Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 1, 2013

AARON SNYDER: They have arrived

Aaron Snyder
The Independent

MOREHEAD — It wasn’t exactly a case of “The Greasers” versus “The Socials,” but Fleming County couldn't help but sort of feel like “The Outsiders” when thrown into the 16th Region mix in 2005.

“We felt like we were married to the 10th (Region), liked the 10th, enjoyed it there,” recalled Blake Price, Fleming County's athletic director. “It’s been a slow process, but we're starting to feel like we're a part of this region now."

After beating Rowan County, 60-45, on Friday night in the region boys basketball tournament, a conclusion was derived.

Fleming County has arrived.

“This let everybody know that Fleming County is here to play basketball,” said Panthers senior Desmond McAdams.

Following back-to-back opening-round losses over the last two region tournaments, Fleming County appeared

to be stuck on the brink of breaking through.

“It feels like we’ve been doing the same thing,” said McAdams. “Lost the first round, lose the first round ... we got our first-round win, then came the second and here we are now.”

Determined to put those recent downfalls in the rear-view mirror, the Panthers penetrated past the first door (Lewis County), and the second (Ashland).

Surviving the Tomcats in double overtime was the big one. The ’Cats had outlasted Fleming County in an overtime classic in 2012.

Big Bad Ashland, a program packed with tradition and having 31 region titles to its name, did not intimidate the prideful Panthers.

“We weren’t going to let them throw punches and knock us out,” said Fleming County coach Mark Starns. “We were going to be the one throwing haymakers.”

Mission accomplished, so ...

... Who awaited behind door No. 3?

Who else but Rowan County, an opponent the Panthers would have to down for a fifth time in a matter of three months?

“It was real tough,” said junior Troy Steward of knocking off a rival five straight times. “It’s a big deal.”

The circle has widened in 16th Region basketball. Fleming County is permanently locked in as a link.

“We’re excited to represent this region at Rupp Arena,” Price said.

Fleming County takes on either North Hardin or John Hardin on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. in the Sweet Sixteen.

Losing its Straw

Coaches have been preaching to Tyler Thacker to be the “straw that stirs the drink.”

Soaking up the brightest spotlight as usual, the Rowan County junior was mixing up something special, a cold glass of sweet tea amid sizzling summer air.

Having splashed onto the state with scene a breakout 25-point performance at Rupp Arena a year ago, Thacker appeared to have his team possibly headed for a return trip.

He had six points, four assists and three rebounds sprinkled along his stat-line before he drove into the paint for a layup attempt late in the second quarter. His team led 24-17 with a minute-plus left in the period.

As Thacker planted to get around a defender, his left knee bent awkwardly, sending him crumbling to the floor in pain.

“My knee buckled inside and it popped,” said Tyler, on crutches after the game.

“From the knee down, I was numb,” he added. “I knew something was wrong.”

Head coach Shawn Thacker, also Tyler’s father, trusted his assistant coaches and trainer to tend to his son.

“As a dad, you want to go out there and check on him, but you’ve got other responsibilities as a coach,” Shawn Thacker said.

Tyler, who had played all last season with a partially torn labrum in his shooting shoulder, was unfortunately sidelined for the remainder of Friday’s game after being helped off the floor.

Fleming County outscored Rowan County 43-21 from that point forward.

Tyler Thacker watched from the bench, his mind locked on one question.

“All I could say was, what if?” he said. “I was devastated for my team and for me. I was stirring the drink.”

Thacker returns next season to a team that graduates five seniors.

AARON SNYDER can be reached at asnyder@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2664.