Sunday, December 28, 2008

Catching my breath ... girls

A few notes on the area girls' basketball picture as we close out 2008:

Even after its close call with Calloway County, Marshall County remains the clear favorite in the First Region race. A lot of little things went in Calloway's favor in the first of five potential meetings, and the Lady Marshals still prevailed in overtime.

First of all, Marshall was without point guard Margaret Thomas, whose ability to penetrate was missed when Calloway played zone. Marshall coach Howard Beth also felt that she was missed on the defensive end.

Calloway also got some unexpected contributions. Reserve Karlie Wilson buried four 3-pointers and Averee Fields looked like the best player on the court at times, particularly in her 17-point first half, before she fouled out late in regulation.

The two teams meet again in a few days, so we'll see what adjustments both teams make.

• Both teams could take their lumps in tough holiday tournaments. Calloway lost to Lexington Lafayette in the first round at Montgomery County and takes on a top-20 team in Southwestern in the consolation bracket.

Marshall faces an even tougher field at Greenwood. Christian County beat the Lady Marshals on Saturday, and Monday finds Louisville Iroquois on the same court. Iroquois, the state runner-up in 2007, is led by guard Adia Mathies, a Kentucky signee.

Ballard Memorial is in a tough field at Bourbon County, and Murray — which looks like the Lady Bombers' top challenger in the All A Classic — hosts its own tournament this week. Murray showed a glimpse of its potential even while going 1-3 in Ballard's pre-Christmas tourney. Murray took Clarksville Northeast and Tennessee signee Kamiko Williams to overtime in pool play, and Northeast later beat Ballard in the finals.

And we can't overlook Paducah Tilghman, which probably will meet Murray in the championship game of the Lady Tiger Classic. The Lady Tornado, which has gotten good work from sisters Natalie and Chelsey Shumpert and Brandy Allen, is 6-1 with its only loss coming in overtime to a Central Hardin club that has lost by single digits to top-20 teams North Hardin and Elizabethtown.

Catching my breath ... boys

The Christmas tournament crunch takes a break on Sunday, so let's take a look at what we have learned over the last week or two about the area basketball picture:

Who is the First Region boys' favorite? Good question.

Paducah Tilghman has become the trendy pick, given its high-octane, athletic club and a solid showing against Lexington Catholic in Marshall County's Hoop Fest. One caveat is the Tornado's depth — Brad Stieg's can ill afford to lose any of his four veterans (Bryon Wright, Tony Hazard, Josh Forrest and Kris Jackson) for any extended stretch. And there is the nagging suspicion that the Tornado could be beaten in a half-court game by a team that can pound the ball into the post.

Murray showed how that strategy can work, playing the Tornado tough in the championship game of the Tilghman Christmas Tournament. Marshall County and Calloway County have that blueprint in mind, too, and the wherewithal to pull it off.

Marshall's biggest question is health. Josh Madding won't be back until sometime in January as he recovers from a broken bone in his right arm. Denver Seay is off to a fine start, but a couple of hard hits on his separated right shoulder could take a toll.

But the Marshals also have guard Scott McKenty, who could be the region's best player so far this season, and the inside tag team of Seay and Jamie Dowdy could pose Tilghman some problems.

Calloway goes as deep as anyone in the region, but it could take some time to mesh the non-footballers with the football players that joined the team after their playoff run. Derek Solomon, the Lakers' 6-7 center, is critical in their development, as is sophomore guard Brock Simmons — Calloway needs his perimeter shooting.

Graves and Murray are in the mix, too, but the Tigers don't have much depth and Graves seems downright allergic to full-court pressure. Still, a lot of things can change between now and March.

Murray looks like the All A Classic regional favorite, but keep an eye on Carlisle County and high-scoring swingman Caleb Hardy. The Comets are 6-0, albeit against a soft schedule, but they will get a chance to show some mettle in Grayson County's tournament over the next couple of days. Carlisle takes on the host squad in Monday night's semifinals.

