Sunday, May 29, 2011

First Region coaches awards ...

The First Region baseball coaches determined their award winners at Sunday's regional tournament draw.

Player of the Year — Jordyn Abell (SS-P, Ballard Memorial)

Coach of the Year — Josh May (Reidland)

East-West Senior All-Star Game — Jordyn Abell (SS-P, Ballard Memorial) and Trevor Hicks (P-3B, Hickman County) ... alternate is Josh Dickson (1B, Lone Oak)

East-West Junior All-Star Game — Dylan Dwyer (P-OF, Calloway County) and Nathan Hackel (C-P, Graves County) ... alternate is Austin Adams (P-1B, Murray)

Sophomore Showcase – Seth English (P-1B, Community Christian), John Lollar (P-IF, Murray) and Micah Chessor (P-IF, Reidland) ... alternates Sam Goode (3B-P, Lone Oak) and Clay Chandler (C-3B-P, Ballard Memorial)

First Region baseball pairings ...

First Region baseball tournament
(at Brooks Stadium)

Hickman County (17-11) vs. Mayfield (7-16), 11 a.m.
Lone Oak (23-12) vs. Murray (17-13), 1:30 p.m.
Calloway County (16-16) vs. Fulton City (6-16), 4 p.m.
Ballard Memorial (23-9) vs. Reidland (19-9), 6:30 p.m.

Semifinals, 5 p.m.

Finals, 6 p.m.

Notes: Hickman County didn't use ace pitcher Trevor Hicks in the First District tournament and will have him available for Monday. Fulton City is essentially out of pitching, having used ace Jordan Miller in the district semifinals on Friday and playing its district championship game on Saturday.

Fulton City asked to move the first day of the tournament back to Tuesday, but the proposal was voted down by the eight participating schools.

Ballard Memorial vs. Reidland is a rematch of the All A Classic regional championship, which the Greyhounds won 4-2 en route to a berth in the state tournament. Ballard beat Reidland 10-9 later in the season.

Hickman County beat Mayfield 4-3 in the All A Classic regional quarterfinals, a game in which Hicks went the distance for the Falcons and took a shutout into the seventh inning. The Cardinals had beaten Hickman 2-1 about two weeks prior to that.

Lone Oak and Murray didn't play each other during the regular season, nor did Calloway County and Fulton City.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

First Region softball pairings ...

First Region softball tournament
(at Graves County)

Hickman County (10-13) vs. Heath (18-13), noon
Ballard Memorial (17-12) vs. Calloway County (19-12), 2 p.m.
Reidland (23-10) vs. Graves County (13-14), 4 p.m.
Marshall County (23-7) vs. Carlisle County (10-14), 6 p.m.

Semifinals, 5 p.m.

Championship, 7 p.m.

Notes: On paper, the top four teams in the tournament are (in alphabetical order) Calloway County, Heath, Marshall County and Reidland, and all four will be favored to reach the semifinals.

Interestingly, none of the four first-round games are matchups that we saw during the regular season. Hickman County upset Heath 2-1 in the first round of the regional tournament last year.

The bracket was set up in similar fashion last year, with Heath and Calloway slated to meet in the semifinals, as were Reidland and Marshall, but Hickman spoiled the party.

Reidland is the defending state champion and has also won two straight All A Classic state titles.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Fourth District baseball pairings ...

The Fourth District baseball tournament, which has pairings determined via a blind draw for the first time in over two decades, turned out to be not far off what a seeded tournament might look like.

Murray will take on Christian Fellowship in the "play-in" game, scheduled for May 23 at Community Christian, with the winner taking on Marshall County in the semifinals on May 25. Calloway County will meet Community Christian for a trip to the district finals and a berth in the regional tournament.

The championship game is scheduled for May 26.

One caveat: Christian Fellowship, which has played just seven games this season, needs to play three more to reach the minimum 10 games as required by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association to compete in postseason play. Fulton City had to cancel a game that was scheduled for today, and at the moment, the Eagles are supposed to play Fulton County on Saturday.

That means CFS will have to play two games next week to qualify for the postseason.

If CFS fails to get to 10 teams, Murray and Marshall will meet in the semifinals, and the tournament schedule is likely to change, perhaps with one semifinal each on May 23-24 and the finals on May 25.

Also, the five district teams voted to continue determining the tournament pairings via blind raw instead of seeding. The vote was 3-2 with Murray, Community Christian and Christian Fellowship voting to use a draw.

That means it is unliklely that Marshall and Calloway will play any of their three district rivals again in 2012.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Roof, Moore excel on NAIA level

Former Lone Oak pitcher Derek Roof worked hard over the final two days as Union University (Tenn.) won the TranSouth Athletic Conference baseball tournament last weekend.

Roof, who spent his freshman year at Indiana, closed out a win over nationally-ranked Cumberland in an elimination contest on Friday, then threw a complete game in an 11-2 win over Bethel in Saturday's championship game.

Now 7-1 with a 3.90 ERA for the Bulldogs, Roof pitched five innings in relief against Cumberland, allowing just two runs. A little more than 24 hours after that 69-pitch effort, Roof pitched nine innings against Bethel, throwing 99 pitches.

In 14 innings over the two outings Roof allowed 14 hits and four runs with no walks and eight strikeouts.

Union, which has moved up to No. 8 in the NAIA national rankings, is the No. 1 seed at the regional tournament at Kingsport, Tenn. Cumberland, the defending national champion, is ranked fifth nationally and is the No. 1 seed at the Paducah Regional, which begins Wednesday at Brooks Stadium.

Moore, a St. Mary product, was named the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference player of the year after leading the league in several offensive categories. Moore, a third baseman at Berea College, hit .467 with 9 home runs and 35 RBI in 43 games. He led the league in batting average and slugging percentage and had 31 extra-base hits i only 152 at-bats.

Berea reached the KIAC championship game, falling to regular-season champion Indiana-Southeast.

He has gotten a couple of looks from professional scouts — Boston and Toronto have expressed some interest — and there is a chance he could be a late-round selection in Major League Baseball's amateur draft in June.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Football scheduling news ...

Only 115 days — or a little over 16 weeks — until the western Kentucky football season starts off with a bang, the season-opening tilt between crosstown rivals Lone Oak and Paducah Tilghman.

But a look at some of the top teams' schedules reveals some interesting non-district matchups.

Lone Oak's schedule has undergone a major upgrade — Owensboro is now a Class 4A district opponent and the non-district slate includes Tilghman, defending Class 5A runner-up Christian County and a bowl-game date at Hopkinsville.

Tilghman's second game is against powerhouse Evansville Reitz, a contest that is part of a bowl game that was originally scheduled to have been played at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in Louisville. Word is the bowl may be moved elsewhere in town, perhaps at Louisville Trinity, but nothing has yet been set.

The Tornado also has a first meeting with Crittenden County and a late-season game at Clarksville Northeast, a Class 5A team in Tennessee that went 8-5 and reached the state quarterfinals last season, falling 24-21 to eventual state runner-up Hendersonville.

Mayfield will open up with Greenwood at a bowl game in Bowling Green, with a potential matchup with Warren Central (and ex-Graves County coach Mike Rogers) in 2012. The Cardinals will take on Evansville Harrison in the Alliance Bowl at Graves County, with the host school meeting Madisonville. And the Cardinals will renew acquaintances with Murray for the first time since Kentucky realigned into six classes after the 2006 season.

Reidland's schedule includes an early-September game at Lake County, a Tennessee Class A quarterfinalist last fall.

Crittenden County and Trigg County haven't hooked up in over a decade and will meet in Trigg's Wildcat Chevrlolet Bowl. The Rockets will host the Kentucky National Guard Warrior Bowl to open the season, taking on Hopkins Central with Caldwell County also meeting Union County.

Monday, April 25, 2011

College player updates ...

Few pitchers in college baseball have improved as much as former Marshall County left-hander Cody Forsythe, who threw seven shutout innings at Creighton on Saturday. Forsythe, a sophomore, allowed four hits and struck out 10 and has put together some impressive numbers for the Salukis — Forsythe is 5-3 with a 2.08 ERA and has only nine walks and 50 strikeouts in 69 innings.

Former Heath star Chad Wright is hitting .314 with four home runs and 27 RBI for Kentucky and leads the Wildcats with a .423 on-base percentage.

Gabriel Shaw has struggled in recent outings for Louisville and is now 0-2 with a 7.31 ERA. There are reports that Shaw, a St. Mary product, has yet to recover some lost velocity on his fastball after undergoing elbow surgery in the summer of 2009.

James Jones is continuing to throw well in his role as the closer for Louisiana-Monroe. James, a Ballard Memorial product, is 4-1 with a 2.03 ERA with only 27 hits allowed in 40 innings. He has five saves and has walked 12 batters to go with 37 strikeouts.

Minor league updates ...

Former Heath pitcher Daniel Webb allowed just four singles in seven innings on Sunday for Lansing of the Midwest League, his best start of the season. Webb is 1-1 with a 5.14 ERA in three starts for Lansing, the Toronto Blue Jays' low-Class A team. Webb has allowed 17 hits in 14 innings with four walks and eight strikeouts.

Pope County product Michael Broadway has a 1.80 ERA in five innings at Mississippi, the Atlanta Braves' Double-A club. Broadway has allowed three hits with two walks and six strikeouts. Daniel Calhoun, a Murray State product, is 0-1 with a 3.18 ERA in relief for Palm Beach, the St. Louis Cardinals' high-Class A team in the Florida State League.

Jonathan Roof is off to a good start for Hickory, the Texas Rangers' entry in the Low-A South Atlantic League. Roof, a St. Mary product who played collegiately at Michigan State, is hitting .292-1-8 in 48 at-bats and has stolen four bases. Roof, drafted as a shortstop, has also seen some time in the outfield.

Older brother Eric Roof, his former St. Mary/Michigan State teammate, has two hits in his first 14 at-bats for Lakeland, the Detroit Tigers' entry in the Florida State League. Shawn Roof, the oldest of former major leaguer Gene Roof's three sons, is 2-for-15 for Erie, the Tigers' Double-A affiliate.

Former Murray State star Wes Cunningham is hitting .222 with five RBI in 45 at-bats for Fort Wayne, the San Diego Padres' team in the Midwest League.

Monday, April 18, 2011

All A delays ...

I went to the All A Classic regional softball championship on Sunday afternoon, watching Reidland and Heath play in pleasant conditions, with some sun and a temperature in the 70s.

Meanwhile, the four semifinalists in the regional small-school baseball tournament were practicing after tournament host Mayfield postponed their games yet another day.

Needless to say, the question was asked of me more than once: "Why isn't the baseball tournament playing today?"

Good question.

Mayfield doesn't have a full-infield tarp — it only has tarps that cover the pitcher's mound and the home plate area. And someone on Mayfield's staff indicated that the field still had water standing behind second base and the infield grass remained "mushy."

Fair enough. But that raises two questions:

1. Why isn't the tournament being played at a site that has a full-infield tarp?

2. Why weren't the semifinals moved to a suitable neutral field, perhaps nearby Graves County or Lone Oak?

The second answer seems apparent. Mayfield's program benefits from the concession revenue generated at the tournament.

