Elliott County’s future is bright, but so is its present.
That’s what Lions coach Greg Adkins figures the 16th Region will know soon enough.
Elliott County (11-5) is tied with Ashland and Fleming County for the most wins in the region and improved to 6-2 on the road with a 68-59 win on Tuesday night at East Carter.
Not necessarily what you might expect from a team that starts three sophomores and whose sixth man is a freshman.
“(We’re) starting to blossom, starting to bloom,” Adkins said. “We’ve got a lot of experience because I played these kids the last two years, but they’re still young ... I’m proud of where we’re at.”
Elliott County got 22 points and 10 rebounds from junior Hunter Holbrook and 14 points from freshman Chase Porter. Sophomore Collin Howell chipped in eight points and 19 rebounds as the Lions enjoyed a 46-17 rebounding edge and shot over 50 percent from the field.
Freshman Cameron Sparks led the Raiders (7-7) with 19 points and five boards. Cole Brammer and Donald Damron each scored 12 points.
Despite being thoroughly dominated on the glass and not shooting especially well from the field — other than Damron’s four 3-pointers — East Carter managed to cut a 13-point deficit after three quarters to four on two Brammer free throws with 2:06 to play.
“It was a sense of urgency we had to play with, and ... if anything, that’s the only thing that caused us to settle down and just start attacking the basket, and it kinda cleared our minds,” Raiders coach Brandon Baker said. “We stopped thinking and we just started playing and getting it and going to the basket with it and made some plays.”
But Elliott County was steady enough down the stretch to finish off the 62nd District tournament seeding victory.
Porter turned in an and-1 to give the Lions a 60-53 lead with 1:49 to play, and in the final 36.8 seconds, Elliott County senior Logan Nickell hit three of four free throws and Porter hit two more to seal it.
“During the final four minutes, I really loved the composure of our kids,” Adkins said. “We made good decisions, and then we attacked when we had (an opening). When we didn’t, we held onto the basketball and let time run.”
Elliott County led 29-20 at the break after scoring the final seven points of the first half, capped by Jonathan Sloas’s baseline bucket with 28.7 seconds to go in the second frame.
Elliott County improved to 2-1 in district seeding games, while East Carter dropped to 1-2. Morgan County leads the way at 2-0, and West Carter stands 0-2.
The Lions have their eyes set on rekindling the tournament magic Sandy Hook experienced a few years ago.
“We started off Oct. 15 with a mission statement that every drill we did, everything we did in practice ... was with the purpose of not having a good team, not growing into a team that can do something two years away, it was to grow into a team that could do that at the end of the season,” Adkins said. “I know we’re not gonna be the best team (in the region) at the end of the season; I think we can be close, though.
“Each time we win a close game, we win one we’re not supposed to, they’re buying into it and they’re starting to believe a little bit.”
The Lions host Rowan County on Thursday. East Carter travels to Morgan County on Friday.
ZACK KLEMME can be
reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2658.