Grayson is 8-2, with the only two losses to Owensboro and Louisville Seneca in Apollo's tournament. Lone Oak coach Andy Poore, whose team played in the same tournament, reports that Grayson will be a contender in the Third Region.

Speaking of Lone Oak, the Purple Flash copped a badly-needed win over Allen County in Graves County's tournament, breaking a six-game losing streak. Lone Oak remains a dangerous team, especially when they can make some 3-point baskets.

Don't overlook St. Mary and Mayfield, either, in the Class A race. The Vikings have all kinds of size and a capable scorer in Blake Averill and Mayfield always seems to be better than I expect them to be in the end. Chris Guhy gets credit for that and the Cardinals will make a run if Xavier Shelton produces upon his return.

Ballard Memorial, Heath and Fulton City could make it very interesting as well.

• I got my first look at a couple of talented players that not everyone knows about in my ventures through Illinois over the weekend, Trigg County's Jonathan King and Meridian's Isaiah Jones.

King is a 6-4 swingman with plenty of range on his jump shot and enough size and mobility to cause loads of matchup problems. He put on a show in the second half of Trigg's 65-62 win over Herrin at the Marion (Ill.) Tournament on Friday, scoring 30 points in the final 16 minutes. He also had two big steals and a couple of blocked shots, including one on a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

On the other hand, King never saw a shot he didn't think he can make, and he forced a couple that nearly cost the Wildcats.

Jones, Meridian's 6-1 junior point guard, had 17 points, six assists and five steals as the Bobcats slammed McLeansboro in the quarterfinals at Eldorado. Jones is a little too consicious of making the highlight reel sometimes, but he makes some jaw-dropping passes in traffic. He also buried three 3-pointers in a third-quarter run that buried McLeansboro.

He faces a tough test against Massac County's athletic crew in Monday's semifinals.

• Marshall County won't play Pleasure Ridge Park as part of its visit to the Laurel County Hoop Fest in late January. PRP withdrew from the event because it had to alter its schedule because of Title IX concerns, and Hoop Fest founder Steve Woodward was forced to scramble to line up an opponent.

North Oldham, which appears to be one of the better teams in the Eighth Region, will play the Marshals. North Oldham is 3-2 with losses to Louisville Ballard (78-68) and Henderson County (89-80). We'll know a little more about the Mustangs after they play in Jeffersontown's Gaslight Holiday Classic — their first-round foe is Owensboro, the Third Region favorite. rankings ...

1. Covington Holmes
2. Jeffersontown
3. Scott County
4. Lexington Bryan Station
5. Elliott County
6. Louisville Manual
7. Lexington Dunbar
8. Louisville Ballard
9. Christian County
10. Hazard
11. Louisville Eastern
12. Shelby Valley
13. Corbin
14. Lexington Catholic
15. Louisville Trinity
16. Clark County
17. Owensboro
18. Louisville Male
19. Louisville Moore
20. Warren Central

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

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Yankees ... again

Wow. Now the Yankees are throwing $180 million at Mark Teixiera to fill their hole at first base and make their roster a little more top-heavy with high-salaried players. Check out what some key Yankees are making next season:

Alex Rodriguez — $32 million
Mark Teixeira — $25 million, counting a signing bonus
C.C. Sabathia — $23 million, counting three "signing bonus" checks that will be paid in full by next July
Derek Jeter — $20 million
A.J. Burnett — $16.5 million
Mariano Rivera — $15 million
Jorge Posada — $13.1 million
Johnny Damon — $13 million
Hideki Matsui — $13 million
Robinson Cano — $6 million
Nick Swisher — $5.3 million

That's a total of nearly $182 million on 11 players, less than half of the 25-man roster. It is still more than every other team payroll in the major leagues and $40 million more than last season's combined opening-day payrolls for Tampa Bay and Philadelphia, the eventual World Series entries.

And this is a franchise that wanted public funding for a new Yankee Stadium and actually wanted Milwaukee, Sabathia's former team, to cough up some money for Mark Cameron's contract if the two teams had reached an agreement on a trade.

Gee, no wonder everyone hates the Yankees.

