Wildcats turn 10-2 deficit into 66-46 runaway

-A A +A
By Tommie Kendall

Sports Editor

The Eminence boys’ basketball team came out of the gates running and gunning against host Henry County in the final match-up between the two squads this season, but the Warriors ran out of steam as they watched a 10-2 lead dwindle and turn into a 66-46 loss.

It was the Wildcats’ sixth straight win over Eminence, dating back to February 2006, and left them just one game shy of a 20-win season. Entering the final week, Henry is 19-7 with one game left and Eminence is 2-19 with three games left. Both squads will play in the district tournament next week.

The first time the two county teams met this season — on Dec. 13 at Eminence — the Wildcats jumped out to an 18-2 lead and cruised in for a dominating 74-25 victory. But this time around, playing on Henry’s home court on Valentine’s Day, the Warriors were the aggressor from the start and looked to take control of the game early on. Eventually, the Wildcats evened up the scoreboard, went in front, got up by as much as 34 points and won by 20. Although the Cats didn’t lead from start to finish in another dizziness performance, it was still an impressive outing. For the Warriors — a team trying to turn the tables on a two-win season — it was much better than when the rival schools played earlier in the season.

“We started out as good as we could have,” EHS coach Chris Nethery said. “Then, a lot of shots that we were hitting stopped falling. They pushed us into what they wanted to do in that second quarter. From that point forward, they put the game away.”

The first two to three minutes are all about emotion, HCHS coach Jason Holland said, especially in a contest between rival schools that are separated by just five miles.

“I thought Eminence came ready to play and really got after us,” Holland said. “We didn’t want to press them from the start because we didn’t want to give up easy buckets but they ended up getting some easy shots so we went to a press.”

Cody Hinkel gave Eminence fits all night long, pulling down boards, scoring on put-backs, working through double teams and muscling his way for baskets. The senior scored 13 points in the first half and finished with 24. Eminence tried to gang up on Hinkel but his size and athleticism down low proved too much.

“Henry’s size really got to us,” Nethery said. “Hinkel was just too big. We put help side on him and he just moved us around. He did whatever he wanted to do.”

No other Henry player reached double figures in scoring but 10 different players scored: Pete Baldwin with eight, Trevor Raisor with seven, Brad Taylor and Connor Jeffries with six each, Steven Tillett with five, Hayden Yancey with four, and Spud Baldwin, Tommy Gray and Micah Porter with two each. Eminence’s Dre Banta knocked down four three-pointers and finished with a team-high 15 points, while Ed Berry, Brock Roberts and Bradley Foree scored eight each, Jordan Fairchild scored six and Saywer Sims scored one.

Eminence went with a five-guard starting lineup, which left them at an advantage on the offensive side of the ball but in a bind on the boards and on defense with Henry’s height.

“Their five guards made it tough on us but at the same time it made it tough on them because they couldn’t handle Hinkel,” Holland said.

In front of a packed gym, the Warriors looked to stun Henry early when they scored the first six points and went ahead 10-2. After they stopped Henry on the first possession of the game, Roberts — who didn’t play the first time the teams saw each other this season due to an injury — was left wide open at the top of the key and made Henry pay with a three-pointer to start the game in Eminence’s favor. The next trip down the court, after another Eminence stop, Banta drained another three to give the Warriors the 6-0 advantage.

Hinkel hit a free throw with 6:28 left in the opening quarter for the Wildcats’ first point. Berry then scored on a driving layup and Taylor swished a free throw to leave the score at 10-2.

Following Eminence’s early lead, the Wildcats went on a 16-0 run. Hinkel scored eight consecutive points to tie the game, then Taylor stole the ball and scored on a layup and Jeffries scored inside to put the Cats in front 14-10 after the first quarter. To start the second, Hinkel found Raisor inside for an easy two and Taylor picked off a pass and found Tillett on the wing for two more to complete the 16-0 run that lasted 6:53.

The Wildcats were ahead 33-17 at the half and 55-27 after the third quarter. During the third, Banta and Roberts hit back-to-back three-pointers to slim the Warriors’ deficit and Yancey picked up his fifth personal foul with 1:26 on the clock.

Midway through the final quarter, the Wildcats got up 64-30 — their biggest lead of the game — before the Warriors started to close the gap with Banta’s three-pointer. The Warriors managed to piece together a 9-0 run but it was a little too late as they left New Castle with the 20-point loss. It was a sizzling start for Eminence and a sizzling finish — they outscored Henry 19-11 during the final eight minutes — but it wasn’t enough with Henry controlling the scoreboard for much of the game.