But the tournament has been needlessly delayed, so much so that teams have had enough rest that would enable them to get around the state pitching rules that would have come into play, had the semifinals been played on the weekend.

For instance, Hickman County's Trevor Hicks threw seven innings in a 4-3 win over Mayfield on Thursday night and would have been unavailable to pitch on the weekend. However, he is eligible to pitch against Reidland in tonight's semifinals.

Now, whether Hicks is able to bounce back and be equally as effective on three days' rest after a 102-pitch outing is another question.

The delays will also affect when the First Region champion gets to play its sectional game against Third Region champion Owensboro Catholic — the winner of that game advances to the state tournament, which is May 7-8 at Whitaker Bank Park (formerly Applebee's Park) in Lexington.

Owensboro Catholic has guidelines that prohibit athletic contests during Holy Week, which would prevent the Aces from playing this weekend, since this Sunday is Easter. The Aces are also scheduled to play in the LIT the following weekend, so the First Region winner will likely have to make the trip to Owensboro on a school night.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Smart guy, that Shaka ...

Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart, who took his basketball team from much-maligned NCAA tournament invite to the Final Four, made a motherlode of money over the last three weeks. Smart got a five-year contract extension today that bumps his base salary from $325,000 to $1.2 million. That adds up to more than $4 million over the next four seasons.

Now, if Butler wins a national championship, what the heck does Brad Stevens make next year?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

College player updates ...

Chad Wright is having another fine spring as the University of Kentucky's starting left fielder. Wright, a junior from Heath, is hitting .348 with 3 home runs and 19 RBI in 25 games and leads the Wildcats in several offensive categories. Wright also has a very impressive .469 on-base percentage. Kentucky is 14-11 overall and 2-4 in the SEC after being swept at Alabama last weekend.

Gabriel Shaw is 0-1 with a 5.59 ERA at Louisville, and has been his pattern, has been very good out of the bullpen. Shaw, a St. Mary product, gave up four runs in three innings in his only start but has a 2.70 ERA as a reliever. Louisville is 15-8 and took two out of three at Rutgers to start its Big East schedule.

Ballard Memorial product James Jones has taken to a bullpen role at Louisiana-Monroe, with a 4-1 record and a 2.03 ERA and three saves in 10 appearances. In 31 innings, Jones has allowed 21 hits with 10 walks and 31 strikeouts. ULM is 14-9 overall and 3-3 in the Sun Belt.

And Marshall County graduate Cody Forsythe is having a great sophomore season at Southern Illinois. Forsythe is 2-3 (for a team that is 6-17) with a 2.76 ERA. In 42 innings, Forsythe has allowed 42 hits with four walks and 27 strikeouts.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Beck leaves Graves, surfaces at Massac ...

Travis Beck, a 6-3 forward who transferred from Joppa to Graves County in mid-December, is now enrolled at Massac County.

Beck, who helped the Eagles as a reserve next season, should lend some versatility to the Patriots' roster. He can score from the perimeter and won't have to play in the post at Massac, which already has 6-5 Griffin Bazor and 6-6 Ethan Schulte back for next season.

Presnell eligible at Tilghman ...

Paducah Tilghman may have found a new quarterback in Lone Oak transfer Tyler Presnell, who has been ruled eligible to play for the Tornado next fall.

Presnell was Lone Oak's starter at the beginning of the 2010 season but was soon replaced by freshman Cole Ousley.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Boys' regional tournament ... facts and figures

Game 1: Fulton County vs. Ballard Memorial

The scoop: These two teams have been paired at the hip, so to speak, for much of the season. They were the early-line favorites in the All A Classic regional tournament, and indeed, they went into the event as the top two seeds.

They split a pair of regular-season matchups, with Fulton County prevailing 55-52 in LaCenter in early December, a game decided when Zack Chaykowsky's potential game-tying 3-pointer was ruled as coming after the buzzer.

In a rare Saturday night game in the final week of the regular season, the Bombers won 52-40 in Hickman, with Fulton County star Leonard Smith in constant foul trouble — he finished with five points and five fouls.

Both teams have had some ups and downs — the Pilots were the No. 2 seed in the All A Classic, but their bid to win it was derailed at the start with a loss to district rival Carlisle County. Ballard lost a seven-point lead in the final two minutes to Heath in the championship game a few days later.

And neither team is at full strength. Fulton County's Derrick Swift, who averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds per game, went back to Lake County (Tenn.) in early February, taking away a player that was sometimes a dominant force in the post. Ballard has had three guards — Manny Yarbro and sometimes-starting point guards Alex Hill and Chris Jones — leave the team since the All A Classic.

So where does that leave us? Swift's loss hurts the Pilots on the inside, where Ballard's Jay Middleton makes his living, and the loss of Swift means that Fulton County coach Andrew Clinton has nightly decisions to make on whether he utilizes Smith and Dylan Johnson on the perimeter or moves them closer to the basket.

Ballard doesn't have the frontcourt depth it once enjoyed, and the personnel losses seem to have hurt a defense that was playing rather well at midseason.

A win gives the Bombers their first 20-win season since 1982. Fulton County is 23-4 against a soft schedule — only a third of their games have comes against teams with a winning record.

Overall records: Fulton County 23-4, Ballard Memorial 19-9
Against teams with winning records: Fulton County 5-4, Ballard Memorial 6-8
Against district champions: Fulton County 1-2, Ballard Memorial 1-5
Against First Region tournament teams: Fulton County 4-4, Ballard Memorial 4-7
Against teams that reached regional tournaments: Fulton County 5-4, Ballard Memorial 6-8

Game 2: Paducah Tilghman vs. Calloway County

The scoop: Tilghman seems to be playing a like a team very conscious of the calendar, with the focus and passion of a team that knows this is the postseason and wants to get back to Rupp Arena, where a winnable first-round game with the 13th Region awaits the winner of the First Region.

One coach told me last week that Tornado point guard Josh Forrest is the hardest player to keep out of the lane that he's ever coached against, and Forrest has asserted himself more on the offensive end when he senses it's needed.

Defense is what won the Tornado the regional title last year, and more good work is expected from guards Trevonte Cole and Cody Schultz. With athletic swingmen J.D. Harmon and Darrius Brown and several other options inside, Tilghman coach Brad Stieg is well-stocked with options if foul trouble arises.

Calloway is the consummate middle-of-the-road team that beats the teams it should — none of the Lakers' wins this year have come against a team with a winning record. Brock Simmons is still one of the region's best scorers, and the Lakers' X-factors of late have been a pair of young guns, 6-6 freshman Michael Arnett and 6-4 eighth-grader Parker Adams, who will be a tough matchup on the wing in the future.

Overall records: Paducah Tilghman 25-4, Calloway County 15-13
Against teams with winning records: Paducah Tilghman 14-4, Calloway County 0-12
Against district champions: Paducah Tilghman 7-3, Calloway County 0-8
Against First Region tournament teams: Paducah Tilghman 10-1, Calloway County 0-8
Against teams that reached regional tournaments: Paducah Tilghman 15-4, Calloway County 0-11

Game 3: Marshall County vs. Carlisle County

The scoop: It's become a running joke in both programs, the seeming inevitability of this matchup. They've drawn each other in the first round of the regional tournament in six of the last nine seasons, dating back to 2003 — the other three years were those that the Comets failed to advance out of the district.

Carlisle also knocked out Marshall in the semifinals 10 years ago in its Cinderella run to Rupp Arena, where it led eventual state champion Lexington Lafayette for most of the first three quarters before falling in the first round.

Marshall has had their way with the Comets in recent years, and is favored to do so again with regional player of the year front-runner Stephen Atkinson leading the way and a club that Carlisle coach Brian O'Neill told me earlier this season he felt was the best defensive team in the region.

The key for Marshall is the backcourt. Cole Nelson has become the primary ballhandler, with Blake Clark helping out, and Peter Northcutt has found his shooting range in the latter part of the season. Chase York can score off the bench, and he and Nelson can hit the boards, too.

Carlisle guard Blake Rutherford can light it up from the perimeter and the key for the Comets would appear to be 6-6 sophomore Marcus Burnett, who could pose the undersized Marshall frontcourt some problems.

Overall records: Marshall County 24-6, Carlisle County 16-13
Against teams with winning records: Marshall County 12-6, Carlisle County 2-10
Against district champions: Marshall County 5-3, Carlisle County 1-7
Against First Region tournament teams: Marshall County 9-2, Carlisle County 2-8
Against teams that reached regional tournaments: Marshall County 12-5, Carlisle County 2-9

Game 4: Graves County vs. Heath

The scoop: Graves coach Terry Birdsong insisted on Saturday that the Pirates should be favored to beat his club, based on their 74-64 win at the Eagles' Nest a few weeks ago. No one agrees with that, necessarily, but this is one of the region's most intriguing matchups.

Heath employed a triangle-and-two against Graves, chasing senior guards Jesse Anderson and Ross Williams and limiting them to a combined 13 points.

Graves has had questions about depth all season, but guard Mason Beale and forward Travis Beck have been solid in the latter half of the season. The Eagles' MVP may be center Aaron Cooper, whose low-post scoring and defense are invaluable.

Heath is a tough matchup for the Eagles with 6-6 Drew Robinson and 6-5 Jacob Jett, two players that can face the basket, and 6-4, 260-pound reserve David Wallace, who had a career-high 11 points against Graves.

But the Pirates have also struggled a bit since coming back from its quarterfinal-round appearance at the All A Classic — they lost to Reidland in their first game back home, then struggled to beat the Greyhounds in the district tournament, and have lost decisively to Padcuah Tilghman twice in the last three weeks.

One key to watch — point guard Damien Bolen gave the Eagles fits in the regional tournament last year with his quickness and ability to penetrate. Swingman Drew Wrinkle has emerged as a potential scorer.

Overall records: Graves County 22-7, Heath 20-10
Against teams with winning records: Graves County 11-7, Heath 10-8
Against district champions: Graves County 3-5, Heath 2-7
Against First Region tournament teams: Graves County 7-5, Heath 5-6
Against teams that reached regional tournaments: Graves County 9-6, Heath 8-8

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Final rankings ...


1. Louisville Eastern
2. Louisville Ballard
3. Clark County
4. LexingtonTates Creek
5. Scott County
6. Christian County
7. Louisville Trinity
8. Jeffersontown
9. Warren Central
10. Lexington Catholic
11. Louisville Moore
12. Louisville Western
13. Lexington Henry Clay
14. Bullitt East
15. Louisville Central
16. Pleasure Ridge Park
17. Bowling Green
18. Louisville Seneca
19. Paducah Tilghman
20. Madison Central


1. Louisville Manual
2. Rockcastle County
3. Boone County
4. Louisville Mercy
5. Bowling Green
6. Louisville Sacred Heart
7. Marion County
8. Perry Central
9. Ryle
10. Elizabethtown
11. Calloway County
12. Louisville Butler
13. Greenwood
14. Newport Catholic
15. Lexington Bryan Station
16. Clay County
17. Owensboro Catholic
18. Grayson County
19. Scott County
20. Franklin-Simpson

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Girls' regional tournament ... facts and figures

Game 1: Lone Oak vs. St. Mary

The scoop: Perhaps the most intriguing game of the first round. The Lady Vikings won 58-51 at Lone Oak on Dec. 7, but when the two teams get together on Monday night, they haven't faced each other in 83 days.