Sunday, December 21, 2008 basketball rankings


1. Jeffersontown
2. Covington Holmes
3. Scott County
4. Lexington Bryan Station
5. Elliott County
6. Louisville Manual
7. Lexington Dunbar
8. Louisville Ballard
9. Shelby Valley
10. Christian County
11. Hazard
12. Corbin
13. Lexington Catholic
14. Louisville Eastern
15. Louisville Trinity
16. Clark County
17. Fort Thomas Highlands
18. Pleasure Ridge Park
19. Louisville Fairdale
20. Owensboro


1. Louisville Iroquois
2. Louisville Manual
3. Louisville Butler
4. Elizabethtown
5. Franklin-Simpson
6. Lexington Dunbar
7. North Hardin
8. Montgomery County
9. Southwestern
10. Henderson County
11. Ohio County
12. Lexington Christian
13. Fort Thomas Highlands
14. Lexington Catholic
15. Breathitt County
16. Johnson Central
17. Warren East
18. Marshall County
19. Nelson County
20. Lincoln County

Monday, December 15, 2008

Winter meetings musings ...

Some thoughts on Major League Baseball's winter meetings, which concluded late last week in Las Vegas:

• One of the biggest winners was the New York Mets, who made a couple of moves to bolster a woeful bullpen. They signed Francisco Rodriguez to a somewhat sensible (three years, $37 million) and acquired former Seattle closer J.J. Putz to serve as his setup man. There is still some work to be done, but the Mets shouldn't have quite as many eighth- and ninth-inning problems if K-Rod and Putz stay healthy.

• The award for chutzpah goes to New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, who showed some nerve in negotiations for an aborted trade that would have sent outfielder Melky Cabrera and lefty pitcher Kei Igawa to Milwaukee for center fielder Mike Cameron. Less than 48 hours after the Yanks broke the bank for ex-Brewer C.C. Sabathia (seven years, $161 million), Cashman had the audacity to ask Milwaukee management to eat some of Cameron's $10 million salary for next season.

Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin reportedly stormed out of the room. I can't say I blame him.

• With the Yankees overpaying for both Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, is Joba Chamberlain headed back to the bullpen? Assuming Chien-Ming Wang comes back from his foot injury, the Yankees would appear to have enough rotation depth to put Chamberlain back in the setup role for Mariano Rivera.

The Yanks are still trying to lure Andy Pettitte back to the fold and prospect Phil Hughes appears to be fully recovered from his rib injury — Hughes was dominant in a late-season stint in Triple-A and in the Arizona Fall League.

• Cleveland acquired second baseman Luis Valbuena in a three-team trade with Seattle and the Mets, which may necessitate a shift throughout the infield. Don't be surprised if the Indians move second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera to shortstop, pushing Jhonny Peralta to third base. The moves could be a major defensive upgrade.

Signing Kerry Wood as the new closer was a solid move, solving a long-festering problem.

• St. Louis manager Tony LaRussa has made no secret that he covets lefty closer Brian Fuentes, who seems unlikely to return to Colorado. Another option could be former Dodgers closer Takashi Saito, who wasn't offered a new contract.

Don't be shocked if the Cardinals also try to make a reclamation project out of former Baltimore starter Daniel Cabrera, a hard-throwing 6-7 righty that has never been able to reach his potential — Cabrera was non-tendered by the Orioles, making him a free agent.

• The Cubs struck out on their two major objectives — acquiring San Diego ace Jake Peavy and finding someone to take Jason Marquis' salary off their hands.

I'm also a little leery of the decision to let Kerry Wood go. Carlos Marmol may be fine as the closer and Jeff Samardzija could work out as the setup man, but you can just never have too much bullpen. The Cubs may also regret trading one of their best pitching prospects to Florida for retread Kevin Gregg,

I wonder if the Cubs' window of opportunity is closing. Derrek Lee is 33 and looks to be in decline, and Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez (is he really just 30 years old?) aren't getting any younger, and those three players are cornerstones of the offense.

