Free throws matter ...

They ain't sexy. They don't make the highlight reel. And there are definitely no ads that claim "chicks dig free throws."

But they often decide games, especially in the postseason.

Case in point: Tuesday night's 2-3 seed district tournament games in the First Region boys race were each decided by three points or less, and in each case free throws were a huge factor in the outcome.

In the First District, Fulton City was 9-for-27 from the line, losing to arch rival Fulton County 52-51 on a tip-in by star sophomore Leonard Smith in the final five seconds.

In the Second District, Heath was 26-for-28 from the line, nipping Lone Oak 62-59 to avenge three regular-season losses to the Purple Flash. Eric Straub was perfect in 14 tries, as was teammate Jordan Dukek in a half-dozen shots.

In the Third District, Tyrese Murrell and Jordan Elliott each hit a pair from the line in the final minute as Mayfield held off stubborn St. Mary 51-48.

• In that vein, Carlisle County coach Brian O'Neill spent the first half of the season wondering why star forward Caleb Hardy was having so many problems from the foul line.

"At the first of January, he was at about 48 percent," O'Neill said of Hardy. "I watched film of him to try and see what he was doing wrong. Finally, one day in practice I started shooting free throws with him."

O'Neill found a slight flaw in Hardy's form.

"He was turning just a little bit when he shot, and it was throwing him off," O'Neill said. "It wasn't anything you could see unless you were right there with him. And since then, he's shooting over 70 percent."

• Congratulations to Calloway County's Kayla Cunningham, who is now the school's all-time leading scorer.

Cunningham needed just two points in Monday's district tournament win over Community Christian to break the record held by Stan Key, who graduated in 19xx with 1,997 points and played his college basketball at Kentucky.

Cunningham, who led the Lady Lakers to the regional title as a sophomore and hopes to make her second trip to the state tournament in Bowling Green, scored 15 points on Monday and is at 2,011 points entering Friday night's district final against Marshall County and its star, Jessica Holder.

The two will be teammates at Murray State next season, and Holder is already Marshall's all-time leading scorer. This season, she broke the girls' mark held by Stephanie Gossum and the all-time record held by Daniel Ard.

Monday, February 23, 2009 rankings ... final edition


1. Scott County
2. Covington Holmes
3. Louisville Eastern
4. Jeffersontown
5. Shelby Valley
6. Lexington Catholic
7. Elliott County
8. Franklin County
9. Corbin
10. Louisville Ballard
11. Anderson County
12. Boone County
13. Mason County
14. Clark County
15. Lexington Tates Creek
16. Louisville Trinity
17. Lexington Bryan Station
18. Warren Central
19. Christian County
20. Adair County


1. Louisville Iroquois
2. Elizabethtown
3. Montgomery County
4. North Hardin
5. Lexington Christian
6. Louisville Sacred Heart
7. Franklin-Simpson
8. Christian Academy of Louisville
9. Rockcastle County
10. Louisville Manual
11. Louisville Mercy
12. Louisville Butler
13. Nelson County
14. Lincoln County
15. Simon Kenton
16. Casey County
17. Fort Thomas Highlands
18. Marion County
19. Rowan County
20. Henderson County

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Postseason primer ... girls

Here is a look at some things to watch this week, as March Madness begins in the girls' high school ranks:

• When Murray and Marshall County tangle on Tuesday night in the Fourth District semifinals, one of the First Region's top four teams will be eliminated from the postseason.

Murray showed it belonged among the regional elite with nailbiter losses to Calloway County and Marshall on back-to-back nights a little over a week ago. The arrival of eighth-grader Janssen Starks on the scene (she transferred from Graves County to Murray in early January) has elevated the Lady Tigers from a borderline top-four team into a definite top-three club.

Starks' ability to play the point and score from the perimeter (she torched Marshall for 30 points in their last meeting) presents teams with another worry on the defensive end and takes a little more heat off of freshmen Haley Armstrong and Shelby Crouch and senior Stacey McClure.

Marshall, meanwhile, has struggled to find ways to score at times since Laken Tabor's surprise transfer to Crittenden County took away their best perimeter threat. And Marshall has looked vulnerable at times in the last two weeks with the close call against Murray and a loss at Ballard Memorial.

