Against one of the best teams they’ve faced this season, the Henry County Wildcats put together a complete game, and came away with a 4-point win.
The Christian Academy of Louisville Centurions were coming off of a 4-point loss to St. Xavier, the 14th ranked team in the first Litkenhous rankings of the season.
Strong inside play from towers Austin Young and Derek Jeffries, along with strong floor games from the Cats’ guards, allowed the team to take control in the third quarter, and hold off the Centurions.
The game was evenly played throughout the first half with CAL taking an early 9-4 advantage before the Cats went on an 11-2 run to close out the period. Young, who had 23 points on the night, scored 6 of the 11 points on strong inside moves and good free throw shooting.
Chase Howard had a steal and two-handed slam to tie the game at 11. James Wundrak got a steal that led to Dakota Estes hitting two free throws to give the Cats the lead. Young took a charge on the baseline to set up the Cats final points of the period, which came when Young scored inside.
The second period was a low-scoring affair as the Cats were patient on the offensive end, looking to take advantage of the strong inside play of Jeffries and Young.
But the Cats had trouble finding the basket after extending the lead to 21-13. CAL scored the final 8 points of the period to tie the score at 21 heading into the halftime break.
The Centurions opened the second half with a 3-pointer to take a 24-21 lead. Young answered with two free throws and then Jeffries scored inside to put the Cats back on top 25-24.
The game see-sawed back and forth until the score was tied at 32-32. After CAL took the lead on an inside basket, Estes hit two free throws and then Young scored inside and was fouled.
Young converted the 3-point play to put the Cats up 37-34. After a CAL layup, the Centurions were hit for a technical foul for slapping the basketball while it was still in the hands of the inbounder.
Young stepped up and hit the technical free throws to give Henry County the lead going into the final period of play.
The Cats opened the final period with a 6-2 run to go up by 7 points. The big play in the run was a put back by Landon New, the smallest player on the floor.
The lead stayed at 6 points until Howard found Jeffries inside on an out of bounds play to put the Cats up 49-41.
CAL chipped away at the lead until with 1:38 to play they hit a layup to cut the margin to four points at 50-46.
Henry County managed the clock well and protected the ball down the stretch. Because of the Wildcats’ patience, CAL was forced to foul and hope that the Cats would not hit their free throws.
But Henry County hit 8-of-10 free throws over the final minute of the game to seal the hard-fought victory.
Coach Enoch Welch was satisfied with the effort.
“I thought it was a complete team effort,” he said. “We sustained our focus through four quarters and beat a good team who has had a lot of success against 8th Region opponents this season.”
CAL has victories over South Oldham, ranked 2nd in the region, perennial power Oldham County and Shelby County. Their only loss to an 8th region opponent before Friday night’s game was to top-ranked Collins.
“We’ve talked about playing disciplined basketball for four quarters and we haven’t done it until now,” Welch said. “Now we can see the success that brings.”
While a majority of the scoring came from the inside players Welch was pleased with how his guards handled the game. “Our guards, and especially Chase Howard, did a good job getting in the passing lanes in the first half,” he said. “Our bigs played solid and kept them on their heels all night. Our best defense was the pace of our offense. We ran our stuff and made sure we got shots we wanted.”
Henry County 75 Riverside Christian 30
The Cats made it three wins in a row Saturday with an easy victory over an outmatched opponent in the Rams of Riverside Christian High School in the DMD Data System Classic in Frankfort.
Welch said he knew going into the game that the team that was young and depleted by injuries. “Our older guys did a good job of getting the younger guys in early and getting them a reward for their hard work in practice,” he said. “The varsity guys only got to play about half of the first and third quarters and were still able to execute. Chase Howard got the player of the game award. He had 16 points and hit four 3-pointers in about seven minutes of playing time.”
The three-game winning streak is the first run of wins longer than two by the Cats in almost two years. The last streak longer than two games came in February of 2011 when the Cats won four in a row before losing to Oldham County by two points in the semifinals of the 8th region tournament.