Ryan Dempster (resigned to an expensive four-year deal) isn't likely to repeat his 2008 performance and there are major questions whether he can stay healthy as a starter. And Carlos Zambano's arm problems may not be totally solved by a winter's rest.

The Cubs' fall from the top of the NL Central may be faster than anyone imagined.

Holmes, Henley notch big win ...

Kudos to Carlisle County native and Covington Holmes coach David Henley, whose team shattered the myth of invincibility surrounding Scott County's collection of move-in Division I prospects — the Bulldogs beat Scott County 70-65 at the Buckeye/Bluegrass Challenge at Northern Kentucky University on Sunday night.

Henley, who has taken Holmes to the state's final four in each of the last two seasons, is starting to get some notice as one of the state's best (and most underrated) coaches. He took Holmes to the state semifinals in 2007, losing to eventual champion Scott County, and knocked off Lexington Catholic in the semifinals last year before falling to Mason County in the championship game.

Here are some details on the game:

Holmes' spark plug was guard Jamel Riley, who went 5-for-6 from 3-point range and tossed in 21 points. Elijah Pittman, a 6-6 junior swing man who exploded at the Sweet 16 and may the best college prospect in the state, had 15 points and 10 rebounds. The Bulldogs led by double digits for much of the game, but let Scott County close the gap with some fourth-quarter turnovers against full-court pressure.

Guard Ge'Lawn Guyn, who transferred to Scott County from Lexington Henry Clay after his freshman year, tossed in 29 points for the Cardinals, who suffered their second loss of the season — they lost to nationally-ranked Duncanville (Texas) at Marshall County's Hoop Fest.

Dakotah Euton, the Kentucky commitment who transferred in from Rose Hill Christian last spring, was 3-for-12 from the field and scored nine points. He did grab 11 rebounds.

Holmes already has one loss, too, to Lexington Bryan Station, so let's hold off on the proclamations that these are the best two teams in the state — at the moment, Jeffersontown looks deserving of some first-place votes. Still, it won't be a surprise if Holmes and Scott County end up meeting again on the final day of the Sweet 16.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008 basketball rankings ...


1. Scott County
2. Jeffersontown
3. Covington Holmes
4. Elliott County
5. Louisville Manual
6. Lexington Dunbar
7. Corbin
8. Louisville Ballard
9. Lexington Bryan Station
10. Clark County
11. Christian County
12. Hazard
13. Lexington Catholic
14. Shelby Valley
15. Owensboro
16. Louisville Male
17. North Hardin
18. Fort Thomas Highlands
19. Pleasure Ridge Park
20. Louisville Eastern

1. Louisville Iroquois
2. Louisville Manual
3. Louisville Butler
4. Elizabethtown
5. Franklin-Simpson
6. Lexington Dunbar
7. North Hardin
8. Montgomery County
9. Southwestern
10. Henderson County
11. Ohio County
12. Lexington Christian
13. Fort Thomas Highlands
14. Lexington Catholic
15. Breathitt County
16. Johnson Central
17. Marshall County
18. Nelson County
19. Covington Notre Dame
20. Lincoln County

Shelley and Tommy John have something in common ...

... and it's not good.

Caleb Shelley, Ballard Memorial's ace left-handed pitcher, had Tommy John surgery last week on his left elbow and won't be able to pitch for the Bombers this spring. Shelley will be able to swing the bat, so he could still be in the lineup at first base and/or designated hitter.

Shelley, a junior, emerged as one of the First Region's best pitchers last season and shut out a strong Marshall County club in the semifinals of the regional tournament. He was also one of the top pitchers for Paducah's American Legion team last summer.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Playoff vs. BCS? No comparison ...

Another college football season, and another deserving team gets screwed out of a spot in the Bowl Championship Series. Remember a few years ago when an undefeated Auburn squad got left out of the title-game party, with USC and Oklahoma getting the honors?

This year, the offended include Texas, which has just one loss — on a last-second play at Texas Tech, another in a string of ranked opponents — and beat the Oklahoma team (on a neutral field, no less) that will play Florida for the national championship.

