Friday, January 29, 2010

Boys' Sweet 16 draw ...

This is the draw for the boys' Sweet 16, which will be at Rupp Arena:

Wednesday, March 17
Region 4 vs. Region 16
Region 7 vs. Region 8
Region 9 vs. Region 2
Region 11 vs. Region 13

Thursday, March 18
Region 12 vs. Region 3
Region 1 vs. Region 15
Region 10 vs. Region 5
Region 6 vs. Region 14

Ballard Memorial coach Nick Chaykowsky will be a popular guy in March. His Bombers fell to 15th Region champion Shelby Valley in the first round of the All A Classic, so he has a game film readily available for the First Region champion. Shelby Valley, led by all-state point guard Elisha Justice, is the prohibitive favorite to repeat in the 15th Region.

The toughest draw in the state goes to the Second Region champion, most likely Christian County. The Colonels could potentially have to beat defending state champion Covington Holmes (Christian lost to Holmes in overtime at Montgomery County two weeks ago) and Scott County's band of transfers just to get to Saturday morning's semifinals.

Sitting pretty are Clark County and Shelby Valley, the only legitimate top-10 caliber teams in the lower bracket.

Girls' Sweet 16 draw ...

First of all, the nuts and bolts of the draw for the girls' Sweet 16 at Western Kentucky University:

Wednesday, March 10
Region 6 vs. Region 2
Region 7 vs. Region 5
Region 16 vs. Region 14
Region 13 vs. Region 8

Thursday, March 11
Region 4 vs. Region 9
Region 11 vs. Region 15
Region 1 vs. Region 12
Region 10 vs. Region 3

For the First Region representative, it's a tough draw against the 12th Region champion. Lincoln County is currently 15-4 and ranked fifth statewide in the Cantrall Ratings, while Rockcastle County is 18-3 and ranked 10th by Cantrall.

Potentially, the monster matchup of the first round is the second game of Wednesday's afternoon session, which could be Marion County taking on Louisville Manual — many feel those are the best two teams in the state, and Marion has some star power in Makayla Epps, the daughter of former Kentucky point guard Anthony Epps. One of her teammates is the daughter of former Louisville player Tick Rogers.

Marion will have to get by Elizabethtown in the Fifth Region, and Manual could face challenges from Mercy Christian Academy of Louisville.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hoops talk ...

For Community Christian's girls, the road to Richmond is built for speed. To get to the All A Classic First Region championship game, the depth-starved Lady Warriors will have to get by a pair of much deeper, up-tempo teams in Hickman County and Ballard Memorial.

"In the past, it would have been more of a concern. We did it after Christmas and handled it pretty well," said CCA coach Mary Lee Evers, referring to games with Tennessee squads Henry County and Clarksville Northeast in a four-games-in-three-days stretch in Murray's Lady Tiger Classic. "We're in pretty good shape. Sometimes we get going a little too fast, but that's something we're working on."

In recent years, the All A Classic has become the showcase for CCA's improving program. The Lady Warriors made it to the regional finals in 2007 and 2008 and were beaten 55-52 by Murray in the semifinals last year. CCA is the No. 3 seed this week, but the consensus is that — behind the forward duo of Bonnie Durrett and Cari McMullen — they're a legitimate threat to win the tournament.

Ironically, one of the answers to CCA's depth issues was in attendance as it disposed of Hickman on Tuesday night. Guard Caitlin Rust, who started for CCA a year ago before going off to a military school last fall, was watching the game from the bleachers at Graves County's Eagles' Nest.

"She's already finished school and enrolled at Mid-Continent (University), and she is going to play there," Evers said. "Yeah, we could use her."

• Throughout the week, First Region officials — primarily at the All A Classic — are working with pink whistles as part of an effort to raise awareness of breast cancer and money for cancer research.

Each official is donating at least one game check to the Jimmy V Foundation. Cancer struck especially close to home last spring, when longtime official Randall Cruse was diagnosed with cancer in his mouth and throat. Cruse underwent surgery and extensive treatment, both radiation and chemotherapy, and returned to the court in December.

