Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 22, 2014

Sweet Sixteen notebook: Central senior class goes out with bang

Zack Klemme
The Independent

LEXINGTON — With Johnson Central’s 64-55 loss to Scott County in the quarterfinals of the Sweet Sixteen on Friday, the Golden Eagles will say goodbye to their winningest class in school history.

Don’t think that means they don’t expect to challenge for a fourth straight 15th Region Tournament title and trip to Rupp Arena next March.

Johnson Central loses a five-man senior class of Shane Hall, Slade McPeek, Nick McKenzie, Tyler Compton and Braxton Hensley.

Hall, a Mr. Basketball finalist and Marshall signee, leaves as the all-time school leader in rebounds (1,147), double-doubles (71) and triple-doubles (five), and with the second-most blocked shots in state history (474) and fourth-most points in Golden Eagles lore (1,756).

Hall finishes his career with 220 dunks — including his first bucket as a freshman against Bath County, and his last field goal on Friday.

McPeek departs as Johnson Central’s career steals leader, with 281. McKenzie also played big minutes off the bench. The senior class totaled 93 wins over the past four seasons, the most in school history. The next closest was the 1985 class, with 86 victories.

“Really proud of what they’ve meant to our program the last three or four years,” Golden Eagles coach Tommy McKenzie said of his seniors. “Thought they laid it all on the line there to give it our best shot.”

Added McPeek: “I wouldn’t want to play with anybody else ... it’s an honor to be down here and playing on that (Rupp Arena) floor. It means everything to me.”

But the cupboard isn’t bare. Starters Kyle Gullett, Dalton Adkins and Braxton Blair return, who combined for 30.5 points a game, and Truman Salyer chipped in 6.8 a night off the bench. All were juniors this season. Blair is on track to break the school assist record — he has 351, and the mark to reach is 428 — and already has 1,044 points.

“We’re hoping that these last three years are big-time experience for those kids,” McKenzie said. “That’s what I allude to all the time — when (people) think Johnson Central, they think Shane Hall, but we’ve got some other kids that’ll be here next year as well ... we’ve got some key pieces to the puzzle coming back next year.”

Credit Golden Eagles statistician and historian Clint Hackney with an assist on those statistical figures.

Working the Whistle

Forty-six total personal fouls were called in the Johnson Central-Scott County game. Only one player, the Cardinals’ Austin Kendred, fouled out, but six other players finished with four fouls. Scott County’s Dylan Portwood had four in the first half alone.

Cardinals coach Billy Hicks, the winningest coach in KHSAA history, has a reputation for being, er, demonstrative with the officials on the sideline, which he upheld well on Friday.

“Again, we picked up a lot of fouls in a lot of ways,” Hicks said. “We gotta adjust. Everybody does, I guess. And again, Blair just drove the ball really, really hard, and I guess he picked up fouls doing that, and a lot of fouls came on getting position on the boards.”

He concluded with a chuckle, “And some of them I have no explanation for.”

The Cardinals capitalized much better at the free throw line than the Golden Eagles. Scott County went 20-for-24 at the line, led by Trent Gilbert’s tournament-record 14-for-14 day. Johnson Central was 19-for-32.

Hardware Handed Out

The Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches handed out its region awards during the Sweet Sixteen afternoon session Friday. Area recipients included East Carter coach Brandon Baker (16th Region coach of the year), Johnson Central senior Shane Hall (15th Region player of the year) and Fleming County senior Troy Steward (16th Region player of the year).

Additionally, Johnson Central’s cheerleaders were named by a KAPOS judge fourth best of the 16 squads performing in the tournament’s first round.