President-elect Barack Obama is pushing for an eight-team playoff, but the best solution is a 16-team tournament, just as the NCAA and NAIA provide for in their other divisions. This is how it works:

The six BCS leagues get automatic bids for their conference champions:

Big East ... Cincinnati
ACC ... Virginia Tech
SEC ... Florida
Big 10 ... Penn State
Big 12 ... Oklahoma
Pac-10 ... USC

Then there are two other bids for the two highest-rated conference champions from the smaller Division I leagues (MAC, Sun Belt, Conference USA, Mountain West, WAC) — those go to Boise State and Utah.

To round out the field, take eight at-large teams, using the BCS rankings — Texas, Alabama, Texas Tech, Ohio State, TCU, Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech and Georgia.

Then seed the field, 1 through 16, using the BCS system:

1. Oklahoma
2. Florida
3. Texas
4. Alabama
5. USC
6. Utah
7. Texas Tech
8. Penn State
9. Boise State
10. Ohio State
11. TCU
12. Cincinnati
13. Oklahoma State
14. Georgia Tech
15. Georgia
16. Virginia Tech

Then pair them off by seed — 1 vs. 16, 2 vs. 15, etc. The problem is that this gives us a couple of first-round matchups of conference teams that have already played each other (Florida vs. Georgia, Utah vs. TCU), so we're going to adjust the pairings a bit. So we end up with a bracket that looks like this:

1-16 ... Oklahoma vs. Virginia Tech
8-9 ... Penn State vs. Boise State
4-13 ... Alabama vs. Oklahoma State
5-11 ... USC vs. TCU
2-14 ... Florida vs. Georgia Tech
7-10 ... Texas Tech vs. Ohio State
3-15 ... Texas vs. Georgia
6-12 ... Utah vs. Cincinnati

The first-round games would be played this coming weekend, with the quarterfinals on the weekend of Dec. 19-21. We could take a week off between Christmas and New Year's, with the semifinals in the first full week of January and the national championship game sometime after that.

Schools are out of session, so players wouldn't be missing class time, with the possible exception of the two teams that reach the national championship game.

Best of all, the national champion would be decided on the field, which is where it should be decided.

As for the bowl games, incorporate them into the playoff. Pick the best seven bowl games and rotate them in the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals. Use eight other bowls to host first-round games, and the rest can accommodate the teams that don't make the NCAA tournament. That way, even coaches that don't make it to the tournament can still tell recruits they played in a bowl game.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Semifinal thoughts ...

Calloway County and Bullitt East looks to be one of the most intriguing state semifinal match ups, a game that many see as too close to call.

Bullitt East's defense has been especially good over the last two months, but there is the nagging suspicion that the Chargers haven't faced an offense as diversified as Calloway's, which combines the powerful running of Tyrrell Willis and the efficient passing game keyed by quarterback Casey Brockman and three quality receivers — ever-reliable Chris Dobbins and the big-play capability of Willis and George Garner.

On the other hand, Calloway's run defense has been spotty throughout the season, although it's been better in recent weeks. I have a feeling that the Lakers will be all right if they avoid giving up the big play.

As usual, turnovers will be a key. Calloway has been largely mistake-free in recent weeks, save an ill-advised lateral by Willis that Franklin-Simpson returned for a touchdown and an interception last week that came off a deflection. The Lakers capitalized on three first-half miscues by Allen County last week and got on a roll, one that might not end until they reach the state championship game in Louisville.

The pick here is the Lakers ... something along the lines of 28-20.

• No team faces a tougher scenario than Crittenden County — a heavily-favored opponent and a state championship favorite at the end of a 300-mile road trip.

Simply put, Beechwood is in a class by itself in Class A, with a big and physical line corps that will dominate the line of scrimmage. If the outcome is still in doubt in the second half, the Rockets have accomplished something. I'm not holding my breath.

The pick here ... Beechwood 48, Crittenden 7.

