Third time’s a charm

Johnson Central’s Jacob Rice passes the ball out of the paint to teammate John King against Pikeville Saturday night in the 15th Region championship game. Rice was named the 15th Region Tournament MVP as the Golden Eagles picked up a 66-61 win over Pikeville at the East Kentucky Expo Center.

The third time was a charm for Johnson Central.

Pikeville was looking for its third straight 15th Region championship. The Panthers and Golden Eagles met for the third straight year in the championship game; this time Johnson Central edged Pikeville 66-61 to claim to the 15th Region championship.

Johnson Central advances to the Sweet 16 at Rupp Arena. The Golden Eagles will take on Louisville Trinity at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in the opening round of the Sweet 16. Trinity has a 26-8 record on the season and is one of the top team’s in the state. The Shamrocks knocked off Ballard 59-37 in the 7th Region championship. Trinity features Mr. Basketball candidate David Johnson. Johnson averages 16.2 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per contest.

This was Johnson Central’s eighth straight 15th Region Tournament championship game appearance. The Golden Eagles last 15th Region championship was 2015. 

This was Johnson Central coach Tommy McKenzie’s fifth 15th Region championship. He led the Golden Eagles to four straight region championships from 2012-2015.

Pikeville played in its third straight 15th Region championship under head coach Elisha Justice. The Panthers won the last two region titles.

Johnson Central’s Jacob Rice made a basket with 5:34 left to give the Golden Eagles a 55-45 lead.

Pikeville didn’t quit, though. Laithan Hall knocked down a three to cut the lead to 55-48. Christian Billiter followed with a basket at the 3:19 mark to cut the lead to 57-50. 

Kyle Watkins stepped up big for the Panthers. Watkins knocked down a three with 3:11 left to cut the lead to 59-53. He came up with another basket with 2:53 to cut the lead to 59-55. 

Pikeville’s Connor Roberts scored on an offensive rebound to inch to the Panthers to within two (59-57) with 2:30 left to play.

Johnson Central’s Cory VanHoose stopped the bleeding with a basket with 1:18 left to push the lead to 61-57.

Billiter scored on an offensive rebound putback with 1:06 left to cut the lead to 61-59. 

VanHoose stepped up with a basket with 54 seconds to push the lead to 63-59. 

Watkins scored again for the Panthers with 41 seconds left to cut the lead to 63-61. 

Pikeville had one last chance after Jacob Rice split a pair of free throws, but the Panthers couldn’t come up with a basket. 

Johnson Central put the game away at the free throw line.

Isaiah May led the way for Johnson Central with 19 points and eight rebounds. 

Rice followed with 15 points, eight assists and four rebounds; he was named 15th Region Tournament MVP. Rice won the MVP based on his defensive efforts against Shelby Valley’s Cody Potter and Pikeville’s Roberts.

John King added 13 points and six rebounds for the Golden Eagles. VanHoose also reached double figure scoring with 12 points. Gabe Ferrell added six points. Braxton Bentley chipped in with one point for Johnson Central.

Johnson Central shot 60 percent from the field. 

Watkins led the way for Pikeville. Watkins scored a game-high 21 points, he dished out six assists, had three steals, two rebounds and blocked a shot. Zach Lockhart also reached double figure scoring with 11 points. Billiter finished with nine points, seven rebounds, one steal, one assist and one block. Rylee Sammons added eight points. Hall scored six and Roberts finished with four points. Byron Hammond chipped in with two points. 

Pikeville finished the season with a 23-9 record and won its third straight 59th District championship. The Panthers played in their third straight region championship game as well.

Sports Editor’s Note: For more coverage of the 15th Region Tournament including highlights and interviews from each game see the Appalachian Newspapers presents Bank On It podcast. Episode 19 will feature highlights from every game of the Boys’ 15th Region Tournament and the first round of the Girls’ 15th Region Tournament. Visit and search Bank On It. Like, subscribe and comment and remember to Bank On It.

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