Since then, Lone Oak has gained some confidence on the strength of its first 20-win season in eight years. The Lady Flash's 21 wins is two more than they had in the last three seasons combined, and sophomore guard Haley Boyd has emerged as one of the area's better up-and-coming talents. Tiffany Brown has size and defensive presence in the middle.

At the same time, Lone Oak has been found wanting against the region's top teams, with a 17-point loss to Marshall County and a 38-point defeat against regional favorite Calloway County. They also lost by double digits at Ballard in December, a game that Brown missed while battling mononucleosis.

St. Mary has retooled some things, too, with coach Staci Averill going with some young talent of her own. Freshman Alex Durbin had a double-double against Ballard Memorial in the district championship game and sophomore Lydia McManus was one point shy of one. Peyton Vaughan has been a reliable lead guard, leading the team in scoring and assists.

The winner probably becomes the sacrificial lamb for Calloway in the semifinals, but both are chasing their first regional tournament wins in some time — St. Mary's last one was in 2006, while Lone Oak's last semifinal appearance was in 2001.

Overall records: Lone Oak 21-8, St. Mary 15-12
Against teams with winning records: Lone Oak 2-6, St. Mary 3-7
Against district champions: Lone Oak 2-3, St. Mary 1-5
Against First Region tournament teams: Lone Oak 5-4, St. Mary 2-6
Against teams that reached regional tournaments: Lone Oak 7-6, St. Mary 2-8

Game 2: Calloway County vs. Hickman County

The scoop: There shouldn't be much mystery about this one. Calloway, led by West Virginia signee Averee Fields, may be the First Region's strongest team since Paducah Tilghman reached the final four of the state tournament in 2005. Hickman, the only team in the tournament with a losing record, simply ended up with the worst possible draw.

Expect the Lady Lakers to roll and for coach Scott Sivills to use his bench liberally. Hickman's only chance to stay competitive would appear to be by slowing down the tempo and/or hitting some 3-point shots early in the game.

Overall records: Calloway County 27-1, Hickman County 8-15
Against teams with winning records: Calloway County 16-1, Hickman County 0-4
Against district champions: Calloway County 5-0, Hickman County 1-3
Against First Region tournament teams: Calloway County 8-0, Hickman County 1-6
Against teams that reached regional tournaments: Calloway County 14-0, Hickman County 1-7

Game 3: Ballard Memorial vs. Paducah Tilghman

The scoop: These two teams met on Jan. 14 in a game that ended in somewhat controversial fashion. After Ballard hit a pair of free throws with 1.2 seconds left to tie the score, the Lady Bombers were called for a foul in the backcourt, with Tilghman's Kendra Patterson hitting one of two from the line to nail down the win.

It was a game soon forgotten in the Ballard camp — the Lady Bombers went on to win the All A Classic regional tournament eight days later, knocking off favored Murray in the final. For Tilghman, it was the first sign of progress in a season that was derailed by star point guard Chelsey Shumpert suffering a torn ACL in a mid-December loss to district rival Lone Oak.

Tilghman coach Josh Barnett has done a good job of reconstructing his lineup and gameplan without Shumpert, perhaps the region's best guard, and athletic center LaQuesha Prather, who also has a torn ACL. But there are times the Lady Tornado attack has trouble generating points if Patterson and forward Ngodoo Itiavkase can't attack the rim, and two of the first players off the bench are eighth-graders.

Ballard, however, isn't the same team that went to the All A Classic state tournament. Center Tisha Burgess tore an ACL in that game, taking away a low-post presence and a badly-needed rebounder. Guard Anna Denton suffered a similar injury in the district finals, giving coach Billie Prince precious little time to make the proper adjustments in practice.

Just before the All A Classic, Prince questioned his team's effectiveness when it went to the bench — Ballard sometimes went 10-deep, but Prince wasn't sure he could afford to go without more than one starter on the floor at a time. Now, with two starters down, he has no choice.

Overall records: Ballard Memorial 21-9, Paducah Tilghman 13-14
Against teams with winning records: Ballard Memorial 10-7, Paducah Tilghman 4-9
Against district champions: Ballard Memorial 4-4, Paducah Tilghman 2-4
Against First Region tournament teams: Ballard Memorial 7-3, Paducah Tilghman 4-4
Against teams that reached regional tournaments: Ballard Memorial 10-6, Paducah Tilghman 6-8

Game 4: Murray vs. Carlisle County

The scoop: There isn't much reason to think this game won't be well in hand by halftime. Murray, the defending regional champion, beat Carlisle 59-34 only two weeks ago, and has generally had its way with the regional small-school competition, aside from Ballard Memorial.

Point guard Janssen Starks and swingman Haley Armstrong are two of the region's top players and are on course to combine for something like 4,500 points in their careers — Armstrong, a junior, is the school's all-time leading scorer and recently passed the 2,000-point mark, while Starks has eclipsed 1,000 points as a sophomore. And 6-3 center Sian House and guard Amanda Winchester are two of the region's most potent defensive forces, House as a shot-blocker and rock in the paint.

Carlisle has some young talent, led by sophomores Macy Moran and Jenna Babb, but this probably isn't the way coach Ember Wright would have liked her team to develop some regional tournament experience.

Overall records: Murray 20-9, Carlisle County 13-13
Against teams with winning records: Murray 8-9, Carlisle County 1-8
Against district champions: Murray 4-6, Carlisle County 0-5
Against First Region tournament teams: Murray 4-4, Carlisle County 3-7
Against teams that reached regional tournaments: Murray 9-7, Carlisle County 3-8

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Second Region pairings ...

(at Hopkinsville)
Livingston Central vs. Christian County, 6 p.m.
Henderson County vs. Hopkins Central, 7:45 p.m.
Madisonville vs. Lyon County, 6 p.m.
University Heights vs. Union County, 7:45 p.m.
March 7
Semifinals, 6 p.m.
March 8
Championship, 7 p.m.

(at Livingston Central)
Madisonville vs. Christian County, 6 p.m.
Henderson County vs. Lyon County, 7:45 p.m.
Hopkinsville vs. Union County, 6 p.m.
Crittenden County vs. Caldwell County, 7:45 p.m.
Semifinals, 6 p.m.
Championship, 7 p.m.

Boys' First Region pairings ...

Fulton County (23-4) vs. Ballard Memorial (19-9), 6 p.m.
Paducah Tilghman (25-4) vs. Calloway County (15-13), 7:45 p.m.

Marshall County (24-6) vs. Carlisle County (16-13), 6 p.m.
Graves County (22-7) vs. Heath (20-10), 7:45 p.m.

March 7
Semifinals, 6 p.m.

March 8
Championship, 7:45 p.m.

Notes: Who got the best draw? You have to go with Paducah Tilghman, which saw Marshall County and Graves County placed in the opposite bracket.

Two first-round matchups stand out — Ballard Memorial and Fulton County split a pair of regular-season meetings, with the Bombers winning in Hickman just a week ago, and they were the top two seeds in the All A Classic regional tournament.

But neither ballclub has the personnel with which it began the season — Ballard has had three athletic guards (Manny Yarbro, Alex Hill and Chris Jones) leave the team in the last month, and their absence is particularly noticeable on the defensive end. Fulton County was rocked when double-double machine Derrick Swift moved back to Lake County, Tenn.

The other one is Graves County and Heath, two teams that met about a month ago. Heath won that game 74-64 at the Eagles' Nest, a somewhat surprising result in that it came right after the Pirates had won the All A Classic regional title and it was generally thought they were due for a letdown.

Girls' First Region pairings ...

Lone Oak (21-8) vs. St. Mary (15-12), 6 p.m.
Calloway County (27-1) vs. Hickman County (8-15), 7:45 p.m.

Ballard Memorial (21-9) vs. Paducah Tilghman (13-14), 6 p.m.
Carlisle County (13-13) vs. Murray (20-9), 7:45 p.m.

Semifinals, 6 p.m.

Championship, 7 p.m.

Notes: Ballard Memorial sustained its second big personnel loss in a month when guard Anna Denton tore the ACL in her right knee during Thursday night's Third District championship game against St. Mary. Center Tisha Burgess suffered a similar injury in the All A Classic state tournament.

The Lady Bombers will play a Paducah Tilghman squad that is also without two critical players, point guard Chelsey Shumpert and center LaQuesha Prather, both of whom tore ACLs in December.

There could easily be a rematch of the All A Classic regional final between Ballard and Murray, a game in which the Lady Bombers made a dramatic fourth-quarter rally with a wild 22-1 run. But the Ballard team that could meet Murray in the semifinals isn't the same club that beat the Lady Tigers a month ago.

But this should be a lot like last year's regional tournament, where there isn't much drama until the championship game.

Notice who is missing ... no Graves County and no Marshall County in the regional tournament. It's the first time that has happened since Graves was formed by consolidation in 1985.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Pre-postseason briefs ...

First District: Two boys' teams with regional tournament aspirations have had recent comings and goings that could drastically affect their post-season fortunes.

To start, the bad news: Fulton County's Derrick Swift, a 6-foot-3 senior forward and sometimes prolific scorer and rebounder, recently moved back to Lake County (Tenn.) for the second time — Swift moved there as a sophomore and came back to the Pilots over the summer. His loss is significant for Fulton County, who will have a difficult time replacing his 15 points and 10 rebounds per game, not to mention his athleticism and relentless on the glass.

His loss shouldn't cost the Pilots a trip to the regional tournament, but it severely jeopardizes their chances of doing damage once they get there.

Fulton City welcomed back guard Vance Maze, who had left the team briefly. Maze is coming off the bench for the Bulldogs, but he provides some quickness, ballhandling and scoring potential on the perimeter.

Second District: Paducah Tilghman's boys' team hit its stride in late January and early February last season and got on a roll that led to a regional title. The Tornado had that focused, engaged demeanor again in last week's win over Heath, and Josh Forrest's 30-point, 13-rebound performance that also included a pair of assists, three blocked shots and three steals showed that few, if any, players in far western Kentucky can impact the game in so many ways.

Forrest's performance last March earned him regional tournament MVP honors, and it wouldn't come as a shock if he does it again.

On the girls' side, Tilghman coach Josh Burnett has made sure his team adjusted to the early-season loss of star point guard Chelsey Shumpert and athletic center LaQuesha Prather, and has started to utilize a bench that includes a pair of talented eighth graders in Kaylee Humphrey and Alex Kohler. Kendra Patterson, who took over as the playmaker, and Ngodoo Itiavkase can take the ball to the basket, and Tilghman still has enough quickness and athleticism to cause problems on the defensive end.

Their first-round game with Heath, which features a potent 1-2 punch in point guard Elizabeth McSparin and forward Lauren Baer, will be one of the region's most intriguing.

Third District: St. Mary's girls have taken to starting a pair of freshmen in forwards Alex Durbin and Casey Kupper. Even more noteworthy, they have a chance to keep Graves County out of the regional tournament for only the second time in its 26-year existence.

Graves opened in the fall of 1985, and has missed the regional only once — in 2005, when the top-seeded Lady Eagles were beaten by Ballard Memorial. Graves has won 15 district titles in those 25 years, but the talent level there isn't what it used to be, due in large part to the fact that six players that attended Graves in middle school now play elsewhere.