• How strong is Massac County's Superman Classic? Two of the First Region's top three teams, Paducah Tilghman and Marshall County, were beaten in the first round, as was a Calloway County club that is in the top half of the regional hierarchy. As it turns out, Tilghman is guaranteed to meet either Marshall or Calloway on Saturday in a consolation-bracket game.

The semifinals look like barnburners, with Murphysboro meeting Madison in a battle of teams ranked in their respective classes, and the host Patriots — back at full strength as Cory Ayala returns from a foot injury — meeting Carbondale in a rematch of a semifinal contest last year that went into overtime.

• Paducah Tilghman girls' star Brandy Allen is serving a school-issued six-game suspension. She missed the Lady Tornado's 90-80 loss at Ballard Memorial and Tilghman's 59-50 win over Marshall County on Tuesday night, a good bounce-back for Josh Barnett's club.

• Heath's Tra Tharp could have an eventful weekend planned. Tharp, who starts at off-guard for the Pirates, will play in Friday night's All A Classic regional semifinal against Fulton County, then head down to take a football recruiting visit to Tennessee-Martin. If the Pirates make it to the finals, Tharp will have to cut his visit short to try and help Heath advance to the state tournament.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

All A Classic pairings ...

These are the All A Classic First Region tournament pairings. The tournament will be played at Graves County's Eagles' Nest. Seedings are in parentheses:

(8) St. Mary vs. (9) Hickman County, 12:45 p.m.
(6) Ballard Memorial vs. (11) Reidland, 4:15 p.m.
(7) Fulton City vs. (10) Community Christian, 7:45 p.m.
(1) Heath vs. St. Mary-Hickman winner, 8 p.m.
(2) Carlisle County vs. Fulton City-CCA winner, 8 p.m.
(4) Fulton County vs. (5) Mayfield, 6 p.m.
(3) Murray vs. Ballard-Reidland winner, 7:45 p.m.
Semifinals, 6 p.m.
Championship, 8 p.m.

(8) Carlisle County vs. (9) Mayfield, 11 a.m.
(6) Hickman County vs. (11) Fulton City, 2:30 p.m.
(7) Fulton County vs. (10) Reidland, 6 p.m.
(2) Ballard Memorial vs. Fulton Co.-Reidland winner, 5 p.m.
(1) Murray vs. Carlisle-Mayfield winner, 6:30 p.m.
(4) Heath vs. (5) St. Mary, 5 p.m.
(3) Community Christian vs. Hickman-Fulton City winner, 6:30 p.m.
Semifinals, 6 p.m.
Championship, 6 p.m.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Lilly shakes off adversity ...

“Playing the role of Brock Simmons, it’s Austin Lilly.”

That wasn’t the way Lilly was introduced as a starter for Calloway County’s game with Murray on Friday night, but the description would have fit. Lilly tossed in 22 points as the Lakers beat archrival Murray 47-37 without leading scorer Simmons, who had surgery to remove a staph infection from his knee.

It wasn't his career-best scoring effort — he drilled eight 3-pointers in a 31-point explosion against University School of Nashville as a sophomore — but it may have been the game that stands out in his memory years from now, given the ferocity of the rivalry between Calloway and Murray.

Lilly is easy to root for because of the adversity he's dealt with over the last couple of years. Two summers ago, he was ready to give up the game to spend more time with his ailing father, who passed away last summer after a lengthy battle with brain cancer. He eventually rejoined the team, in large part because of the encouragement from his father.

"He definitely had a hand in it," Lilly said.

Lilly has also missed some time this season because of a bad back. “Yeah, it still bothers me,” he said. “I’ll probably need surgery on it.”

Calloway coach Bruce Lane was more than happy to take Lilly back, and not just because of his difficult family situation.

“Austin is a kid that plays hard all the time — sometimes too hard, maybe,” Lane said. “We have to get on him sometimes about gambling too much on defense, but he always puts out the effort.

"And he's been through more than most kids his age have been. I don't know how I would've handled that at his age.”

Friday, January 8, 2010

All A Classic ... Murray girls earn top seed

Not surprisingly, Murray's girls (13-1 going into tonight's clash with crosstown rival Calloway County) earned the top seed for the All A Classic First Region tournament. Murray was the choice of the initial Litkenhous Ratings, followed by Ballard Memorial, Community Christian, Heath, St. Mary, Hickman County, Fulton County, Carlisle County, Mayfield, Reidland and Fulton City.