Jessica Holder has to shoulder the scoring burden for Marshall, and she can, as evidenced by her splendid 43-point showing against Paducah Tilghman. The only other Lady Marshals who have shown themselves to be viable scoring threats are center Hannah Ellis and guard Jordan Gilland, who has shown considerable improvement as a perimeter threat.

Marshall may also get limited time from forward Lena Bohannon, who sprained an ankle late in the Ballard game and is considered questionable for the Murray game.

• The Third District might be the most interesting tournament to watch. Top-seeded Ballard Memorial is the favorite, of course, but the Lady Bombers lost at home to Mayfield two weeks ago and St. Mary doesn't present the easiest first-round foe.

Mayfield has beaten Graves County twice this season, both times in close games, and could sweep the Lady Eagles for the first time in school history. This is the game that might be the hardest pick in the region this week.

• Ballard Memorial's win over Marshall County was the first for that program in more than three decades. Our story on last week's game mentioned that neither coach — Ballard's Kevin Estes and Marshall's Howard Beth — was sure whether it had happened before.

However, a pair of Ballard County-based readers pointed out that the Lady Bombers did knock off Marshall twice in the 1970s, in the infancy years of girls' basketball.

Postseason primer ... boys

Here is a look at some things to watch this week, as March Madness begins in the area high school ranks:

• Calloway County's boys opened some eyebrows with last week's win at Paducah Tilghman, although neither team was at full strength. The Tornado, which hadn't lost a game to a First Region foe all season, was without starting guard Bryon Wright (sprained ankle) and reserve Trevonte Cole (bruised wrist), its two top perimeter threats.

Calloway was missing guard Brock Simmons, who was out with the flu.

Two reasons that the Tornado's losses were a little more staggering — Wright is a lock to make The Paducah Sun's All-Purchase Team and Cole is also the Tornado's sixth man. Those two players represent a big chunk of Tilghman's seven- or eight-man rotation.

Both players are healthy and available for tonight's Second District opener with Reidland.

Simmons is a solid player, but not at Wright's level, and even so, Bruce Lane still had a solid eight-man rotation to employ that night.

Throw in the Tornado's 3-for-16 performance at the free throw line in a two-point loss, and there is still little reason to consider Tilghman to be anything less than a top-shelf regional contender.

• Fulton City will be without center Cody Taylor for the Bulldogs' matchup with archrival Fulton County in the First District semifinals.

Taylor was ejected from last week's loss to Heath. Because it was his second ejection of the season, Taylor must sit out two games. The first was the regular-season finale against Calloway County, so Taylor would be eligible to return to action for the district finals, if Fulton City makes it there.

How does Taylor's loss hurt? At 6-4 and 225 pounds, he is the Bulldogs' defensive enforcer and he's shown a great deal of development as a shot blocker. He's also a big body to match up with Fulton County's inside tandem of mega-talented 6-4 sophomore Leonard Smith and 6-6 center Tony Udley.

Fulton City should be encouraged by its recent efforts without Taylor — the Bulldogs waxed Fulton County 67-40 last weekend without Taylor in the game that was resumed after his technical foul and ejection triggered the events that led to the game's suspension.

And they only lost to 60-50 to Calloway County in the first installment of Taylor's two-game suspension.

• If you want to watch Wednesday night's Fourth District grudge match between Calloway County, you might want to get there well before the 7 p.m. tipoff.

Murray's Tiger Gym holds around 1,700 fans and should be jam-packed for the third meeting between the two archrivals. Calloway has beaten the injury-riddled Tigers twice this season, but Murray won the two regular-season games last season before then-freshman Brock Simmons lit it up from the perimeter (five 3-pointers, 23 points) to lead the Lakers to the win.

After watching the Tigers lose a close game to Carlisle County on Friday night, it's obvious that guard Cole Hurt — a likely All-Purchase Team pick — is bothered by a knee brace that has limited his lateral movement and taken away much of the elevation on his jump shot.

Forward Kwame Duffy may get a minute or two here and there as he attempts to come back from a torn Achilles' tendon, but it's clear that he is miles away from being a major contributor.

