It wasn’t easy, but the Henry County Wildcats picked up a win against the Frankfort Panthers in the opening round of the Henry County Invitational Tournament.
The Panthers came back from double-digit deficits twice in the game to make it close down the stretch.
In the end, some key hustle plays by the Wildcats helped them pull out a 4-point victory 62-58.
The game opened at racehorse pace with both teams scoring in bunches. Frankfort got the opening tip and ran their offense patiently on their first possession until they found the open man under the basket for an easy lay-in.
The Cats answered immediately with a 3-pointer from Dakota Estes. The game seesawed back and forth for the remainder of the period until Frankfort scored on a hook shot late in the quarter to take a 20-18 lead going into the second period.
The Cats defense stiffened in the second period as they held the Panthers to just nine points while scoring 19 points on the offensive end. Austin Young led the attack for the Cats in the first half with 10 points, while Estes had two 3-pointers to go along with an important steal and assist to open the second period that led to a Chase Howard lay up. Howard had all seven of his points in the first half.
The scoring pace slowed in the third quarter but the Cats managed to extend their lead to 10 points at 50-40 by the end of the quarter.
The Cats extended the lead to 12 points midway through the quarter but Frankfort went on an 8-0 run to close to within four points. The Cats’ Derek Jeffries closed the period with 6 straight points to extend the lead back to 10.
Jeffries’ personal run extended to 8 points to open the period as the Cats went ahead by 12 points again.
After Frankfort hit a baseline jumper and a free throw, the Cats extended the lead back to 12 points on a strong inside move by Young, who was fouled and hit the free throw for the old-fashioned 3-point play.
The Panthers then went on a 7-0 run to close the gap to 5 points and the rest of the game became a struggle to defend the lead for the Cats.
Jeffries got another inside basket to extend the lead back to 6, but Frankfort answered with a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 4 points. Jeffries then hit 1-of-2 free throws and Estes got an important steal and layup to get the lead back to seven points.
Estes’ play was heady as Frankfort lost the ball into the backcourt and then slowly went to retrieve it for the over-and-back call. Estes realized that if he sprinted to the ball he could get there first and the surprised Panther could only watch as he hit the layup.
The play appeared to make it comfortable for the Cats, but Frankfort immediately answered with another 3-pointer to cut the lead back to four.
After an empty possession by the Cats, Frankfort hit a baseline jumper to cut the lead to two points with less than a minute remaining. After a Wildcat turnover, Frankfort had a chance to tie the score but Estes came up with a steal at 29 seconds.
The Cats then called timeout as they struggled to get the ball upcourt against the Panthers’ pressure defense. Out of the timeout Young stepped to the line and sank two free throws after being fouled to stop the clock at 17.4 seconds.
On Frankfort’s final possession they got off a shot that missed and in the ensuing scramble for the ball Landon New was able to tie up a Frankfort player. The possession arrow was in favor of the Cats.
Frankfort fouled again at 2.1 seconds, but even though Estes missed the foul shot, time ran out before Frankfort could get off another shot.
Coach Enoch Welch was pleased with most of the team’s effort. “We played solid for the majority of the game,” he said. “Frankfort is a dangerous team because they make you play faster than you want. I thought we managed the game well until about 6 minutes to go. We started to play at a tempo that they were more comfortable with than we were.
“I thought offensively they didn’t have an answer for Austin and Derek. I thought Dakota and Landon did a good job of handling pressure and Dakota did a good job finishing.”
“I thought that overall, the key to the game was that we got the majority of the 50-50 balls. 50-50 balls and free throws have been an indicator of how successful we’ve been all year.”
North Oldham 66 HCHS 37
The Wildcats were back in action Friday night in the semifinals of the HCIT and came out cold against the very hot Mustangs. North Oldham’s David Levitch torched the Cats for 6 of the Mustangs’ 10 3-pointers in the game.
The Mustangs jumped on top 20-0 in the first quarter and never looked back as the Cats had trouble all night finding the basket. The Wildcats were behind 41-12 at halftime and faced a running clock starting late in the third quarter.