At first glance, Heath and St. Mary make for an intriguing quarterfinal game, as could possibly CCA and Hickman. A potentially very interesting semifinal between Ballard and CCA.

The pairings and game times will be finalized on Sunday night.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Hoop musings ... girls

At first glance, and at the second and third glance, this year's First Region girls' basketball race appears to be as wide-open and entertaining as ever.

Five teams figure to have legitimate shots at a regional title in March, and there looks to be one or two other teams good enough to knock off the top five, although two of the top half-dozen teams will be on the sidelines for the regional tournament.

That's because the Fourth District is as balanced as its ever been, something Murray coach Rechelle Turner correctly noted after the Lady Tigers held off district rival Community Christian on Tuesday night. And each contender has some legitimate question marks.

Calloway County has multi-faceted star Averee Fields, but she has a sophomore-laden supporting cast that needs to provide some consistent scoring punch.

Murray has three tough matchups in Haley Armstrong, Shelby Crouch and Janssen Starks, but all three are underclassmen and have yet to really experience what March is all about.

Paducah Tilghman has two of the region's top 10 players in Chelsey Shumpert and Brandy Allen and the quickest, most athletic team in the region, but can't put much more firepower on the floor.

Ballard Memorial has three capable scorers in Abby Shelley, Candace Bryant and Tiffani Hatley, but starts two freshmen in the backcourt and backs them up with an eighth grader. That inexperience makes one wonder if they can pull back the reins when needed — the Lady Bombers sometimes get a little too hectic in their fullcourt style.

And there is perennial power Marshall County, which lacks a proven scorer and has all sorts of problems putting up points against quality competition.

We can't forget Community Christian, which has a pair of fine players in Bonnie Durrett and Cari McMullen but no depth, and Graves County, which stunned Ballard on the road last weekend.

• The seedings for the All A Classic girls' First Region tournament will be determined by the Litkenhous Ratings, which will be released either Thursday or Friday. Look for Murray to get the top seed, followed by Ballard Memorial and Community Christian, not necessarily in that order. Heath appears to have a shot at the No. 4 seed.

Caldwell County looks like the favorite in the Second Region and seeks to make the state tournament for the second consecutive year.

• The First Region champion has as good a draw as it could hope for in the state tournament, with two very winnable games before a potential semifinal meeting with either Newport Catholic or Green County, which has beaten Ballard in the quarterfinals in each of the last two years.

If Caldwell wins the Second Region title, it would face a potentially very tough game against the Ninth Region champion — Newport Catholic is the heavy favorite there.

A seven-year Holliday?

The St. Louis Cardinals resigned outfielder Matt Holliday, almost on default.

Holliday's contract demands (five or more years and at least $100 million) and the reputation of super-agent Scott Boras scared off just about every other team in baseball. The New York Mets preferred Jason Bay and his more modest demands. Boston chose to make pitcher John Lackey its big-ticket signing. The Yankees could probably afford Holliday, but chose not to get in the bidding. Baltimore reportedly showed some interest, but not on Holliday's financial terms.

So why did the Cardinals give Holliday a seven-year deal for $120 million, essentially bidding only against themselves?

It's a legitimate question, and it's likely to be one Cardinal fans are asking sometime around 2013 or 2014, when Holliday is likely to be in steep decline, not to mention when he's 36 at the end of the contract. lists the top 10 most comparable players for Holliday through age 29, and the list isn't very encouraging. Wally Berger was out of baseball at age 36, as was Hall of Famer Chick Hafey.

Among the modern comps are Magglio Ordonez, whose power took a big dip at age 35 last season. Fred Lynn and Tim Salmon were well on the way down by their mid-30s. And also remember that Holliday's early-career numbers which earned those comps were a bit inflated by his five seasons in Colorado.

Holliday is a fine player, a quality hitter with fairly good power and a couple of 100-RBI seasons. He won't play at the superstar level he did for the two months after the Cardinals acquired him from Oakland, but he's a proven cleanup hitter and, with Albert Pujols, gives the Cardinals as good a 1-2 punch as there is in the National League.

