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Round two of the inter-county rivalry was played in Eminence on Jan. 14, and the Henry County Wildcats came out on top against the host Warriors again after defeating them earlier in the year. But this time the outcome was a little better for the Warriors, who lost to the Cats by 25 points in New Castle in early December.
This version of the rivalry started slowly with neither team being able to find the basket in the first 90 seconds of the game.
Brad West broke the ice with two free throws at the 6:30 mark. The teams traded baskets throughout the opening period with neither team getting more than a two-point lead. Austin Young’s inside basket with 16 seconds left made it 17-15 in favor of the Wildcats going into the second period.
“Both teams were trying to take away what the other team does best and both were successful in the first period,” said Wildcat Coach Enoch Welch. “You also have the emotion of the game to factor in. We settled down in the second period.”
The Wildcats played well offensively and defensively in the second period and opened up a 13-point lead going into the locker room.
After Justin Mitchell scored inside to tie the game, Henry County went on a 7-2 run to lead 24-19 with 4:57 left in the first half. Shelby Armstrong hit two free throws at 4:445 to make it 24-21, but from that point on, it was all Wildcats as they closed the half on a 11-1 run to lead 35-22 at halftime.
“We knew we had an advantage in the post and we knew that they would try to take that away, so we tried to use good ball movement and getting our shooters into good spots and we did both,” Welch said.
Good defense and sloppy ball-handling also played a role as the Warriors had four turnovers in the final four minutes that Henry County converted into points in the final run.
“I told them before the game that they needed to use two parts of their body in this game – their heads and their heart,” Warriors’ Coach Chris Nethery said. “I thought we played with heart but at times no head. We needed to be patient against Henry County and for the most part, we weren’t. But give Henry credit. They have a good team and are playing well. They have had a great season.”
The Warriors came out for the second half with renewed energy and fire and out rebounded the Cats for a good portion of the third period. They opened the period with a 7-2 run on strong inside play by Cornelius Sanford and Mitchell Golden to make the score 37-29 with 4:57 left.
After a timeout, Chase Howard hit a free throw for the Cats and Sanford got his second inside basket of the period to make it a seven-point game.
“They came out and punched us in the face to start the second half,” Welch said. “We responded well and got some buckets to get the lead back out.”
The Wildcats led 46-27 going into the final period.
“We expended a lot of energy in the third period trying to get back into the game but then you look up at the scoreboard and we had only cut four points off the lead,” Nethery said.
Two free throws by Young and a 3-pointer by West to open the final period forced Nethery to use his fourth timeout of the game. But the Warriors were never able to regain momentum as Nacona Jeffries scored on a nice drive after the timeout to increase Henry’s lead to 16 points at 53-37.
From there, the Cats spread their offense and used good passing and cutting to make the Warriors chase them and were able to stretch the lead to as much as 20 points with 46 seconds to go. Golden, who had a strong game for the Warriors inside, had the final bucket to make the margin 18 points.
“Mitchell, Cornelius and Tyrei Hanlon left nothing on the floor,” Nethery said. “They gave everything they had. You could see it after the game. We need to have everyone give an effort like that – not just three players.
“The theme of the whole year for us has been that we play well for one or two quarters, but you have to play four,” he added. “It always seems that we have a quarter or two that we have a let down.”
Welch was pleased with the play of Jeffries who had nine points in the game. Jeffries, a senior, did not play last year but has been a major contributor for the Cats off the bench this year.
“I thought Nacona came in for James at the four spot and played flawlessly, attacking the basket and rebounding,” Welch said. “And because of that, we rode him like a horse. Coach Schepman told him at halftime about an adjustment that he could make and it would get him a bucket. He went out and executed it and scored on a big drive.”
Welch was also pleased with the play of West.
“Brad knocked some big shots down and he always plays good defense,” Welch said. “Brad found shots in the offense tonight and got them in rhythm.”
HCHS 79 Bourbon County 72
The Wildcats faced a lot of adversity in their game with Bourbon County on Saturday and still found a way to come back from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter to a seven-point win in overtime.
The Wildcats were without the services of four players on Saturday. Ethan Tuggle was out with a back injury, Chase Howard did not make the trip because of illness, and Robbie Cruse and Coleton Aneszko missed the game because of a death in their family. Add to that the fact that James Wundrak played limited minutes because of a hamstring injury and the Cats could feel that they had a mountain to climb against the host Colonels.
But this is one of the deepest Wildcat teams in a long time and it paid dividends in the end because the Cats finished strong with a lineup that included two sophomores, Gavin Jameson and Jackson Jeffries, and veterans Nacona Jeffries, Brad West and Landon New.
The Wildcats got off to a decent start by getting out to a 14-7 lead at the end of the first period. The Cats then suffered two of their worst quarters of the season. Bourbon County outscored the Cats 43-25 in the middle periods to lead 50-39 going into the final period of play.
And it got worse before it got better according to Welch.
“We were down 16 at one point in the third and then we got down 14 early in the fourth,” Welch said. “We were trailing by 11 with about four minutes to go and Brad hit a 3-pointer to cut it to eight. He hit another one a little later that cut it to two points.”
The Cats eventually pulled even but they had one more hill to climb. Austin Young committed his fifth foul late in regulation and then was whistled for a technical foul.
Bourbon County hit just two of the four free throws to go up two, but the shorthanded Cats were now without Young, their leading scorer, and Wundrak who couldn’t go because of the leg injury.
That is when Welch turned to his youthful post players, Jameson and Jackson Jeffries along with the three veterans, West, New and Nacona Jeffries.
“Our practices are battles because we are so deep,” Welch said. “We don’t see much of a drop off when these guys come in. We have a next man up philosophy and it paid off.”
The Cats stole the inbounds pass after the technical foul shots and Nacona Jeffries, who led the Cats with 18 points and 16 rebounds, hit a 3-pointer to put the Cats up by one point with under a minute to play.
Bourbon County was fouled on a drive to the basket with 13 seconds to play and hit one of two free throws to tie the game and neither team could get the winning basket in the remaining seconds.
In overtime, Nacona Jeffries hit another three to put the Cats up but Bourbon County answered with a three of their own.
On the Cats next score it was New’s turn to step and hit a 3-pointer to restore the lead. Bourbon County tried another three on their next possession and missed with about 90 seconds left. From there the Cats hit nine of 10 free throws down the stretch to pull away and win by seven points.
New and Nacona Jeffries accounted for all 15 of the Cats’ points in overtime.
“I can’t say enough about Nacona’s intensity,” Welch said. “He crashed the boards all night and hit two big 3-pointers and nailed his free throws down the stretch. Landon had four of his eight rebounds in overtime and was seven of eight on free throws in overtime. Jackson and Gavin stepped in and didn’t miss a beat and Brad had two huge three’s to help get us back in it.
“It was a solid team win,” Welch added. “Good teams find a way to win even when they play bad and we played bad for 3.5 quarters.”