"I've been in basketball since the beginning of time, and I've never had a season like this for injuries," Greene said, who has also had Aaron Jones (separated shoulder) and Blake Darnall (badly sprained wrist) out at various times. "It's really made it hard to get some momentum going into the postseason."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Messing with tradition ...

Each Tuesday, I make an appearance on Travis Turner's sports talk show on WOFC (AM-1130) in Murray, and this week the subject drifted to a change in the high school basketball postseason that we would each like to see.

In our view, the current district-regional tournament format has, in some ways, become obsolete. In many cases, it forces some of each region's top teams (in the stronger districts) to decide their fate in the first game of the postseason, while some teams of lesser quality skate through easier brackets in less competitive districts.

As a basketball fan, I'm all for a format that allows us to get as many of the best teams we possibly can to the regional tournament, and I feel this proposal helps do the trick.

Here is the nuts and bolts of my proposal for a change in the regional tournament format, followed by an example of how it would work.

For starters, keep the existing four districts intact. Let each district determine its champion with regular-season play, and then use those results to seed the regional tournament.

This year, the four No. 1 seeds on the boys' side are Carlisle County, Paducah Tilghman, Graves County and Marshall County. The No. 2 seeds are Fulton City, Lone Oak, Mayfield and Calloway County.

We start by awarding the top four seeds to the district champions, with the order of seeding determined by a vote of the region's coaches. For argument's sake, let's say the voting plays out like this:

1. Paducah Tilghman
2. Marshall County
3. Carlisle County
4. Graves County

Now, the No. 2 seeds:

5. Calloway County
6. Lone Oak
7. Mayfield
8. Fulton City

The rest of the field is seeded from 9-16:

9. Murray
10. Heath
11. St. Mary
12. Fulton County
13. Ballard Memorial
14. Community Christian
15. Hickman County
16. Reidland

Then we match up teams in the first round based on seeding, with one caveat — each of the No. 1 seeds host two games, their own plus the teams that they could meet in the second round. In effect, they become district tournament hosts as the reward for earning the No. 1 seed.

That leaves us with these pairings:

(at Carlisle County)
Carlisle County vs. Community Christian
Lone Oak vs. St. Mary

(at Paducah Tilghman)
Paducah Tilghman vs. Reidland
Fulton City vs. Murray

(at Graves County)
Graves County vs. Ballard Memorial
Calloway County vs. Fulton County

(at Marshall County)
Marshall County vs. Hickman County
Mayfield vs. Heath

The first-round games are played early in the week ... let's say the girls on Monday and the boys on Tuesday. The championship games are played on Thursday and Friday.

Again, for argument's sake, let's say the "district finals" play out this way:

Lone Oak over Carlisle County
Paducah Tilghman over Murray
Calloway County over Graves County
Marshall County over Mayfield

Those eight teams advance to the regional tournament and the draw is conducted so that teams that just played each other will be placed in opposite brackets. Just as always, the winners will meet the losers in the first round.

Let's say the draw goes like this:

Calloway County vs. Murray
Marshall County vs. Carlisle County
Lone Oak vs. Mayfield
Paducah Tilghman vs. Graves County

The regional tournament then proceeds as always.

Now let's look at the girls' seedings

District champions
1. Calloway County
2. Ballard Memorial
3. Paducah Tilghman
4. Hickman County

District runners-up
5. Marshall County
6. Mayfield
7. Lone Oak
8. Fulton County

The rest of the field
9. Murray
10. Community Christian
11. Graves County
12. Heath
13. St. Mary
14. Carlisle County
15. Reidland
16. Fulton City

That gives us these sites and pairings

(at Hickman County)
Hickman County vs. St. Mary
Marshall County vs. Heath

(at Paducah Tilghman)
Paducah Tilghman vs. Carlisle County
Mayfield vs. Graves County

(at Ballard Memorial)
Ballard Memorial vs. Reidland
Lone Oak vs. Community Christian

(at Calloway County)
Calloway County vs. Fulton City
Fulton County vs. Murray

Let's say the "districts" play out like this:

Marshall County over Hickman County
Paducah Tilghman over Mayfield
Ballard Memorial over Community Christian
Calloway County over Murray

And suppose the draw works out like this:

Ballard Memorial vs. Murray
Marshall County vs. Mayfield
Paducah Tilghman vs. Hickman County
Calloway County vs. Community Christian

There are plenty of arguments against such a change. For starters, district tournament are generally money-makers because of the proximity of the schools and the established rivalries. And there is the time-honored tradition of district tournaments.

