PAINTSVILLE — The Inez Indians had been a power in the 15th Region and the state of Kentucky since the 1930s. They had won four straight 15th Region titles (1934-37) with a state tournament runner-up finish (1937), following Paintsville’s appearance in 1933.
Then the Indians followed up that success with three more 15th Region titles (1939-41) and a state title for the small school in 1941. The 1941 Inez team placed all five of their starters on the Kentucky All-Star team who would play the Indiana All-Stars in their annual summer series. Inez had returned to the state tournament in 1946, but had suffered somewhat of a drought until 1954. The 1953-54 season was predicted to favor Inez and they were picked to win the region that year. However, they lost their first game of the year to Phelps, 75-70, and it appeared that a few other teams might walk away with the 15th Region title. Led by 5-foot-8 guard Herbie Triplett and 6-2 forward Billy Ray Cassidy, Inez was able to recover, come together and complete an impressive season. They suffered a second loss to in January, after a scheduling conflict had them playing in the Louisville Invitational Tournament and in Lexington on the same day.
They beat Louisville Flaget in the LIT, then traveled to Lexington where they lost to Henry Clay later that evening. The “Iron Men of Inez” also had some close district and region games, defeating Paintsville in the last regular season game of the season by one, 68-67, and in the 59th District championship game 66-58, then defeating Pikeville High School 82-80 in the 15th Region finals. Inez entered the 1954 Kentucky State Tournament with a 32-2 record.
In the first round of the tournament the Indians easily defeated Central City, 72-57. In their next game they were matched up against another mountain team, Dilce Combs, from Perry County. Dilce Combs gave the Indians a game, and Inez was only leading by eleven at halftime. The lead was cut to as few as seven, with just a few minutes left in the game before Cassady and Omar Fannin led Inez on a 8-1 run to end the game. Inez won 64-52. Cassady had 22 and Fannin had 16. In the semi-finals Inez tangled with Adair County. It was described as a “hard-fought” affair, with Inez holding onto a slim three-point lead going into the last quarter. Orville Blankenship made a free throw with a little under a minute to go and Inez hung on to win, 70-88, to advance to the state finals. Inez faced Newport, who defeated Ashland in the other semi-final by four. The only lead that Newport had was 2-0 to start the game. It was close throughout with Inez holding on to win the 1954 state championship by eight, 63-55.