The list is headed by Murray sophomore point guard Janssen Starks, who will likely be a four-year Paducah Sun All-Purchase Team selection. Abby McAlpin is a reserve guard at Murray, and Samantha McClain is a perimeter threat at Hickman County. Throw in three solid post players — Marshall County's Kaylin Goins, Carlisle County's Jenna Babb and St. Mary's Lydia McManus — and you have the makings of a pretty good squad.

On the boys' side, Ballard Memorial was hit by the loss of two guards — Alex Hill and Chris Jones, both of whom have started at the point at times, left the squad last week. Two sophomores, 3-point threat Chris Davis and swingman Clay Chandler, have seen their playing time increase dramatically in recent weeks.

St. Mary, which meets the Bombers, will be without its outstanding shooter, freshman Patrick Hubert, who was injured in a collision with Marshall County's Cole Nelson in a game two weeks ago and is still suffering post-concussion side effects.

Fourth District: All eyes are on the Murray-Marshall County clash, which pits two of the region's top three teams against one another. They split during the regular season, with Marshall at full strength on neither occasion. The Lady Tigers beat Marshall when it was without point guard Margaret Thomas, an All-Purchase pick last year, and Marshall won the second meeting when forward Kaylin Goins was sidelined as she recovered from a concussion. Marshall is now also without swing player Kelsey Lawson, who has a torn ACL.

Marshall is hosting the district because Community Christian passed on those duties since its gym lacks the seating to handle the district tournament crowds.

Fifth District: Crittenden County's hopes of contending for a Second Region title have taken a hit as its team has struggled in recent weeks, perhaps a letdown after its All A Classic exploits, but should still advance to the regional party. The Nos. 2-3 seeds game is between Lyon County and Livingston Central, which have split two regular-season meetings. The tournament is at Livingston, but the Lady Lyons won there 61-54 on Jan. 4.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Want a better girls' regional tournament?

Not to rehash the last post, but this is what a girls' regional tournament format would look like under my proposal:

The four top district seeds:
1. Calloway County
2. Ballard Memorial
3. Lone Oak
4. Hickman County

The four No. 2 seeds:
5. Marshall County
6. St. Mary
7. Heath
8. Carlisle County

And the rest:
9. Murray
10. Paducah Tilghman
11. Graves County
12. Community Christian
13. Mayfield
14. Reidland
15. Fulton County
16. Fulton City

District tournament sites:

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

(at Ballard Memorial)
Ballard Memorial vs. Fulton County
Heath vs. Paducah Tilghman

(at Lone Oak)
Lone Oak vs. Reidland
St. Mary vs. Graves County

(at Hickman County)
Hickman County vs. Mayfield
Marshall County vs. Community Christian

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Want a better boys' regional tournament?

Once again, I'm proposing a change to the postseason format we use for high school basketball.

District tournaments, in this day and age, are almost obsolete. Most districts in the state are down to four teams — it isn't like the old days when districts had 10-12 schools and the tournament was a week-long party.

And not all districts are created equal. Some are much stronger than others, and I would make the argument that if we want the regional tournament to be a showcase for the best teams in the region, we come up with a format that allows more than two teams from the same district to advance to the next stage.

With that in mind, here is my idea, one for which I make an annual pitch.

In the 16-team First Region, with four teams in each of four districts, we continue to seed them as normal, with home-and-home, round-robin play.

The four top seeds will be seeded 1-4 in the 16-team regional field and will, as a reward, host a "district tournament." The four No. 2 seeds go in the 5-8 slots, with the rest of the region seeded 9-16.

Postseason rules apply, just as they do now. You win your first-round game and you're in the regional tournament. The second-round winners go into the regional tournament as "district champions" and meet a team that lost a second-round game in the regional quarterfinals.

Under the current format, the four top seeds are (in order of district) Fulton County, Paducah Tilghman, Graves County and Marshall County. For seeding purposes, I'm going to combine three power ratings services — the Louisville Courier-Journal's Litkenhous Ratings, the Lexington Herald-Leader's Cantrall Ratings and's Freeman Ratings.

Let's seed them this way:

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

The four No. 2 seeds are (in order of district) Carlisle County, Heath, Ballard Memorial and Calloway County.

Let's seed them this way:

5. Heath
6. Ballard Memorial
7. Calloway County
8. Carlisle County

Now, the rest of the region:

9. St. Mary
10. Mayfield
11. Lone Oak
12. Murray
13. Fulton City
14. Hickman County
15. Reidland
16. Community Christian

That gives us these "district tournament" matchups:

at Fulton County — Fulton County vs. Fulton City, Heath vs. Murray

at Paducah Tilghman — Paducah Tilghman vs. Community Christian, Carlisle County vs. St. Mary

at Graves County — Graves County vs. Hickman County, Ballard Memorial vs. Lone Oak

at Marshall County — Marshall County vs. Reidland, Calloway County vs. Mayfield

In all honesty, this format could give us the same eight teams we'll see for real at Murray State University's CFSB Center. The biggest changes will be reflected on the girls' side, and we'll look at that on Thursday.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pujols "ends contract talks" ... so what?

St. Louis Cardinals fans are all panicky because first baseman Albert Pujols has said he won't negotiate a new contract by a certain deadline.

So what?

It's simply posturing by Pujols and his agent, Dan Lozano, in an effort to sway public opinion to push the Cardinals to meet what is likely to be a contract demand somewhere in the $30 million per year range.

Bottom line ... Pujols is under contract for all of this season, so he is under the Cardinals' control through October. And there is always the possibility that, if the Cardinals feel they are out of the race by the end of July, they can put him on the trade block.

As a player with 10 years of experience and five with the same team, Pujols has a right to veto such a deal, but would he really do that if the Cardinals are out of the race and he has a chance to showcase himself for a new contract in a pennant race?

If so, then maybe the Cardinals really need to look elsewhere for a new first baseman.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz echoed the point on Sunday that I've been making for some time.

Putting it my way, Pujols needs to decide what he wants for the rest of his baseball career. Does he want to remain in St. Louis, as he has continually insisted, or does he want to chase a megabucks contract?

The Cardinals need to know, and St. Louis fans need to know.

If Pujols wants to stay in St. Louis and join Stan Musial as a Cardinals' legend, then he will accept a little less on the contract. If he wants to pursue an Alex Rodriguez-type contract, it's time to say "good riddance" in October.

As Miklasz puts it, Pujols can walk with Stan the Man or he can walk with A-Rod.

Really, now, if Pujols is wanting a 10-year, $300 million contract as is rumored, who is going to pay it?

The Yankees? They have Mark Teixieira signed to a long-term deal, as do the Red Sox with recent trade acquisition Adrian Gonzalez. Neither team is likely to want to sign a $30 million designated hitter.

At one point, I thought the Angels might be an option, but they have taken on Vernon Wells' albatross contract.

That leaves, perhaps, the Mets and Cubs. And I have my doubts about those, too.

Really, who is going to give Pujols, who is allegedly 31, a contract that takes him to past 40? And just because the Phillies gave Ryan Howard, admittedly an inferior player to Pujols, a $25 million per year deal doesn't mean another team has to top it.

Pujols and Lozano can posture all they want, but they can also accept the fact that the Cardinals don't have to make them a contract offer, and there isn't another team that can for months.

And remember, this is a verbal line in the sand. Those have long been made to be erased.

Murray's road to recovery ...

Defending the crown and protecting the throne aren't necessarily easy.

Case in point: Murray's Lady Tigers.

A lot of things went right for Murray a year ago, when the Lady Tigers went 30-4 and swept the All A Classic and overall regional titles. There were no major injuries, no blowups, no unexpected or catastrophic losses.

This season ... well, Murray has hit a lull after finishing 2010 on a high note. The Lady Tigers have had four signature games, and lost all of them — twice to archrival Calloway County, to Ballard Memorial in the All A Classic regional final and last week to a Marshall County club that it will meet a make-or-break game in the first game of the district tournament.

Monday night provides a chance to go into the postseason on a high note, with a visit to Henderson County, which has won six consecutive Second Region titles and is favored to win it again, even with a young squad that has taken some lumps this season.

Murray coach Rechelle Turner scheduled the game last week when some other contests were lost to inclement weather, and it will give us one more chance to determine whether this Murray club is ready for prime time again.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

No change for Fourth District ...

The Fourth District boys' tournament will remain seeded for at least another year. Christian Fellowship, which has indicated plans to enter its boys' squad in district play next season, didn't have a representative at Saturday morning's district meeting.

Therefore, there was no third vote to trump those of Marshall County and Calloway County. Community Christian and Murray were expected to support such a change, but needed a third vote to determine the district tournament pairings via a blind draw.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Fourth District decision looms ... seed or not to seed?

The Fourth District meets to finalize tournament plans on Saturday, and there is one big decision awaiting the five schools that play boys' basketball.

Indications are that Christian Fellowship, which plans to rejoin the district on the boys' side next season, will join Community Christian and Murray in voting to determine future district tournament pairings by blind draw and not by seeding.

Christian Fellowship upset the applecart, so to speak, and throughly upset Marshall County and Calloway County last spring by voting to determine the baseball pairings by blind draw. Not coincidentally, none of the three "yea" votes on the blind draw — Murray, Community Christian and Christian Fellowship — appear on the schedules of either Marshall or Calloway this spring.

The same could happen with boys' basketball, if Murray — the obvious swing vote — again cast its lot with the two tiny private schools. That could prove costly at the gate, as Marshall and Calloway generally represent the Tigers' two biggest gates each season.

Girls' basketball won't be affected by the vote, since Christian Fellowship doesn't field a girls' team.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011 rankings ...


1. Louisville Eastern
2. Louisville Ballard
3. Clark County
4. Jeffersontown
5. Lexington Tates Creek
6. Christian County
7. Scott County
8. Louisville Trinity
9. Lexington Catholic
10. Louisville Western
11. Lexington Henry Clay
12. Warren Central
13. Louisville Moore
14. Bullitt East
15. Louisville Seneca
16. Louisville Central
17. Bowling Green
18. Pleasure Ridge Park
19. Paducah Tilghman
20. Madison Central


1. Louisville Manual
2. Rockcastle County
3. Louisville Sacred Heart
4. Louisville Mercy
5. Bowling Green
6. Boone County
7. Ryle
8. Marion County
9. Perry Central
10. Elizabethtown
11. Calloway County
12. Scott County
13. Louisville Butler
14. Lexington Bryan Station
15. Greenwood
16. Newport Catholic
17. Madison Central
18. Clay County
19. Owensboro Catholic
20. Grayson County

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

District deadline pushed back ...

Because teams all over the state are having to juggle games on the schedule because of a series of snowstorms, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association is granting schools an extension on the deadline to play all district games.

Under normal circumstances, district games needed to be completed by this weekend, one week before the start of the district tournaments. That has now been pushed back to next Wednesday, and it could be sorely needed locally.

Heath's boys and girls have three remaining district games apiece. Last Friday's doubleheader with Lone Oak was moved since Heath's boys were playing in the All A Classic, and it was postponed again, from Monday to Wednesday, after this week's surprise storm. Lone Oak, Paducah Tilghman and Graves County each have both teams needing to play two district games, and the same goes for the Mayfield and Ballard Memorial girls, who meet on Saturday afternoon.