“Our players came ready to play,” Nethery said. “They have showed a lot of maturity over the last week. We challenged them in practice and they came out and responded. We might have lost but Henry has a very good team. I was pleased.”

This season, Nethery is in a similar situation as Holland was during his first year at HCHS five years ago. During that 2004-05 campaign, the Wildcats went 3-23 for the worst record in the 8th Region. Since that time, they went 12-14, 19-11 and 7-19, and this season are tied with Anderson County (19-4) with the most wins in the entire region. Nethery took over the program from Keith Blackburn this school year.

“Coach Nethery has done a very good job with Eminence,” Holland said. “They are getting better with every game. He graduated from Eminence, he wants to be there and he will definitely put in the time. You can really tell they put in the work.”

St. Francis 61, Eminence 50: The Eminence boys’ basketball team extended its losing streak to nine games last Tuesday night with a 61-50 loss to St. Francis, which dropped the Warriors to 2-17 overall.

Eminence was in front 13-12 after the first quarter before St. Francis outscored the Warriors 19-10 during the second-qaurter stretch to take a 31-23 lead into the half. Francis, who improved to 5-14 with the victory, outscored Eminence 30-27 during the final two quarters to hold on for the win.

“I didn’t think we played well. Defensively, we were just bad,” EHS coach Chris Nethery said. “There were a few instances were I had to pull a few people out of the game because they were stressed on the court from the referees. To be honest, the officiating was pretty bad but you have to fight through things like that.”

Dre Banta scored 15 points, Ed Berry scored 13, Bradley Foree scored 12, Jordan Fairchild scored seven and Sean Armstrong scored two. Johnhenry Bonin scored 20 points to lead the way for St. Francis.

Cornerstone 54, Eminence 44: In what Chris Nethery calls his team’s best basketball game of the season, the Eminence Warriors took a 54-44 loss to Cornerstone Christian last Thursday night.

Ed Berry scored 24 points and Dre Banta scored 13 but the host Warriors were unable to hold on for the win down the stretch. Eminence was in front 12-10 after the first quarter, Cornerstone was in front 22-17 at the half and 33-32 with a quarter remaining. During the final eight minutes, though, Cornerstone was 19-of-22 from the free-throw line, which allowed them to pull away in the closing minutes.

To go along with Berry and Banta, Brock Roberts scored three points, while Jordan Fairchild and Bradley Foree added two each.

“It was a very close game,” Nethery said. “Cornerstone has a nice team with size and shooters but I thought it was the best we’ve played all year.”

Despite being out-sized, the Warriors out-rebounded Cornerstone, who sports a starting lineup that includes 6-foot-7, 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 and 5-11. It was their best performance this season on the boards.

After bringing a one-point lead into the final quarter, Cornerstone connected on just one field goal in the final quarter but scored 21 points thanks to 86-percent shooting from the line.

“One thing I thought we did the best was we ran our offense over and over until we got the shot we wanted,” Nethery said. “We were very patient all night.”

This season, Cornerstone has joined the Kentucky High School Athletic Association and with the Eminence win improved to 7-5. Against Henry County on Dec. 9, Cornerstone came away with an impressive 62-58 win to put the Cornerstone-Eminence game in perspective.

Grant 66, Henry 57: In a matchup between two of the best teams in the 8th Region — record wise — Grant County came away with a 66-57 win over the Henry County Wildcats last Friday on Grant’s Homecoming Night.

Grant jumped out to a 21-7 lead during the first quarter, while both teams scored 11 points during the second quarter, Henry won the third quarter 19-18 and won the fourth 20-16. After the contest, Grant improved to 17-10 and Henry dropped to 19-7 — both are top four in the region.

“It looked like we hadn’t played in seven days,” said HCHS coach Jason Holland, whose team defeated Whitefield Academy, 56-50, in its last outing Feb. 7. “We got close to them several times but couldn’t get over that hump.”

The Wildcats closed their deficit to single digits and cut it to four points with two minutes left and had the ball. But they couldn’t convert and Grant pulled away to the nine-point win.

Cody Hinkel scored 20 points for Henry, while Pete Baldwin scored 15, Steven Tillett scored 11, Connor Jeffries scored 10 and Brad Taylor score one. Tillett knocked down three three-pointers and Baldwin added another.

For Grant County, junior forward Adam Prince hit three three-pointers and finished with 21 points. Kody Thompson added 16.

E-mail us about this article at sports@hclocal.com.