With the Covid-19 virus ravaging the nation, the unexpected pandemic has hit all facets of the country from the closing of businesses and nonessential stores, to schools, workout facilities, sporting fields and gymnasiums across the land.
Due to the quarantine orders from many governors, for the first time sports in general have been postponed or canceled all together.
In an unprecedented move, the governing body of high school sports in Kentucky, the KHSAA, was forced to cancel this year’s Sweet 16 basketball tournament held at Rupp Arena. Many schools seasons were cut short and seniors played in what likely is their last games, but never received a proper send off. We will take a look back at the girls and boys basketball seasons in the 57th District and the 15th Region.
Lady Golden Eagles
Lady Golden Eagle head coach Darrin Rice lost the majority of his scoring from a year ago in the graduation of Ashlee Belcher and Alaina Castle. However, Johnson Central returned one of the region’s most talented underclass men in guard Sammi Sites. The Lady Golden Eagles finished 18-15 last season, capturing the 57th District title and advancing all the way to the 15th Region championship, before falling to the Pikeville Lady Panthers 53-35.
Coach Rice knew coming in that to repeat that success his ladies had to be thrown to the wolves early on. And throw them he did. Johnson Central started the season on the road December 5th at Russell, in which they lost 54-30, and start the season 0-4 as they would also lose their next three mainly on the road. Rice wanted to get his young team used to playing in hostile environments, and that proved to be valuable. After a heartbreaking loss to Pikeville in what was a rematch of last season’s 15 Region title game, and also their home opener 55-45, the Lady Golden Eagles rattled off three straight wins as they defeated Bell County on the road 65-60, then getting past Lawrence County in Louisa 47-43.
Johnson Central also picked up a win over Christ Presbyterian Academy out of Nashville, in the first game of the Heritage Tennessee Christmas Tournament.
One thing fans could see after the Christmas break was with the new year, they started looking like a new team. The youthful mistakes became more rare, the team started to gel as one unit and it showed on the floor. Johnson Central then participated in the Pikeville Invitational, where they won one game over Mason County 49-42.
They returned to familiar ground on January 4th, as Paintsville hosted the City Between the Lakes Classic. The Lady Golden Eagles went on a three game winning streak beginning January 13th, winning two big district games in the process, clipping Paintsville 34-29, rolling over Betsy Layne 65-37 and cruising past Magoffin County 45-25 in that span. Further into the season players started stepping up and we began to hear names like Kelci Blair, KK Vannoy, and others. Faith Fairchild, the only senior, started to pick up her play as well.
On February 3rd, the Lady Golden Eagles gave eventual 57th District champ Martin County all they wanted before falling by four 50-46, they won six of their last eight games as they would face the Lady Cardinals once again in the 57th title game 46-32. They punched their ticket to the 15th Region tournament held at the Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville, where they faced off with Belfry. Johnson Central looked to be firing on all cylinders, however, lost another heartbreaker to the Lady Pirates 52-53, concluding their season.
The Lady Golden Eagles finished the year a game above .500 at 16-15. Rice has to be optimistic about next season, as Fairchild is the only graduating senior.
Sites led Johnson Central in scoring with an average of 16.8 per game. The junior guard shot 40.2 percent from the floor, along with 43.6 percent from three point land. She shot a solid 83.4 percent from the charity stripe, and also led the team in rebounds with 5.3 per outing. Fellow junior Kelci Blair was the other double digit scorer for Johnson Central. The guard averaged 13.3 points per game along with 31 percent from behind the arc. She shot 66.8 percent from the free throw line and was third on the team in rebounding behind Fairchild with 3.0 per game.
Speaking of Fairchild, the senior finished her career averaging 4.5 points per game. She shot 65.2 percent from the line to go along with 3.6 boards per game.
The Lady Golden Eagles will return nearly everyone from last season’s team that finished fifth place in the regional rankings. Johnson Central gained valuable experience this year, taking their bumps early and becoming a cohesive unit by season’s end.
Paintsville head coach Les Trimble found him in a similar situation to Darrin Rice. Coming off a 20 win season, the defending 15th Region All “A” champions found themselves having to replace their top two leading scorers in Anna Keeton and Elizabeth “Swoop” Williams. Both of those ladies were 1,500 point scorers and the team leaders. Keeton was recently named to the NCCAA All Mideast Region Team in just her freshman season at Kentucky Christian University in Grayson.
Like Johnson Central, the Lady Tigers graduate one senior in Hope Auxier. The young Paintsville team started off the season rolling, winning six of their first eight games. They were one and one in district play early on, losing to Martin County 61-33 on December 13th at home. They quickly evened their record in the 57th however, defeating Magoffin County three nights later 36-33 on the road.
They traveled to Gatlinburg, Tnn. for the Smoky Mountain Classic where they won one game defeating the Phelps Lady Hornets 29-20. The youth started to shine through however, as the Lady Tigers lost 10 in a row as the tough part of the schedule began, playing in the Pikeville Invitational, the City Between the Lakes and the 15th Region All “A” Classic coming back-to-back. The Lady Tigers ended that skid on January 21st, defeating Prestonsburg 47-35. They captured another district win on the 29th rolling Magoffin County 36-17. Their last win of the season came against Pike Central on February 21, 41-39 on the road. The Lady Tigers fell to eventual 57th District champion Martin County in the opening round of the district tournament.
Paintsville finished the year at 9-20. However, they were one of the youngest teams in the 15th region last year. Coach Trimble will build on the good things from this past season, as he will have nearly his entire core back next year.
The Lady Tigers were led in scoring by 8th grader Emilea Preece with 12.1 points per game. She shot 26.6 from the floor on the year, and 57.8 from the charity stripe. Preece was also third on the team in rebounds with nearly five per game.
Fellow eighth-grader Chloe Hannah was the second leading scorer on the team with 11.3 points per game. She shot 31.2 percent from the floor and 26.1 from behind the arc. She shot 50.5 percent from the free throw line, to go with 4.4 boards per contest.
Also back for Paintsville next season will be Ava Hyden. One of the hardest playing ladies in the 15th region, the sophomore finished the year averaging 6.2 points per game. The Co-captain of the team shot 25.8 percent from the field, along with 23 percent from deep. She was second on the team in free throw percentage with 57. 1. Hyden led the team in rebounding with 5.7 per game as well.
Paintsville will be young again next season, however, they will be much improved from this year. Look for these teams to make plenty of noise in the next two years, as they gain experience from each time they step on the floor. With the coronovirus crippling the nation at present, we can’t exactly tell how long it will be before sports will be back on the calendar, or when athletes will be allowed back into facilities to prepare, the most important thing is, to be sure and take care of yourselves. Follow the CDC guidelines so we can get this terrible disease over with and get back to our normal everyday lives. Stay safe everyone.