In a 30-hour stretch Friday and Saturday, the Henry County boys’ basketball team was a perfect three of three in the Richmond Model Holiday Classic to win the tournament championship, then turned around the following day to open the Sayre Tournament with another win, which left the Wildcats at 9-2 overall and riding a seven-game winning streak heading into this week.
So far this season, the Wildcats have defeated Trimble County (54-52) and Model (73-62), then lost to Cornerstone Christian (62-58) and Gallatin County (64-41), and then defeated Eminence (74-25), Owen County (53-51), Walton-Verona (57-50), Whitefield Academy (45-43), Monroe County (51-49), Community Christian from Paducah (50-46) and Sayre (50-47). The Whitefield, Monroe and Community Christian games were part of the Model Classic, while the Sayre game Sunday night was part of the Sayre Tournament, which kept the Cats pointed in the right direction after a packed week.
“Sometimes we play well and sometimes we just find ways to win,” said Henry coach Jason Holland, whose team has already won five games by less than five points. “Really, it’s hard to tell how well we’re playing right now. It seems like we’re playing up for our level of competition and down for our level of competition, then finding a way to win. To play this many games this quick is tough, though, and I don’t care who you’re playing. We’ve been fortunate to hang in there and win some games lately.”
Henry opened last week with the seven-point win over Walton-Verona Tuesday, then had two days off before opening the Model Classic against Whitefield. The Wildcats won that game by 11 points, then squeezed past Monroe Saturday afternoon to reach the finals later that day.
Against Monroe, the Wildcats led for much of the game before falling behind by one point after a Monroe free throw with just six seconds left. After Holland called a timeout, Monroe missed the second free-throw attempt, Connor Jeffries got the rebound and quickly dribbled to midcourt, where he was triple teamed and found Steven Tillett open for a three-point look. As time expired, the shot fell through the net to give Henry the 51-49 win. (Tillett also hit a game-winning three-point basket in a 53-51 win over Owen County the week before.)
Later that day, against Community Christian for the title, a tired Henry squad found a way to squeeze out another win. The Wildcats were ahead by eight points early in the fourth quarter before a technical was called after a Henry foul, Community Christian knocked down four straight free throws and then scored to cut its deficit to just two. The Cats were able to hold on down the stretch for the four-point championship victory.
After the tournament win, Henry opened the Sayre Tournament with a win over the host school Sunday night to keep its win streak alive. The Wildcats played two more games Monday and Tuesday to close out the three-day tourney before a three-day break from games.
“We didn’t have the HCIT (Henry County Invitational Tournament) this year so we wanted to go somewhere away from the teams from around here and find out what we’re made of,” Holland said of his decision to play at Model and Sayre during the holiday break. “We’ve already fought through a lot of tough situations. The way we’ve played so far over the break says a lot about our team. We weren’t physically tired but mentally, and we still found ways to win.”
Henry was without the play from Pete and Spud Baldwin — two point guards who were visiting family in Alabama last week for Christmas. And Hayden Yancey, who has provided a spark off the bench, turned his ankle in the first game in the Richmond Classic but continued to play throughout the weekend.
While Jeffries and Tillett have provided most of the scoring output early in the season, Brad Taylor and Cody Hinkel have been carrying the load during the previous couple of games, Holland said. Now that other teams are focusing on specific players, others are seeing more minutes and more opportunities. Trevor Raisor has been one of the team’s top rebounder as the fifth player to make up the starting rotation — joining Jeffries, Tillett, Taylor and Hinkel — while the Baldwin brothers, Yancey, Nathan Godey, Brack Way and Ryan Mitchell are each giving Henry a boost when needed. The Wildcats are fortunate enough to have options as different players have stepped up at different times this season, which has led to the quick start.
“Teams are taking Jeffries and Tillett away and they understand that. I’m proud of our kids for that,” Holland said of his opponents limiting Jeffries’ penetration and Tillett’s shooting. “When we go to our bench, we get quicker and pick up the tempo. We can beat you different ways and we’re fine with that. It’s just maturity and growth on our part.”
After finishing the Sayre Tournament, the Wildcats have a tough stretch in January that includes all three 31st District opponents — Jan. 3 against Gallatin, Jan. 6 against Carroll County, Jan. 9 against Owen and Jan. 17 against Carroll. Also, the Cats will open the 8th Region All “A” Classic against Trimble (at Carroll) Jan. 21 in the first year they are eligible to compete in the All “A” since the late 1990s.
“We have a huge January,” Holland said before his squad left to go play Kentucky Country Day Monday night. “We hope these tournaments are getting us ready.”
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