On the other hand, the regional tournament is the showcase event of the season. It just makes sense to use a format that allows the best teams to get there.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009 rankings ...


1. Scott County
2. Covington Holmes
3. Louisville Eastern
4. Jeffersontown
5. Shelby Valley
6. Lexington Catholic
7. Elliott County
8. Louisville Ballard
9. Corbin
10. Anderson County
11. Franklin County
12. Clark County
13. Lexington Bryan Station
14. Boone County
15. Mason County
16. Lexington Tates Creek
17. Louisville Trinity
18. Warren Central
19. Louisville Moore
20. Louisville Seneca


1. Louisville Iroquois
2. Elizabethtown
3. Montgomery County
4. North Hardin
5. Christian Academy of Louisville
6. Lexington Christian
7. Franklin-Simpson
8. Louisville Sacred Heart
9. Louisville Manual
10. Rockcastle County
11. Louisville Mercy
12. Louisville Butler
13. Lincoln County
14. Nelson County
15. Fort Thomas Highlands
16. Lexington Dunbar
17. Casey County
18. Simon Kenton
19. Marion County
20. Rowan County

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Basketball musings ... no Tilghman-Marshall game

Paducah Tilghman and Marshall County are still generally considered the First Region's top boys' teams, but there is a possibility they won't play each other this season.

If they do collide, it will be in the regional tournament.

Area teams have been reshuffling schedules since a winter storm effectively called off basketball for nearly two weeks, and the Tornado has been the big loser with schools scrambling to complete their district obligations. Tilghman hasn't been able to reschedule any of the four games it has lost to inclement weather.

"Three of them were home games for us," Stieg said, referring to the lost revenues from games with Fulton County, Reidland and Graves County. "We're going to end up losing five games this season."

The Marshall matchup was scheduled for Jan. 30. Tilghman also lost a game with Christian County in early December when the Colonels cancelled because it fell on the same night that their football team was playing for the state championship.

Tilghman, which takes a 15-4 record into tonight's game with Heath, will end up playing only 23 regular-season contests.

• Most of the area district races are mostly settled, or will be after tonight's action. Two districts remain largely in play on the girls' side, the Third and Fourth.

Ballard Memorial has the inside track on the No. 1 seed in the Third and can clinch in tonight with a win over Mayfield, and St. Mary isn't completely locked into the fourth seed. The Lady Vikings hope Ballard is ripe for an upset in LaCenter on Thursday night, considering it would be the Lady Bombers' third district game in four nights. St. Mary win could force a tie for the No. 3 seed with either Graves County or Mayfield.

On the boys' side, the No. 1 seed in the Second District is up for grabs. Tilghman is 4-0 in district play going into tonight's game with Heath and hosts Lone Oak (4-1) on Friday night, a team it beat by only one point in early January.

• The Fulton City-Fulton County boys' game that was suspended because of a fight has been rescheduled for Feb. 14 (Valentine's Day, of all coincidences) and will be played at Fulton City. The general public, however, will not be allowed to attend the game.

Feb. 2 was the original makeup date, with that game scheduled to be played at Hickman County. However, this time the decision was made to play the game at Fulton City. Gametime is 5 p.m.

• Laken Tabor has been granted eligibility at Crittenden County. Tabor, who transferred from Marshall County in early January, has played in a couple of games but hasn't had any more time to work into the lineup since the Lady Rockets were sidelined for two weeks by the winter storm. Tabor, a fine perimeter shooter, could be a big factor in the Fifth District tournament.

• Covington Holmes, which is widely ranked as one the states's top two teams, will play at Marshall County's Hoop Fest next season. Holmes, coached by Carlisle County native David Henley, will have three Division I prospects in the senior class next season — 6-7 forward Elijah Pittman and guards Ricardo and Jeremiah Johnson.

