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The Henry County Wildcats hosted the Trimble County Raiders Thursday night in the first round of the Henry County Invitational Tournament and came away with a 17-point victory after a tough first half that saw the Raiders claw back to within striking distance on several occasions.
But the Wildcats’ depth took a toll in the second half as the Raiders foul trouble and lack of depth began to show.
Austin Young led the way for the Wildcats with 24 points. Nacona Jeffries and Coleton Aneszko came off the bench to contribute 11 and nine points, respectively. Landon New and Brad West used good free throw shooting to contribute 12 and eight points to the Cats’ cause. New and West were both 6 for 6 from the line in the game as the Cats hit 20 of 26 free throws for the game. Trimble County was 12 of 23 from the charity stripe.
Young was nearly unstoppable in the first half with a variety of inside, outside and medium-range baskets to total 17 points. He added seven points in the third quarter and then watched most of the fourth quarter from the bench as Jeffries and West took over the scoring load with six points each in the final frame.
The first quarter was evenly played with the Cats creeping out to a 15-10 lead with 1:04 to play before Trimble hit a 3-pointer to pull within two points with 22 seconds to go. Aneszko hit two free throws with one second remaining to give the Cats a four-point lead going into the second period.
The Cats scored the first six points of the second quarter to take a 10-point lead early in the second period. The teams played evenly after that until Trimble County went on a 8-1 run to pull within two points at 29-27 with 1:55 left. The Cats closed with a 5-2 run to take a five-point lead into halftime.
Young and New opened the second half with layups that extended the lead to nine points at 38-29 with 6:38 left before Trimble scored two buckets in a row to pull within five again with 6:01 left.
The margin stayed between five and seven until the Cats went on a 9-2 run to close out the period and take a 13-point lead going into the final period. The final dagger in the run was a 3-pointer from Jeffries on a nice drive and dish by New at the buzzer.
The Cats had the first possession of the final period and ran 49 seconds off the clock before Jeffries leapt high in the air for a put back to make it a 15-point game with 7:ll left.
The Cats’ managed their lead well down the stretch playing mostly with a four-guard lineup and increased the lead by two more points before time expired.
“In the first half we were really settling for one pass and taking off-balance shots and we hit a couple of them and so we drank the Kool-Aid and took a lot of bad shots,” Coach Enoch Welch said. “In the second half we got into their bench and started attacking the basket. In the second half we did a better job of not reaching and grabbing.”
Welch praised the play of a couple of starters and his team’s strong bench performance.
“Austin was huge for us,” he said. “He had 24 points in three quarters of play. We made a point of resting guys because we had four games in three days. We feel like we have quality depth and we don’t always have the same guys starting. Nacona was huge. He crashed the boards; he attacked the rim and he had several outstanding passes.
“Landon New did a good job of penetrating their zone and getting some buckets. Coleton came off the bench and gave us a spark and Brad came off the bench and did a good job.”
HCHS 82 Western Hills 73
On Friday afternoon the Wildcats got a battle from a team they routed in the second game of the season. The Wolverines shot much better in this matchup after managing only 19 points against the Wildcats in the first game.
The first period was played at breakneck pace and the Wolverines were able to hang close as the Cats led 23-17 going into the second period. The Cats were able to take advantage of their superior height to get 14 points from their inside players, Nacona Jeffries, Austin Young and James Wundrak, in the period.
But the Wolverines were encouraged by their offensive output in the opening period as they scored just two points less than in the entire previous game.
The Wolverines outscored the Cats 18-14 in the second period to pull within two points at halftime, 37-35.
Western Hills opened the second half with a 3-pointer to take the lead and then got a steal and layup to go up three.
But Jeffries got a steal and layup and Brad West hit a 3-pointer to give the lead back to the Cats at 42-40 with 6:21 to play. The teams battled back and forth with the Wolverines taking their final lead at 50-48 with 3:03 to play in the third period.
The Wildcats went back to their inside game to reestablish control as Young and Wundrak scored on a variety of inside moves and the Cats finished the period on a 12-4 run to lead 60-54 going into the final period.