• State semifinal picks:

Class 6A ... Louisville St. Xavier over Louisville Trinity, Louisville Male over Simon Kenton
Class 5A ... John Hardin over Christian County, Fort Thomas Highlands over Whitley County
Class 4A ... Calloway County over Bullitt East, Boyle County over Bell County
Class 3A ... Louisville Central over Union County, Belfry over Breathitt County
Class 2A ... Fort Campbell over Monroe County, Newport Catholic over Corbin
Class A ... Beechwood over Crittenden County, Lexington Christian over Hazard

Best set of semis ... Class 4A ... it's hard to imagine both these games not going down to the fourth quarter
Worst set of semis ... Class A ... both could be blowouts

Greene to the Cardinals ...

He's two years removed from a season in which his bat produced 27 homers, 97 RBI and a whopping 74 extra-base hits. And he's a quality defensive shortstop.

Khalil Greene isn't Derek Jeter or Ozzie Smith, but he does give the St. Louis Cardinals a nice upgrade at the most demanding position — and at a decent cost.

Greene, 29, was acquired by the Cardinals on Thursday in what looks like a low-risk trade with the Padres landing Mark Worrell, a reliever who spent most of last season at Triple-A Memphis, and a player to be determined later.

It's a classic example of a team buying low. Greene had a miserable 2008, hitting .213 and 10 homers in 105 games and missing a big chunk of the season after breaking his left hand while punching a storage chest. The Padres tried to recoup about $1.5 million in salary, causing some hard feelings on both sides.

Greene replaces Cesar Izturis, whose glove is fine but whose bat is a black hole in the batting order, and there is a decent change that a change in scenery may revive his bat. Greene lacks plate discipline, but he can still be an offensive contributor in the lower part of the batting order. He has posted decent numbers away from Petco Park, the best pitchers' park in baseball.

Next on the Cardinals' agenda? Upgrading second base ...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The BCS is just BS ...

The Big 12's decision to select Oklahoma over Texas and Texas Tech to play in the Big 12 championship game is simply one more argument for national college football playoff.

Texas beat Oklahoma on a neutral field and, like the Sooners, has just one loss this season. But unless Missouri upsets Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game, the Longhorns have no chance to compete for a national championship.

Next week, after the various conference championship games, we'll take a look at what a 16-team NCAA tournament field would look like. preseason hoops rankings ...

1. Scott County
2. Covington Holmes
3. Jeffersontown
4. Elliott County
5. Louisville Ballard
6. Louisville Manual
7. Lexington Dunbar
8. Corbin
9. Clark County
10. Hazard
11. Christian County
12. Lexington Catholic
13. Warren Central
14. Shelby Valley
15. Louisville Fairdale
16. North Hardin
17. Mason County
18. Owensboro
19. Lexington Bryan Station
20. Louisville Male Girls Basketball Poll

1. Louisville Iroquois
2. Louisville Manual
3. Louisville Butler
4. Elizabethtown
5. Franklin-Simpson
6. Lexington Dunbar
7. North Hardin
8. Montgomery County
9. Southwestern
10. Henderson County
11. Lexington Christian
12. Ohio County
13. Lexington Catholic
14. Johnson Central
15. Fort Thomas Highlands
16. Breathitt County
17. Louisville Mercy
18. Rockcastle County
19. Marshall County
20. Nelson County

Monday, December 1, 2008

Playoff tidbits ... semifinals

Crittenden County's football program won a state championship in 1985. For several years, as part of the old Class A District 2 in the old four-class system, the Rockets regularly endured long road trips to district rivals Metcalfe County and Caverna.

Friday's jaunt to Beechwood in the Class A semifinals tops them all.

According to Mapquest, 311 miles of road separates Crittenden and Beechwood, which is located in Fort Mitchell in suburban Cincinnati. It represents the longest road trip in Crittenden's 50-plus years of football.

Part of the blame goes to the Kentucky High School Athletic Association's new six-class system, which has diluted the field so much that Class A's District 1 is far western Kentucky and District 2 is in the Louisville area.