Here is a look at each district race, as we go to the final week:

First District

Boys: There is one game left to play, but the first-round pairings have already been decided. Fulton County is the top seed and will take on Hickman County, while Carlisle County will meet a Fulton City club that is more dangerous now that guard Vance Maze, dismissed from the team in January, is back in good graces.

Girls: Hickman County is scheduled to meet Fulton County on Tuesday night, but a postponement seems likely. If the Lady Falcons, they tie Carlisle County for the top seed. The winner of the coin flip gets winless Fulton City.

Second District

Boys: Nothing is decided yet. Paducah Tilghman has the inside track on the top seed, but needs a win over Heath on Tuesday to lock it down. Chances are that Lone Oak and Reidland will end up in a tie for the No. 3 seed.

Girls: Lone Oak is 4-0 in the district but has games with Paducah Tilghman and Heath to be played, and there is a possibility of a three-way tie. The only thing that is for certain is that Reidland is the No. 4 seed.

Third District

Boys: Graves County can clinch the top seed by beating either Ballard Memorial or Mayfield this week. Ballard is guaranteed at least the No. 2 seed, and Mayfield must beat the Eagles to tie St. Mary for the third seed.

Girls: Ballard Memorial has clinched the No. 1 seed, with St. Mary locked in the No. 2 spot. Graves County can lock up the No. 3 seed by beating Mayfield on Friday.

Fourth District

Boys: Marshall County visits Calloway County on Friday, with the Marshals poised to take the top seed. A Calloway upset would force a coin flip, with the winner getting Community Christian and the loser facing third-seeded Murray.

Girls: Marshall County's win over Murray on Saturday night was little more than a dress rehearsal for the most meaningful game — the Lady Marshals will host Murray in the district semifinals, one night after Calloway County meets Community Christian.

Fifth District

Boys: Lyon County and Livingston Central, both 4-2 in the district, will have a coin flip for the top seed. Trigg County is the No. 3 seed, with only its early-season loss to fourth-seeded Crittenden County preventing a three-way tie for the top spot.

Girls: Crittenden County is the No. 1 seed and will meet Trigg County in the district semifinals, with Lyon County taking on Livingston Central.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Lawson turns down Hoptown, exits coaching ...

Last week, we told you that former Marshall County football coach was the top choice for the Hopkinsville vacancy, and he was. There are reports that Lawson initially accepted an offer from Hopkinsville, but changed his mind and elected to turn it down.

Now comes word that Lawson is stepping down at Central Hardin and may have plans to get out of coaching altogether.

Lawson is 73-41 in 10 seasons as a head coach, three apiece at Owensboro Catholic and Marshall and four seasons at Central Hardin.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The All A hangover ...

Years ago, local broadcaster David Rowton coined the term "All A hangover," alluding to the lull that teams regularly suffer after coming back from an extended stay at the All A Classic state tournament.

There is always a dose of emotional and physical fatigue for the affected teams, and each club handles it differently. Some take All A Classic success and build on it — coming to mind are Fulton County's boys in 1993, who were beaten in overtime in the championship game and eventually weathered the shocking death of teammate Joey Bumpous (from a congenital heart defect) en route to a spot in the regional championship game.

In 2003, Mayfield's boys came back from a two-point loss to eventual champion St. Henry in the quarterfinals and made it to the regional finals. And just last year, Murray's girls built on a semifinal finish in Richmond with a run to the regional championship in March.

Others seem to never recover. Murray's boys, beaten in a close game by eventual champion Harlan in the quarterfinals in 1995, never put things back together. Heath's boys had a sluggish performance in a loss to Barbourville and 2005 and had nearly a total collapse upon returning home, going 2-5 and getting knocked out of the postseason by a sub-.500 Paducah Tilghman outfit in the district semifinals.

So what happens with Heath's boys and Ballard Memorial's girls? We almost don't have enough time to find out.

Because the All A Classic state tournament was moved back a week to accommodate host Eastern Kentucky University and its Ohio Valley Conference schedule, we're now just two weeks away from the end of the regular season.

For the Pirates, there is no time to lick their wounds from a draining quarterfinal-round loss to Danville. Friday's game with Lone Oak was moved back to Monday, and Heath has to finish up its district schedule with Tilghman on Tuesday and Reidland on Friday. Heath has something for which to play, too — a sweep of the week would probably earn it a tie for the top seed for the district tournament.

Ballard's girls may have some emotional baggage to shed. Coach Billie Prince didn't bring any of his players to the postgame press conference, noting that they were "devastated" after a 52-51 loss to Sheldon Clark.

"We had put in their head the idea that we could win up here," Prince said. "And that's what they were thinking about doing."

Ballard needs only one win this week to clinch the top seed for the district tournament, with home games against Graves County on Tuesday and Mayfield on Saturday afternoon. Those games will also help to determine the Nos. 3-4 seeds, as those are the two teams that could face the Lady Bombers in the postseason opener.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Former Marshal Lawson to Hoptown?

Indications are that former Marshall County football coach Mike Lawson is the leading candidate to take over at Hopkinsville, although the school has yet to officially announce Dixie Jones' replacement.

Lawson just finished his fourth season at Central Hardin, going 9-3 and advancing to the second round of the Class 6A playoffs, and he was also able to work wonders in previous rebuilding jobs at Owensboro Catholic and Marshall County.

He would certainly inherit another one in Hopkinsville, which was a fixture in state top-10 rankings for a decade under Craig Clayton but has gone 6-15 the last two seasons and missed the Class 5A playoffs in 2010 for the first time in 20 years.

The worm has certainly turned in the Christian County school system. In 2004, when Clayton retired and took the coaching job at Tennessee power Franklin, the hope inside the program was that longtime assistant Steve Lovelace, a Mayfield native, would be Clayton's successor.

But Hopkinsville chose to hire Jones, another former assistant, away from Madisonville, and the two local programs' fortunes have drastically changed. Hopkinsville was 33-37 in Jones' six seasons, and Lovelace went to Christian County before being elevated to the top spot in 2007.

All Lovelace has done is put together a 39-16 record with a pair of state runner-up finishes in Class 5A over his first four years.

Thursday, February 3, 2011 rankings ...


1. Louisville Eastern
2. Jeffersontown
3. Louisville Ballard
4. Clark County
5. Lexington Tates Creek
6. Christian County
7. Louisville Trinity
8. Scott County
9. Lexington Catholic
10. Lexington Henry Clay
11. Warren Central
12. Louisville Western
13. Louisville Moore
14. Bullitt East
15. Pleasure Ridge Park
16. Madison Central
17. Bowling Green
18. Louisville Seneca
19. Paducah Tilghman
20. Louisville Central


1. Louisville Manual
2. Louisville Mercy
3. Rockcastle County
4. Louisville Sacred Heart
5. Boone County
6. Marion County
7. Bowling Green
8. Perry Central
9. Scott County
10. Ryle
11. Calloway County
12. Elizabethtown
13. Louisville Butler
14. Greenwood
15. Lexington Bryan Station
16. Newport Catholic
17. Madison Central
18. Clay County
19. Murray
20. Grayson County

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Massac girls get acquainted with Herrin

Massac County's girls currently sit atop the River-to-River Conference race with an 8-0 mark, one game ahead of Herrin with two left to play, and the Lady Patriots can clinch the conference title with a win at Herrin on Tuesday night. Otherwise, Massac and Herrin will likely be co-champions.

Regardless of the outcome, don't be surprised if the two teams meet again a week later, this time in the Illinois Class 2A regional semifinals at Carterville.

Massac (15-10) is the No. 2 seed at Carterville, with Herrin (19-8) in the No. 3 position and facing an eminently winnable first-round game with league rival Murphysboro on Feb. 7, one day before a potential rematch with the Lady Patriots.

Vienna is the No. 1 seed and sports a 23-5 record, although one of its losses came against Massac, a 39-38 decision way back on Nov. 29 at Metropolis. Vienna is also ranked second in the southern Illinois rankings issued by the Carbondale-based newspaper, The Southern Illinoisan.

One suspects the Lady Patriots' record played a role in the seedings, apparently one more so than the head-to-head result. Five of the Lady Patriots' losses are to out-of-state schools, including Marshall County twice and single games with Calloway County and six-time defending Second Region champion Henderson County.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Sweet 16 draw ... boys

Whichever teams takes home the First Region boys' title also has a nice extra present, a winnable first-round game in Rupp Arena.

In fact, the regional draw is one of our best in several years, in the lower bracket and away from most of the state's heavyweight programs.

Paducah Tilghman remains on the fringes of the state's top 20, earning a No. 20 ranking in this week's rankings. Marshall County owns a win over the Tornado and visits Tilghman tonight, while Graves County has split two games with Marshall and led the Tornado by double digits before falling 90-81.

The 13th Region awaits the winner. Clay County is the favorite there, with Corbin and Bell County as the primary challengers. Bell whacked Corbin 69-40 on Thursday night, but Clay remains the slight favorite, having beaten Bell 52-50 on Tuesday night.

Clay is a solid team but hasn't fared too well against good competition outside the region, with double-digit losses to Lexington teams Henry Clay, Tates Creek and Lexington Catholic and a 20-point loss to Scott County in Corbin's Christmas tournament.

Just 10 days ago, the Tigers fell 45-40 to Perry Central, which is coached by former Graves and Marshall mentor Allan Hatcher and is favored to win the 14th Region.

The quarterfinal-round opponent could be a tough one, depending on who wins the Sixth Region on the western side of Louisville. Western has 6-8 senior Ryan Taylor, who moved in from Indianapolis after committing to play for Rick Pitino at the University of Louisville. Bullitt East has a pair of solid seniors and a player on the rise in 6-8 sophomore xxx.

Central, which usually starts slow because of its football team's postseason run, played in the state chanpionship game in 2009 and looks to be making another late-season charge, and Pleasure Ridge Park and Iroquois are solid contenders.

The upper bracket is where the power is. That starts with the absolutely loaded Louisville-based Seventh Region, which has a field that includes what may be the top three teams in the state in Eastern, Jeffersontown and Ballard and perhaps six or seven of the state's top 20 teams.

Clark County is a top-five team and the 10th Region favorite, and Christian County is the clear Second Region favorite. Also in the top half of the draw is the 11th Region, which includes Scott County, Madison Central and several good Lexington schools such as Tates Creek, Lexington Catholic, Henry Clay and Bryan Station.

Boys' Sweet 16
(at Rupp Arena)

March 16
Region 10 (Clark County, Scott, Mason County) vs. Region 8 (South Oldham, North Oldham, Oldham County, Simon Kenton), 11 a.m.
Region 4 (Bowling Green, Warren Central, Glasgow) vs. Region 7 (Louisville Eastern, Jeffersontown, Louisville Ballard, Louisville Trinity), 12:30 p.m.
Region 2 (Christian County, Henderson County) vs. Region 15 (Johnson Central, Betsy Layne, Pikeville), 5:30 p.m.
Region 11 (Lexington Tates Creek, Scott County, Lexington Catholic, Lexington Henry Clay) vs. Region 9 (Dixie Heights, Newport Catholic, Covington Holmes, Covington Catholic), 7 p.m.