The Wildcat run continued into the fourth period with the Cats stretching the lead to 70-58 with 5:33 left. Western Hills continued to hit big shots to stay within striking distance, but in the end they had no answer for the Cats’ superior height and depth.
“We played a team that was much improved from the last time we played them,” Welch said. “As much as you tell your team not to overlook them, you know, we beat them 61-19, it still happens. But we got great inside play from James and Austin with 23 and 21 points.
“They are a scrappy team and they came into this tournament and played well,” Welch said. “We really battled with them all night and pulled away at the end and I’m really proud of the effort.”
HCHS 59 LaRue Co. 50
The Wildcats took on the LaRue County in the final game of pool play in the tournament with a chance to go undefeated and face Bishop Brossart in the finals of the tournament on Friday.
The Wildcats got a tough test from the Hawks and needed a strong defensive performance in the second half to pull out a come-from-behind victory.
In the first half the teams traded buckets until the Hawks went on a 6-0 run that culminated in a 25-18 lead with 5:14 left in the second period.
The Wildcats got a couple of baskets to pull within three at 3:11 before the Hawks went on a 12-3 run to open a 12-point lead with 19.5 seconds to go.
Wundrak’s inside basket at 2.5 seconds pulled the Cats to within 10 points going into the locker room.
The Wildcats looked like they were headed for defeat unless they could figure out how to stop the Hawks offense.
In the second half they did just that. The Cats abandoned their full court press and played a half-court zone defense that completely befuddled the Hawks.
But the Cats also struggled on offense, scoring just 10 points in the third period to the Hawks’ five. However, that put the Cats within striking distance and they dominated the final period by outscoring the Hawks 23-8.
“We pressed them in the first half because that’s what we do,” Welch said. “We like to get in people’s faces and play up tempo, but they were just handling it so well that they were shooting layups.
“We decided at halftime to go with the zone to give them a different look and to get a quick stop and get back in the game. We could tell they were frustrated with our zone so we made a couple of adjustments but stuck with it the rest of the game and were able to hold them to 13 points in the second half.”
Bishop Brossart 67 HCHS 55
The Cats played the Bishop Brossart Mustangs in the championship game on Saturday night and ran into a team that had too much balance and poise to be rattled.
But the Cats played with enthusiasm and energy and hung in against the imprssive Mustangs, who came into the game with only one loss to 9th Region power Covington Holmes.
The Cats fell behind after one period 16-7 as Brossart established their inside game with 10 points in the paint. The Cats had several good looks that didn’t go down and were unable to stay close.
But in the second period the Cats’ shots began to fall and Brossart got into serious foul trouble as the Cats attacked the basket with drives and passes to the post. At halftime the Cats had pulled within two points at 26-24.
The Mustangs came back out and got a put back to open a four-point lead and the game stayed a two to four-point game throughout most of the period before the Mustangs went on a 7-0 run late to go up 44-34. Landon New hit a driving lay up at the buzzer to pull the Cats to within eight going into the final period.
The Mustangs began the final period with a 9-2 run to open up a15-point lead at 53-38 with 5:35 to play.
The experienced Mustangs then used a patient offense and good free throw shooting to keep the Cats at bay and win the H.C.I.T. title. The Cats fought hard to get back in the game but never got closer than eight points down the stretch.
“We knew playing Brossart was going to be a daunting task,” Welch said. “They are a very good, senior-laden team. They are 6’7” and 6’8” up front and have very solid guards. I thought our bigs did a good job of attacking their inside players and getting them in foul trouble. We wanted to press them and get their point guard tired but we couldn’t do it. He handled it well all night.
“You just can’t give a team as disciplined as Brossart the opportunity to get into their delay game,” “Welch said. “They are going to execute it and not let you back in it and that is what happened when we missed a couple of free throws and were down two before they went on that run to open the fourth quarter.
“Austin had a monster game with 17 points inside and fouling out their 6’8” player. Landon New did a good job of attacking the rim, especially in the second half. Overall, we had a very good effort but were a couple of missed free throws away from finishing this game.”