But Holliday is getting much more money for more years than he should, and that presents some problems for the Cardinals when Pujols' new contract comes due in a couple of years. Can the Cardinals afford to keep Holliday, Pujols, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright for the long term, especially if the franchise has $40 million or more tied into two hitters? And how will they fill the rest of the roster with the farm system gutted by a couple of recent trades?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Hoop musings ... boys

There is a consensus among the First Region coaches that Graves County and Paducah Tilghman remain the favorites.

"There are those two teams, and then a bunch of us in a pile," Marshall County coach Gus Gillespie said on Saturday night, after his Marshals edged Fourth District rival Calloway County.

Presumably, Gillespie puts both Marshall and Calloway in the "pile," and it's safe to say that teams like Heath and Carlisle County belong there. Mayfield could, too, if leading scorer Xavier Shelton had been allowed to return to the team — he was suspended after the Cardinals finished playing in the Paducah Tilghman Christmas Tournament and later dismissed from the team.

"It was a tough call," said Mayfield coach Chris Guhy said, who said that Shelton was guilty of "inappropriate behavior in practice."

• Tilghman hosts Graves on Saturday night, the first of two regular-season match ups between the favorites.

The Tornado's close loss at Christian County, generally ranked as a top-10 team, was a quick start out of the gate, but the Tornado has been plagued by inconsistent effort and performance since then. Tilghman went 2-2 at the Centralia (Ill.) Holiday Tournament, turning in a somewhat listless effort in a first-round loss to a Cahokia club that came into the tournament with a 4-4 record but won the tournament.

Even so, you have to remember that several key players — including starters Josh Forrest, Kris Jackson and DeJuan Edmonds — are only now a month removed from Tilghman's surprise run to the Class 3A state championship.

Graves comes into the game on a roll, having won the Beach Blowout tournament at Fort Walton Beach, Fla., routing the host team in the title game. Center Ryan Vogt had three double-doubles in as many games and was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player.

• Heath is the No. 1 seed in the All A Classic First Region tournament, with Carlisle County at No. 2, followed by Murray, Fulton County, Mayfield, Ballard Memorial, Fulton City, St. Mary, Hickman County, Community Christian and Reidland. The tournament starts on Jan. 16 at Graves County's Eagles' Nest, with both the boys' and girls' championship games scheduled for Jan. 23.

It didn't necessarily surprise Community Christian coach B.B. Kendrick, who has been the First Region representative on the All A Classic state board since the tournament's inception — but it did some of the area's coaches.

"Every year, we vote on the pre-season top five teams and top five players (for release on the tournament's Web site," Kendrick said. "Heath wasn't in our top five."

The seedings were determined by Litkenhous Ratings, which were released on Monday. The first girls' Litratings will be published later this week, and those will determine the seedings for the girls' regional tournament.

It's Heath's third time as the top seed — the Pirates were upset by Ballard Memorial in the quarterfinals in 1993 and won the tournament as the favorite in 2005. Traditionally, the top seed prevails about half the time, 11 times in 20 years on the boys' side.

• The First Region got maybe its worst draw ever in the All A Classic state tournament, meeting the 15th Region in the first round. That is the home of All A Classic favorite Shelby Valley, which won the small-school state title last season and returns star point guard Elisha Justice — he is expected to walk on at Louisville but has also gotten an offer from West Point and may get some more mid-major scholarship offers over the next few weeks.

Lyon County and University Heights look like the two best teams in the Second Region, and either of them would likely face a tough first-round draw in Richmond. Lexington Christian is the 11th Region favorite and stunned Scott County last weekend.

• Massac County's Superman Classic will hold its seeding meeting on Wednesday, and the tournament looks to have one of its stronger fields in recent years. Murphysboro is undefeated going into tonight's game with archrival Carbondale and appears to be in line to grab the top seed, and Madison (from the St. Louis area) is considered one of Illinois' top Class A teams.

Also in the field are three Kentucky teams — Paducah Tilghman, Marshall County and Calloway County — and southern Illinois entries Massac, Carbondale and Vienna. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that seven teams might have a legitimate chance to win the tournament.