March 17
Region 16 (Ashland, Rowan County, West Carter) vs. Region 3 (Muhlenberg County, Daviess County, Owensboro), 11 a.m.
Region 12 () vs. Region 14 (Perry Central, Buckhorn, Hazard), 12:30 p.m.
Region 6 (Louisville Western, Bullitt East, Pleasure Ridge Park, Louisville Central, Louisville Iroquois) vs. Region 5 (John Hardin, North Hardin, Elizabethtown, Bardstown), 5:30 p.m.
Region 1 (Paducah Tilghman, Marshall County, Graves County) vs. Region 13 (Clay County, Bell County, Corbin), 7 p.m. rankings ...


1. Louisville Eastern
2. Jeffersontown
3. Louisville Ballard
4. Clark County
5. Lexington Tates Creek
6. Scott County
7. Christian County
8. Louisville Trinity
9. Louisville Moore
10. Lexington Henry Clay
11. Louisville Western
12. Lexington Catholic
13. Bowling Green
14. Warren Central
15. Louisville Seneca
16. Bullitt East
17. Pleasure Ridge Park
18. Madison Central
19. Lexington Bryan Station
20. Paducah Tilghman


1. Louuisville Manual
2. Rockcastle County
3. Louisville Mercy
4. Louisville Sacred Heart
5. Boone County
6. Marion County
7. Scott County
8. Bowling Green
9. Perry Central
10. Ryle
11. Calloway County
12. Elizabethtown
13. Louisville Butler
14. Greenwood
15. Bryan Station
16. Newport Catholic
17. Madison Central
18. Clay County
19. Ohio County
20. Grayson County

Sweet 16 draw ... girls

There could be some real star power on the floor if Calloway County matches up with Boone County in the first round of the girls' Sweet 16.

Calloway boasts West Virginia signee Averee Fields, perhaps the most talented and versatile girl that the First Region has ever produced. Boone touts 5-11 junior forward Sydney Moss, a Division I prospect and the daughter of well-traveled NFL star Randy Moss.

Both teams will have to navigate their respective regions, of course, to make that matchup occur on March 10 at Western Kentucky University's Diddle Arena, but both are favored to do so.

The Lady Lakers could be challenged by the likes of Murray, Marshall County and Ballard Memorial. Boone has plenty of potential potholes in its path, starting with neighboring Ryle, not to mention St. Henry, Covington Notre Dame, Fort Thomas Highlands and the Newport Catholic club that is favored to repeat as All A Classic state champions next week.

If the First Region winner survives the opening round, there is a very winnable quarterfinal game against the winner of the game between Regions 15 and 16. Sheldon Clark, which meets Ballard Memorial in the opening round of the All A Classic, is one of the 15th Region's top contenders.

Here is the complete draw, with the potential favorites in each region:

Girls' Sweet 16
(at Western Kentucky University)

March 9
Region 8 (South Oldham, Walton-Verona, Anderson County) vs. Region 4 (Bowling Green, Monrow County, Franklin-Simpson, Greenwood), noon
Region 7 (Louisville Manual, Louisville Mercy, Louisville Sacred Heart, Jeffersontown) vs. Region 2 (Henderson County, Union County, Hopkinsville), 1:30 p.m.
Region 6 (Louisville Butler, Bullitt East, Bullitt Central) vs. Region 14 (Perry Central, Letcher Central), 6:30 p.m.
Region 5 (Elizabethtown, Marion County) vs. Region 10 (Clark County, Montgomery County), 8 p.m.

March 10
Region 15 (Magoffin County, Sheldon Clark, Shelby Valley) vs. Region 16 (Ashland, Fleming County, Rowan County, Boyd County), noon
Region 1 (Calloway County, Murray, Marshall County) vs. Region 9 (Boone County, Ryle, Newport Catholic), 1:30 p.m.
Region 11 (Scott County, Lexington Bryan Station, Madison Central, Lexington Catholic) vs. Region 12 (Rockcastle County, Lincoln County), 6:30 p.m.
Region 13 (Clay County, Harlan County, North Laurel, South Laurel) vs. Region 3 (Owensboro Catholic, Ohio County, Grayson County), 8 p.m.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Basketball doings ...

Friday night's schedule brings us two marquee matchups, one each on the boys' and girls' sides.

Paducah Tilghman's boys, which fell 51-47 at Marshall County less than two weeks ago, hosts the rematch at refurbished Otis Dinning Gym with a chance of re-establishing itself as the First Region favorite.

And Calloway County's girls, who thumped crosstown rival Murray 54-38 two weeks ago, get a chance to take one more step towards clinching the top seed in the Fourth District tournament.

It was at the start of February a year ago that Tilghman began to round into the form that eventually delivered the Tornado's third regional title in four seasons, starting an 11-game winning streak that didn't end until the state tournament loss to eventual champion Shelby Valley.

Those that saw the championship game of Massac County's Superman Classic on Saturday night saw it, with the Tornado blowing out No. 2 seed Carbondale and turning the fourth quarter into a fast-break dunkfest.

But the Tornado's last regular-season loss in 2010 came to Marshall on this date on the schedule, a week after the Superman Classic. Marshall scorched the nets from the perimeter in a 91-76 win on its home court.

Marshall held serve at home against Tilghman, and now it's the Tornado's turn to host. In fact, Tilghman doesn't leave McCracken County in the final four weeks — Brad Stieg's club's only road games in that span are at Lone Oak and St. Mary.

When Murray visits Calloway, Rechelle Turner's team finds itself in a position in which it never expected to be — the Lady Tigers were thumped in the first meeting and now find themselves with only the district race and postseason on its radar. Murray expected to be preparing for the All A Classic state tournament, but that went by the wayside in a 64-58 loss to Ballard Memorial in which it blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead.

Ballard stunned Murray with a 22-1 run, a surge fueled in part by the Lady Tigers' turnovers and mistakes. Turner sees leadership as an issue, noting that no one her team was able to take care of the basketball and stabilize things when the game got hectic.

• Missing pieces: Ballard Memorial's boys, who were beaten by Heath in the All A Classic regional final, has apparently parted ways with a couple of guards. Chris Jones, who was starting at the point but not necessarily playing starters' minutes, left the team early this week. Reserve guard Manny Yarbro, who provided some scoring punch early this season but whose playing time has dwindled lately, reportedly quit after Saturday's championship game.

• Mea culpa: I've taken a little heat for my list of the region's top-10 players in The Cats' Pause preseason magazine, having omitted Carlisle County guard Blake Rutherford, who was a Paducah Sun All-Purchase Team pick last year.

Rutherford belongs on the list, as evidenced by his 37-point performance in a losing effort against Fulton County and a 21-point showing when Carlisle avenged that loss, beating the Pilots in the All A Classic quarterfinals.

Likewise, Heath's Drew Robinson might merit inclusion on the list, too. Robinson, a 6-6 forward that can play on the wing, averaged 15.3 points as the Pirates won the All A Classic, then put up 17 points and 10 rebounds as Heath won at Graves County on Tuesday night.

Also, Heath is 7-1 on the Eagles' Nest floor this season — the only loss was to Marshall County in Graves' TimePiece Photography Roundball Classic in mid-December when point guard Damien Bolen was out with the flu. That prompted Heath center Jacob Jett to suggest that the Pirates lobby for the regional tournament be moved to the Eagles' Nest.

Why I love the All A Classic ...

The All A Classic is played in January, but the atmosphere for the boys' and girls' regional championship games is a little slice of March Madness.

Heath's two-minute rally to beat defending champion Ballard Memorial was the stuff of legend, a moment that will be remembered long after the Pirates' program shuts down in a couple of years, snuffed out by McCracken County's pending consolidation.

On the girls' side, Ballard Memorial's amazing 22-1 run that dethroned Murray was fueled in part by the pressure of the moment, the knowledge of what was at stake, with a Murray club that seemed to feel the heat of the expectation of repeating as regional champions and making another state tournament run.

There are some basketball people around the state that downplay the All A Classic. They say that the small-school state tournament doesn't compare to the Sweet 16, both in terms of quality of play and public and media attention.

No argument there, but there is also no question that, for the players, coaches and fans of the participating teams, it's an event that highlights their regular-season schedules.

On more than one occasion last week, I saw a senior from a team that just lost a game walking off the court in tears, knowing that their dream of reaching the state tournament was dashed. You just don't see that level of emotion for a regular-season game or tournament.

The All A Classic is in its 22nd year as a statewide event. I've been lucky to cover all or part of 21 of the 22 regional tournaments, and next week's state tournament will be the 21st I've covered. I would feel my basketball season was incomplete without it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Defending Jay Cutler ...

I once had a conversation with another sportswriter when we discovered that we had a mutual friend.

"The thing about (name deleted)," the writer said, "is that trouble always seems to follow him around."

And so it goes with Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. He suffered a knee injury in the first half of Sunday's NFC championship game against the Green Bay Packers, was ineffective and was taken out of the game early in the second half with the Bears trailing 14-0.

Third-stringer Caleb Hanie, inserted into the lineup when backup Todd Collins was injured, rallied the Bears to a pair of second-half touchdowns. The Bears lost 21-14 when Hanie was picked off deep in Green Bay territory in the final minute.

Hanie actually threw for three scores — unfortunately for the Bears, one of them was an interception that was run back for a touchdown by Green Bay defensive tackle B.J. Raji.

Even before the game ended, however, players and fans alike were ripping Cutler, essentially calling him gutless. Most surprising was that some of the criticism came from NFL players, mostly via their Twitter accounts.

Cutler's reputation isn't the best in the league, and he obviously has a way of ticking off guys around the NFL.

But reports came today that Cutler has at least a partially torn MCL, which is far from a minor injury. Teammates have rushed to his defense, as did coach Lovie Smith in a press conference earlier today. And the Bears' medical staff, it turns out, made the final call on Cutler's availability to play.

Cutler isn't a sympathetic figure, but he doesn't deserve this kind of treatment, especially from players around the NFL who live with the idea that a catastrophic injury can essentially end their careers at any time.

The criticism of Cutler, frankly, seems based more on his being unlikeable than anything else.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Olive ... a Racer, perhaps?

Murray's Robert Olive, a two-way standout at offensive and defensive tackle and one of far western Kentucky's top players, may end up deciding between Murray State, Austin Peay and a preferred walk-on invitation at Kentucky.

Steve Duncan, Murray's coach, feels that Olive might be leaning towards Murray. Olive, a 6-foot-3, 303-pound tackle, is being recruited as an offensive lineman.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Gunner's Magic Train Shootout schedule ...

Marshall County is hosting the Gunner's Magic Train Shootout on Friday and Saturday nights, with both of the host school's teams playing two games.

The schedule was only finalized this week, with St. Mary taking on Madisonville on Friday night. South Laurel pulled out of the shootout in the fall, and Marshall was left scrambling to fill the void.

After the All A Classic seedings were set, Marshall worked out an agreement for the loser of Wednesday night's Mayfield-St. Mary game to play Madisonville, since a first-round loss for either team would leave it able to fit an extra game on its schedule.