This isn't the longest road trip in state playoff history. It's doubtful there have never been two longer trips than ones that involved Mayfield and Heath in 1991, a season in which the KHSAA (in another example of its infinite wisdom) used a blind draw to determine the semifinal match ups.

Heath went to Beechwood, a 323-mile trek, that year, falling 32-6 to a program that was beginning its run of seven state titles in the 1990s. Mayfield hosted Lawrence County in a Class 2A semifinal, winning 21-18 over a team that had broken its 411-mile drive to Mayfield in half, staying in Elizabethtown the previous night.

Mercifully, the blind draw format was dropped during the subsequent off-season.

• What are the Rockets facing Friday night? The clear front runner for the Class A state title, for starters.

Beechwood was ranked first in the Associated Press poll until the end of the regular season, when the Tigers were beaten 31-20 by Newport Catholic, which moved into the top spot in Class 2A that week — then-No. 1 Fort Campbell had lost to Franklin-Simpson.

The voters (not this one) ended up putting unbeaten Raceland in the top spot, the same Raceland club that was beaten at home by Lexington Christian in the quarterfinals. Still, most objective observers consider Beechwood to be at least a touchdown or two better than any other team in Class A.

Beechwood showed an indication of that on Friday night, winning 42-14 at Frankfort and drubbing a team that had beaten Danville in the regular-season finale.

The Tigers have at least a couple of Division I prospects in lineman Dominic Mainello — a 6-foot-5, 265-pound offensive tackle and noseguard that has committed to Central Michigan — and running back Neico Teipel (6-2, 215), who has been battling a foot injury. Beechwood dominates Class A teams at the line of scrimmage, with several big and talented linemen.

Beechwood has won nine state titles since 1991, and at least one longtime observer of the program thinks this team isn't one of the best teams in that run, but falls right in the middle.

• Calloway County visits a Bullitt East club that has shown clear improvement from the start of the season until now. The Chargers (8-5) were slow starters and were sitting at 1-3 after a 50-14 blowout loss to Henderson County in mid-September.

There were some extenuating circumstances that week — the Louisville schools were out of session and canceled all athletic events, forcing schools that were playing Louisville teams to scramble for replacement games. Bullitt East, which was originally slated to face defending Class 3A state champion Louisville Central, set up a game at mid-week with Henderson, which had lost a game with Louisville Manual.

Part of the slow start may have resulted from a coaching change — Chris Settles left for Lincoln County and was replaced by Doug Preston, who had enjoyed some success at Louisville Western.

Bullitt East has won six of its last seven games, the only loss a 24-23 double-overtime decision against Manual, a consensus top-10 team in Class 6A. The Chargers have been impressive in the post-season, hammering district rivals Marion County and North Bullitt by a combined score of 61-14 after beating both teams by three points apiece during the regular season.

The Chargers are a run-oriented club that shows a lot of different looks offensively, everything from the wishbone to the spread.

• Both the Crittenden County-Beechwood games will be played in the Eastern Time Zone and will have a 7:30 p.m. local time start, 6:30 p.m. in western Kentucky.

OVC on the rise?

VMI ... the three letters that bring a groan from every Kentucky basketball fan. The Keydets went into Rupp Arena a little over two weeks ago and blistered the Wildcats from 3-point range in a 111-105 win that left the UK faithful stunned.

The Keydets crashed hard on Saturday, falling 95-67 at Jacksonville State, which has been the Ohio Valley Conference's surprise team this season.

Actually, the OVC — at least some parts of it — was a pleasant surprise in November. Murray State hammered Western Kentucky 89-61, only to watch the Hilltoppers respond with wins over Southern Illinois and Louisville, and beat Indiana State on the road.

Austin Peay has already won at Belmont (three straight NCAA tournament appearances, including a one-point loss to Duke last year) and Georgia Southern, which owns a road win over Houston. Eastern Kentucky, which hosts the Racers on Thursday night, won a tournament at Fairliegh Dickinson over the weekend, beating a decent Akron team by 12 in the final.

The Sagarin Ratings have the OVC currently ranked 20th among the 32 Division I leagues, the best it's been in a couple of years.