Hoop Fest founder Steve Woodward also expects several other top Kentucky teams to attend, including Scott County, Jeffersontown, Christian County and Warren Central.

• Community Christian's overtime loss to Murray got me to thinking about the plight of the school's girls' program, which has made a splash in the All A Classic in each of the last three seasons and has established itself as one of the region's better outfits.

Under Mary Lee Evers' tutelage, the Lady Warriors have become a program to be reckoned with. Evers has quietly established herself as one of the region's best coaches, showing the ability to develop players and withstand what appear to be significant personnel losses on a yearly basis. The latest shining example is 6-2 sophomore forward Bonnie Durrett, who is starting to become a force on both ends of the floor and has the ability to play on the outside.

Unfortunately, the move to the Fourth District a couple of years ago has put CCA in a tough position. In any other district, the Warriors would have a decent shot or better to make the regional tournament, something it's never done.

But locked in with Marshall County, Calloway County and a Murray team that has two freshmen and an eighth grader among its top six players, CCA — even with just one senior, point guard Laura Evers, on this year's roster — faces an uphill climb to ever get to the Regional Special Events Center floor in March.

"Obviously, depth and numbers are always going to be our biggest challenge," Evers said during the All A Classic.

That might change with the pending consolidation of Heath, Lone Oak and Reidland into McCracken County High. Many observers believe that Paducah's two private schools — St. Mary and CCA — could benefit from it, with parents looking to send their kids to a smaller-school environment.

Stay tuned.

• Massac County's girls split with Herrin last week, settling for a three-way tie with Herrin and West Frankfort for the River-to-River Conference title. The Lady Patriots could play Herrin in Thursday night's regional finals at Anna-Jonesboro, their potential third meeting in 11 days.

The Patriots' boys squad, fresh off an impressive second-half effort at Murphysboro that put Massac in control of the league race, could see the Red Devils again in the regional finals. Massac and Murphysboro are the top two seeds in the regional tournament, also at Anna-Jonesboro. rankings ...


1. Scott County
2. Covington Holmes
3. Louisville Eastern
4. Louisville Ballard
5. Jeffersontown
6. Lexington Bryan Station
7. Shelby Valley
8. Lexington Catholic
9. Mason County
10. Elliott County
11. Corbin
12. Louisville Seneca
13. Lexington Dunbar
14. Franklin County
15. Clark County
16. Christian County
17. Lexington Tates Creek
18. Anderson County
19. Louisville Trinity
20. Warren Central


1. Louisville Iroquois
2. Montgomery County
3. Franklin-Simpson
4. North Hardin
5. Louisville Manual
6. Elizabethtown
7. Lexington Sacred Heart
8. Christian Academy of Louisville
9. Lexington Christian
10. Lexington Dunbar
11. Rockcastle County
12. Louisville Mercy
13. Louisville Butler
14. Lincoln County
15. Rowan County
16. Fort Thomas Highlands
17. Lexington Catholic
18. Ohio County
19. Casey County
20. Nelson County

Thursday, February 5, 2009 rankings ...


1. Covington Holmes
2. Scott County
3. Louisville Eastern
4. Jeffersontown
5. Louisville Ballard
6. Mason County
7. Lexington Bryan Station
8. Louisville Seneca
9. Shelby Valley
10. Lexington Catholic
11. Elliott County
12. Corbin
13. Lexington Dunbar
14. Louisville Trinity
15. Franklin County
16. Christian County
17. Clark County
18. Anderson County
19. Bardstown
20. Scott


1. Louisville Iroquois
2. Louisville Manual
3. Franklin-Simpson
4. Montgomery County
5. North Hardin
6. Elizabethtown
7. Louisville Sacred Heart
8. Christian Academy of Louisville
9. Louisville Mercy
10. Lexington Christian
11. Lexington Dunbar
12. Lexington Catholic
13. Louisville Butler
14. Rowan County
15. Rockcastle County
16. Lincoln County
17. Fort Thomas Highlands
18. Ohio County
19. Casey County
20. Nelson County