The Marshals and Lady Marshals will each play two out-of-state teams, Arnold from Panama City, Fla., and Harding Academy of Searcy, Ark.

Both of Marshall's teams played in Arnold's Christmas tournament last month, and both of the Marlins' boys' and girls' teams have records around the .500 mark. Harding Academy is a small, private school that plays in Class 3A in Arkansas. The Wildcats' boys' team is currently 9-3 while the girls' squad has a 5-5 mark.

Here is the schedule:

Girls: Marshall County vs. Panama City Arnold (Fla.), 5 p.m.
St. Mary vs. Madisonville, 6:30 p.m.
Marshall County vs. Panama City Arnold, 8 p.m.

Girls: Massac County vs. Panama City Arnold, 3 p.m.
Madisonville vs. Panama City Arnold, 4:30 p.m.
Marshall County vs. Harding Academy (Ark.), 6 p.m.
Girls: Marshall County vs. Harding Academy, 7:30 p.m.

All A Classic amended schedules ...

Snow has wreaked havoc on the All A Classic, postponing tonight's games in both the First Region and Second Region tournaments. Both regionals are down to the semifinals in both boys' and girls' play.

Here are the revised schedules:

First Region
(at Graves County)

Ballard Memorial vs. Mayfield, 10:30 a.m.
Heath vs. Carlisle County, noon
Championship, 8 p.m.

Ballard Memorial vs. Community Christian, 6 p.m.
Murray vs. Heath, 7:45 p.m.
Championship, 6 p.m.

Second Region
(at Crittenden County)

Lyon County vs. Livingston Central, 6 p.m.
Caldwell County vs. University Heights, 7:30 p.m.
Championship, 8 p.m.

Lyon County vs. Dawson Springs, 6 p.m.
Crittenden County vs. Livingston Central, 7:30 p.m.
Championship, 6 p.m.

Amended Superman Classic schedule ...

Superman Classic play at Massac County has been postponed for tonight. Friday's schedule will proceed as planned, with the Paducah Tilghman-Massac County semifinal highlighting the two-game session. The Carbondale-Martin Westview (Tenn.) semifinal set for Saturday at 11 a.m., with the winner playing for the championship that night.

Because St. Louis Sumner couldn't guarantee it could play on Friday, for travel reasons, Sumner's game with Calloway County is likely cancelled. However, Sumner will play on Saturday.

Here is the revised schedule:

Madison vs. Vienna, 6:30 p.m.
Paducah Tilghman vs. Massac County, 8 p.m.

Carbondale vs. Martin Westview, 11 a.m.
Calloway County vs. Vienna, 1 p.m.
Madison vs. St. Louis Sumner, 2:30 p.m.
Third-place game, 6:30 p.m.
Championship, 8 p.m.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Eight locals make football team ...

Far western Kentucky was well-represented on the football team, which was released today.

Robert Olive of Murray and Jay Cain of Lone Oak were named as offensive linemen and Josh Forrest of Paducah Tilghman was named at defenisve back. Murray's Carson Greifenkamp was selected as the kicker and Mayfield's Marc Wynstra was chosen at punter.

Three other players, all two-way stars — Mayfield's Jonathan Jackson, Caldwell County's Brandon Sigler and Christian County's Marcoreyon Tandy — were named to the "athletes" team, which "recognizes 12 players whose versatility and all-around contributions on offense, defense and special teams embody the spirit of high school football."

Here is the complete team:


QB - Demarcus Smith, Louisville Seneca
RB - J.J. Jude, Johnson Central
RB - Anthony Wales, Louisville Central
WR - Jordan Gilbert, Mason County
WR - Devante Parker, Louisville Ballard
WR - James Quick, Louisville Trinity
OL - Jamon Brown, Louisville Fern Creek
OL - Jay Cain, Lone Oak
OL - Tyler Combs, Lawrence County
OL - Robert Olive, Murray
OL - Zach West, Lexington Christian
K - Carson Greifenkamp, Murray


DL - Paul Megilligan, Boyle County
DL - Darrian Miller, Lexington Bryan Station
DL - Channing Smith, Sheldon Clark
LB - Lamar Dawson, Boyle County
LB - Flo Hardin, Louisville Ballard
LB - Josh Harris, Mason County
LB - John Dudley Hilton, Bell County
DB - Austin Abner, Fort Thomas Highlands
DB - Josh Forrest, Paducah Tilghman
DB - Daylen Hall, Louisville St. Xavier
DB - Leon Melvin, Louisville Western
P - Marc Wynstra, Mayfield


ATH - Alex Abner, Pulaski County
ATH - Cortez Barber, Warren Central
ATH - Brandon Boards, Allen County
ATH - Darrell Cross, Rowan County
ATH - Cory Davenport, Bell County
ATH - Jalen Harrington, Louisville Fern Creek
ATH - Jonathan Jackson, Mayfield
ATH - Chris Kelly, Newport Catholic
ATH - Chad Lawrence, Simon Kenton
ATH - Cory Lyle, Greenup County
ATH - Brandon Sigler, Caldwell County
ATH - Marcoreyon Tandy, Christian County

PLAYER OF THE YEAR - Lamar Dawson, Boyle County
COACH OF THE YEAR - Brad Hood, Allen County

Alex Mallory narrows college choices ...

Ballard Memorial quarterback Alex Mallory said he is awaiting potential offers from Eastern Kentucky and Western Kentucky. Eastern may offer a partial scholarship, while an invite to Western would likely include an offer to grayshirt, which is what former Lone Oak quarterback Corey Robinson did at Sun Belt Conference rival Troy.

Mallory, who threw for nearly 5,000 yards with 53 touchdowns and 25 interceptions over the last two seasons, said he is likely to go the NAIA route if talks with Eastern and Western fall through.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Superman Classic preview ...

A few years ago, Massac County athletic director Kelly Glass decided to conduct a seeding meeting to set the pairings for the Superman Classic, guaranteeing the participating teams that the Patriots wouldn't set up the bracket to give themselves an easy bracket in which to make a run to the championship game.

But when you have teams from three (and sometimes four) different states and participating schools spread out from Tennessee to the St. Louis area, and sometimes beyond, it's difficult to nail down a logical pecking order.

Last year was a prime example, when Madison won the tournament as the No. 5 seed and had its toughest game in the opening round, staging a furious comeback to knock off fourth seed Paducah Tilghman.

This year, the seedings looks a little more true to form. Tilghman is the top seed, although the team that earned the seeding may not take the floor this week, as it appears that point guard Josh Forrest will miss a game or two, or possibly the entire tournament, if he opts to take an official football visit to Central Florida. Carbondale is the No. 2 seed, followed by Martin Westview, Massac and Madison.

If it was my seeding, I would probably go with a slightly different order, with Massac at No.3, followed by Madison and Westview. As it stands, the Massac-Madison game will draw some attention since it matches two strong small-school teams — both teams have made it to the state tournament in one the last two seasons — from opposite ends of what much of the state considers southern Illinois.

In any case, a semifinal matching Tilghman and either the Patriots or Madison could be a fun game to watch, and expect Carbondale to be awaiting the winner in Saturday night's final.

Big three, round three ...

So ... the midseason round-robin between First Region heavyweights Paducah Tilghman, Marshall County and Graves County ended in a draw.

Friday night's third installment may have been the best game of the three, a contest full of drama that went right down to the final second, when Graves reserve Travis Beck tipped in a missed shot by backup point guard Mason Beale to give the Eagles a 56-54 win.

Note the key words ... reserves. Graves' bench, which has been woefully thin for much of the year, made its biggest contribution yet in a tight game. Beck hit two 3-pointers in the first half and scored 10 points, and Beale was handed the ballhandling responsibilities as Graves set up the game-winning shot without point guard Jesse Anderson, who was held scoreless in the first half and had fouled out with just five points, his season-low total.

Beck, a 6-3 junior who is more of a face-the-basket player, transferred in from Joppa in mid-December and was pushed into some brief action almost before he had a chance to practice with the Eagles, which meant he had precious little time to learn the team's extensive array of offensive sets. Beale, a sophomore, is the first guard off the bench and the heir apparent at the point when Anderson graduates this spring.

What else did we learn about Graves? As good as Anderson is, he might not be the Eagles' most indispensible player. That might fall on athletic 6-4 center Aaron Cooper, Graves' only true post player. With Cooper on the bench with four fouls and Graves holding a seven-point lead with less than two minutes remaining, Marshall attacked the basket at will, scoring two baskets and five points in two possessions.

Combined with a turnover, Marshall made it seven points in three trips and tied the score when guard Blake Clark drew Anderson's fifth foul and sank two free throws with less than a minute remaining.

As for Marshall ... it appears that Gus Gillespie's crew has the size and bulk that enables it to match up with Tilghman a little better than the Eagles. Drew Williams and Casey White, who had big putbacks in both games last week, provide some inside depth and enable Marshall to use a lot of fouls in the paint. That, in turn, exposes one of the Tornado's glaring flaws, its free throw shooting.

What did we learn over the past week or so? Tilghman is still the favorite, in my estimation, probably because it appears to have the most upside. I'm sticking with Marshall second and Graves third — the teams have split two games this season — but, as someone from the Eagles' camp noted on Friday night, the gap between No. 1 and No. 3 might have narrowed a bit.

Stay tuned for the second round-robin, coming soon — the Tornado hosts Marshall and Graves in back-to-back games on Jan. 28 and Feb. 1, and then the Marshals host Graves on Feb. 4.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Forrest reaffirms commitment to Kentucky ...

There were reports earlier this week that Paducah Tilghman football star Josh Forrest might be wavering on his commitment to the University of Kentucky, but Forrest seems to have nixed those by issuing invitations to his national letter-of-intent signing on Feb. 5. The invite said that Forrest will indeed sign with the Wildcats.

Still, there are indications that Forrest will take a visit to Central Florida this weekend.

Tilghman coach Randy Wyatt told that Central Florida isn't a threat to Forrest's commitment to Kentucky. "My understanding is it's more like a vacation for him," Wyatt was quoted as saying. "He wants to go to Disney World. That's all I'm going to say about it. He's Kentucky-bound."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Murray-Calloway ... round one

Murray and Calloway County, as schools, are separated by a little over a mile.

In the various state girls' basketball rankings, they're even closer.

Murray is the defending First Region champion. Calloway, which fell to Murray in overtime in last year's regional final, has a Division I signee, returns a bit more on paper and is, at least in some quarters, the regional favorite.

So ... who wins tonight's game at Murray's Tiger Gym, the first of two regular-season showdowns between the two teams?

Does it really matter, given that conventional wisdom has them meeting four times this year, including the district and regional finals?

You bet it does.

"This year, it's even more important to get the number one seed (for the district tournament)," Calloway coach Scott Sivills said. "You don't want to be the two-seed and have to play Marshall County on their court in the first round of the district."

Sivills also makes another point that it is arguably the First Region's biggest regular-season game in years, perhaps even close to two decades. For the first time in recent memory, the region has two teams ranked in the state's top 20 in the Cantrall and Litkenhous ratings.

So ... how big is it?

"It's a big game, but it's not the end of the season," Sivills said. "I think sometimes you can make this out to be too big and your players play tight.