“They came out really hot and hit a couple of three’s and got a couple of offensive rebounds and we got our heads down and never really got them back,” Welch said. “We could tell before the game that the energy wasn’t there. In varsity basketball it has got to be there every night. It’s something we are going to have to remedy.”
Jeffersontown 83 HCHS 55
The Cats had better energy to start the game against the talented, athletic J-Town Chargers on Saturday night, but could not sustain the effort as the Chargers pulled away for the 28-point victory after trailing by 1 at the end of the first period.
Henry County jumped out to an 8-0 lead and increased the margin to 10 points at 14-4 before the Chargers began to climb back into the game.
J-Town went to a half-court trap defense that flustered the Cats and began to score easy buckets off turnovers. They also got hot from the 3-point line as they hit three long-range bombs in a row to end the first period and close the gap to 16-15.
After Derek Jeffries opened the scoring with a reverse layup off a nice assist from Landon New to open the second period, J-Town dominated the remainder of the half to go into halftime ahead 37-23.
The Chargers continued their dominance in the third period by outscoring the Cats 24-13 for a 61-36 lead.
The Cats continued to play hard and limited the damage in the final period of play.
When asked about the team’s performance Welch said, “We really came out playing the kind of basketball we want to play—getting in passing lanes and defending well. They made a nice defensive adjustment and then hit three straight 3-pointers and we got our heads down. We are really going to have to learn to be resilient. The game of basketball is built on runs. You have to learn to weather storms. In high school basketball you can’t take plays off.”
Larue County 62 HCHS 45
After getting a thrilling last second victory over Thomas Nelson in the first round of the Capital City Invitational at Western Hills High School in Frankfort on Dec. 20, the Henry County Wildcats returned the following night to take on the Larue County Hawks in the semi-finals.
The Wildcats found scoring tough against the Hawks and had trouble containing LaRue’s Kelton Ford who Coach Enoch Welch described as the best player his team had faced all year. Ford, a speedy guard, went for 26 against the Cats in leading the Hawks to a 62-45 victory.
Despite their offensive struggles, the Cats had a chance in the fourth quarter as they cut the lead to three points twice while Ford sat on the bench with foul trouble.
But Ford returned with about four minutes left in the game and helped Larue stretch the lead back out. The Cats were then in a position they have found themselves in often this season—having to foul and play catch-up. The Hawks hit enough free throws down the stretch to increase the margin to 17 by the end of the game. Ford scored 9 of his 26 points down the stretch.
The Wildcats were led in scoring by Austin Young who had 13 points, while no other Henry County player managed to score more than 7 points.
Campbell County 72 HCHS 57
The Cats returned to Frankfort on Dec. 22 to face the Campbell County Camels in the third place game of the Capital City Invitational and fell by 17 points in another game that was closer than the final score indicated.
The Cats were down one at the end of the first quarter and tied with the Camels at halftime but according to Welch one of the keys to the game was a 9-2 run at the end of the half that saw the Wildcats let a 7-point lead melt away.
Henry County stayed in the game with the team that Welch described as the best his team has faced all year. At the end of the third period the Camels were up by just 4 points at 52-48.
The Camels maintained a 4-point lead through the first half of the final period when the second key sequence of the game occurred. Campbell County got a three-point play on a put back, which made the lead 7 points.
If the Cats had gotten the rebound, they would have had a chance to cut the margin to two points. On the ensuing play the Cats tried a lob play, but the pass was intercepted and Campbell County capitalized on the turnover to stretch the lead to nine points.
The Cats again found themselves in a fouling situation and the Camels went to the line and put the game away by hitting 9-of-13 free throws in the final period.
Derek Jeffries and Landon New led the Cats in scoring with 10 points each.
Welch felt that the tournament was good for his team. “I thought we played our best three quarters of the season against Campbell County,” he said. “I thought we grew as a team in the tourney against stiff competition. Our schedule is only going to get tougher, so we have to get tougher.”