"Our players are excited about it, because it's Murray and because it's the first time we've played them since the regional finals. But they're not as jacked up as the media and the parents and the fans."

Murray coach Rechelle Turner's answer to the question was laced with a little humor.

"Everybody gets real excited about it, and I'm not sure why," Turner said with a smile."These two teams gave everybody four classic match-ups last year, and this is the first time we've seen them this year."

Could we see another foursome this season?

"If that means we're both in the regional finals, I'll take it," Turner said. "I'm not sure I would necessarily pick them as the team I would want to play four times."

On paper, it's a tough game to call. After battling through some sickness and injuries early in the season, Murray hit its stride just before Christmas, going 3-1 in Lexington Catholic's Republic Bank Holiday Classic and later winning its own Lady Tiger Classic, beating a strong Grayson County team in the championship game.

Two of the Lady Tigers' three losses are to defending state champions. Guard Haley Armstrong and point guard Janssen Starks lead the way, and 6-foot-3 Sian House is a strong defensive presence in the paint. In recent weeks, Murray has gotten more offensive production from forward Shelby Crouch and defensive whiz Amanda Winchester lately.

Calloway's Averee Fields, a West Virginia signee and the returning Paducah Sun All-Purchase Player of the Year, is her usual self, averaging 22 points and 12 rebounds per game. Point guard Taylor Futrell is averaging 11 points per game, and guards Abby Futrell and Karlee Wilson have made significant strides. Forward Alyssa Cunningham, sidelined by mononucleosis in the postseason, provides solid work in the post..

"My uncle, who has coached for 40 years, told me after the regional final last year that we would be much when our sophomores became juniors," Sivills said. "And he was right. We're seeing that on the floor."

The Lady Lakers' only loss was to a team from Connecticut in a post-Christmas tournament in Orlando, Fla., and Calloway owns two wins over a Martin Westview squad that's been in the Tennessee Class 2A final four the last two years.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Big three, round two ...

It wasn't so shocking that Marshall County beat Paducah Tilghman, but how the Marshals did it.

Marshall didn't shoot the ball well from the perimeter, as it was thought it would need to — the Marshals hit just 2 of 14 tries from 3-point range in Tuesday night's 51-47 win. And they outrebounded a bigger, stronger Tilghman squad by a considerable margin.

They did it with defense, too, keeping Josh Forrest out of the lane for much of the night and not letting the Tornado shooters go wild from the perimeter, and their depth was clearly the equal of Tilghman's, with reserves Chase Clark, Peter Northcutt and Drew Williams providing quality minutes.

Stephen Atkinson had 24 points and 14 rebounds, is averaging a double-double and has put himself in the conversation for The Paducah Sun Purchase Player of the Year award. Guards Chase York and Cole Nelson were able to provide board support.

As for Tilghman — well, the Tornado missed a chance to possibly put the game away late in the first half, when Cody Schultz tried an alley-oop pass to Josh Forrest on the break with Tilghman up 29-18 and threatening to blow open the game. The move backfired, and the Marshals scored twice late in the half to cut the deficit to seven.

Was the Tornado a bit fatigued from a tough stretch of three games against solid opposition — district rival Heath, Graves County and Marshall — in a span of five days? Perhaps, especially since Tilghman was beaten back down the floor two or three times for Marshall baskets in transition in the fourth quarter.

And, of course, there is Tilghman's Achilles' Heel — the free throw line. The Tornado was 8-for-18 from the line, with Forrest going 3-for-12. In a close game, foul shooting is always going to give the Tornado's opponent a chance to sneak off with a win.

BCS musings ...

Five consecutive "national champions" from four different schools.

Without question, the Southeastern Conference has again proven itself as college football's league without peer.

Auburn is certainly a deserving champion, having beaten three top-20 opponents within the SEC and containing an Oregon offense that was considered the nation's most explosive, holding it to well under half its typical point total.

And, given that Oregon took the Tigers to the wire, scoring the game-tying touchdown before falling on a last-second field goal, it's safe to declare the quacky Ducks as the nation's No. 2 team, right?

Well, maybe not.

The voters went with Texas Christian, the nation's only other undefeated squad, as the runner-up, but the vote here is for Oregon. I like the Horned Frogs, but remember that they barely escaped the Rose Bowl with a win over Wisconsin. And frankly, Oregon's close call with Auburn looks like the more impressive bowl performance.

• The play was officiated correctly, but Auburn freshman Michael Dyer's run after he was dragged down by a defender on the Tigers' game-winning final drive is an example of a rule that, while properly enforced, needs to be changed.

Why is it that a runner can be tackled and totally prone on top of a defender, but he isn't considered down because his knee isn't touching the ground? He's no longer in position to gain yardage, and he would be on the ground if not for the defender below him.

Oregon's defense certainly thought Dyer was down, and rightfully so. And while players are told to go until they hear the whistle, sometimes a player doesn't necessarily hear it. And in that case, it's understandable why one would be afraid to hit a running back who gets back to his feet and off a prone defender — if he makes considerable contact with such a running back, and the whistle had actually blown, he would surely be flagged for a personal foul, a 15-yard penalty.

• Who is the nation's second-best team? My vote goes to Alabama — yes, the same Crimson Tide that lost three games during the regular season.

Alabama fell at South Carolina a week after pummeling Florida while the Gamecocks had an off-week, then lost a close game at LSU and a one-point decision to Auburn, the eventual national champion.

If the Tide played Auburn right now, on a neutral field, I would take Alabama. And if we had a real national championship tournament, Alabama would be just as much a threat to win the title as anyone — Auburn, Oregon, TCU included.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Big three, round one ...

In a stretch of seven days, the First Region's top three teams are squaring off in what amounts to a midseason round-robin — Paducah Tilghman came from behind to beat Graves County 90-81 on Saturday night and visits Marshall County on Tuesday night. The Eagles, who have already lost to Marshall once this season, host the rematch on Friday night.

Some observations after round one:

Tilghman coach Brad Stieg seems to have settled on a starting lineup that includes three guards, with Cody Schultz and Trevonte Cole (who combined to go 10-for-20 from 3-point range) flanking point guard Josh Forrest and versatile forward Darrius Brown in a sixth-man role. Earlier in the season, Brown was in the first five, with Schultz coming off the bench.

"In the First Region, teams are going to pack it on us with that lineup," Stieg said. "This gives us two shooters to spread the defense, and I like all the things that Darrius does for us coming off the bench."

DeShawn Jackson has turned in some solid work as the top guard reserve, and Tilghman can still call on DeCarida Key as a swingman and two bigs off the bench in 6-4 Chavion Harper and 6-7 Devin Wilson.

Tilghman's ferocious fourth-quarter run shows that the Tornado's "A" game is the region's best, but there are still some defensive issues to address.

As for Graves, it's been a pair of really frustrating losses in the region, the first one to Marshall in the championship game of Graves' TimePiece Holiday Classic in mid-December. In both games, the Eagles held double-digit leads in the first half on their home court, fueled for the most part by dead-eye perimeter shooting.

Graves was 9-for-16 from beyond the arc in regulation against Marshall, then went 0-for-7 from long range in the overtime, falling 63-57 after being outscored 8-2 in the extra four minutes.

The Eagles held a 15-point lead on Marshall early in the second quarter and had Tilghman down 38-24 with less than three minutes left in the first half — at the time, Graves had hit seven of its 12 3-point attempts.

Is there a moral to the story? Perhaps, in that as long as the Eagles' four-guard lineup is shooting the ball well from the perimeter, Graves is a dangerous team, not to mention that athletic center Aaron Cooper is having a splendid season — he had 23 points and 17 rebounds against Tilghman's big front line.

And the depth issue is something with which the Eagles will have to contend. Guard Mason Beale and forward Travis Beck are the best bets off the bench, but they may not be ready to handle major minutes just yet against the likes of Tilghman.

Stieg has taken to calling his team "a work in progress" and, in a sense, the Eagles' bench brigade is, too.

Cardinals reaching a bit ...

Check out the St. Louis Cardinals' projected everyday lineup, and there is a discernible pattern.

Ryan Theriot at shortstop?

Skip Schumaker at second base?

Lance Berkman at an outfield corner?

If I'm on the pitching staff, I'm filing a grievance with the players' union.

Defense appears to be optional next season for the Cardinals, who have apparently decided that fortifying the offense was the most important mission of the offseason. Whether that has been accomplished is still in doubt.

First, let's look at the infield. The trade for Theriot wasn't necessarily a bad thing — Blake Hawksworth is your run-of-the-mill middle reliever and spot starter — but the decision to play him at shortstop and trade defensive whiz Brendan Ryan reeks of spite and desperation.

Theriot is the kind of hustler Cardinals fans love, but his actual performance isn't one that you should fall in love with. Theriot came up to the Cubs as a second baseman that had shown the ability to get on base, and while he had a couple of decent years after being moved to shortstop, his defense is better suited for the right side of the bag.

Now 31, he has precious little time left as a regular, and the Cardinals are gambling that Theriot will rediscover the batting eye he showed in 2008 and 2009.

If Theriot was playing second, the move would make more sense. He could provide a solid glove and would certainly be a defensive upgrade on Schumaker, the converted outfielder who plays second like ... well, a converted outfielder. Like Theriot, Schumaker took a nosedive offensively last season, and his downturn was as big a reason as any for St. Louis' disappointing season.

Theriot at second and Ryan at shortstop was a middle infield the Cardinals could live with, but Tony LaRussa seemed bent on getting rid of Ryan, whose bat died a predictable death in 2010. Ryan hit over his head in 2009, but he's better than he showed in 2010 — his true level of ability is somewhere in the middle, and his glove is among the best in the game.

So why the trade to Seattle? It seems more about personality than performance. Ryan had some run-ins with teammates, star pitcher Chris Carpenter in particular, but I'm betting that Carpenter wishes he had Ryan's glove behind him by May.

Bottom line — Ryan and Theriot up the middle make much more sense than Theriot and Schumaker. Throw in the uncertainty at third base, where David Freese was one red-hot weekend away from being thoroughly mediocre, and the Cardinals still don't have enough bats to back up Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Colby Rasmus and give a fine pitching staff the run support it needs.

That is why the Cardinals added Berkman, whose bat looked noticeable slower last year. That could have been because of his age (Berkman turns 35 next month) and it could have been due to some early-season knee problems. Berkman claims his knee is better and says he's lost some weight, which could save the knee some wear and tear.

But Berkman is a first baseman, which means in St. Louis he has to move to the outfield. Berkman hasn't played in the outfield since 2007, and he needs to be platooned at this point. He's always been a much better hitter against right-handed pitching, but his work against lefties has deteriorated to the point that he needs a partner, a role that Allen Craig might fill.

Again, these moves are an indictment of the Cardinals' farm system, which has deteriorated to the point that they couldn't provide a prospect of enough quality to get Jake Westbrook from Cleveland at the trade deadline last season — instead, they had to pony up Ryan Ludwick to the Padres.

There are no position players on the horizon that appear ready to contribute in the next 2-3 years, and the Cardinals have had to resort to taking chances on aging veterans like Theriot and Berkman.

Part of coaching and building a successful team in any sport is putting players in positions best suited for their skills, giving them the best chance to make a solid contribution. It's hard to see that the Cardinals have done that as spring training approaches.