If West Carter and Rowan County are “two pigs in the mud wallering around,” as Vikings coach Shawn Thacker hilariously stated on Saturday, consider Boyd County and Rowan County two horses in the hay squeezing into the best stall.
Whatever the analogy, there’s only room for two at the championship trough … and only one of those can be the Vikings or Lions.
Tonight marks the third time in four Marches in which Boyd County and Rowan County have collided in the 16th Region Tournament semifinals.
Boyd County prevailed in the 2016 and ’18 meetings, 53-51 and 59-56, respectively.
By eliminating West Carter, the Vikings advanced to the final four for the fifth consecutive year, the longest active streak.
If recent seasons are any indication of what’s to come tonight, fans are in for a treat — like a double scoop of vanilla bean on a sultry summer night.
Each of the last eight semifinal showdowns in Morehead has been decided by 10 points or fewer. Four of them required at least one overtime period — West-Rowan in 2017 needed three extra frames.
On the subject of OT, 44 16th Region Tournament games have consisted of an additional four minutes since 1930 — seven of them, including Tuesday’s double-OT thriller between Raceland and Boyd County, occurred within the past four tournaments.
Just as the Kentucky Derby is touted as the most exciting two minutes in sports, the 16th Region semifinals often supply area high school basketball fans the most riveting two games of the season.
Is Elliott County, the clear favorite, facing the most pressure? It seems the Lions (25-3) thrive in intense situations. With Korbin Spencer on the roster, Elliott County is 10-0 at Johnson Arena.
The Lions boast a pristine 20-0 mark against region foes this season, but Ashland was one of five region teams that kept the margin at 12 points or fewer — Morgan County and West Carter did so twice apiece.
Ashland (15-16) is in search of its first two-game winning streak since a string of five straight wins snapped on Jan. 8. The Tomcats are 7-10 since then, but they are fresh off perhaps their most impressive triumph. What made it so remarkable? The one-point defeat of Lewis County made Ashland 2-8 in games decided by five or fewer points.
Elliott County is shooting for its eighth region championship game appearance, all of which have occurred since 2006.
In 85 years of the tournament, Ashland has logged 52 showings in the finals. Since their last title in 2002, the Tomcats have been runners-up seven times, including last year.
In 22 in-region contests, Rowan County (26-5) has relented 60 or more points just five times. Boyd County (23-10) is one of those, however the Dec. 15 meeting went the Vikings’ way.
The Vikings have hung their hats on defense and selective shooting. They have a trio of double-figure scorers. They possess three players who shoot better than 50 percent from the field — the same three (Mason Moore, Devin Davidson and Chase Alderman) all carry 3-point percentages between 41.6 and 46.2.
As a team, Rowan County sinks 75.6 percent of its free throws, a tenth of a percent below Elliott County’s region-best 75.7 clip.
Rowan County is aiming for its ninth region title-game ticket.
Boyd County has been in 18 championship duels, including two in the last three years. The defending champion Lions have knocked down 229 3-pointers, tops in the region.
When Boyd County fell to the Vikings earlier this season, Jonathan Hicks and Brad Newsome hadn’t fully worked into the mix yet. Those two combined for 27 points, all of which were needed, in the Lions’ double-OT toppling of Raceland on Tuesday.
The 15th Region boys semifinals — set for tonight at the East Kentucky Expo Center — feature a quartet of teams that have been arguably the best four all season. It’s also a replay of two Feb. 15 matchups — Shelby Valley (28-5) vs. Johnson Central (25-7) and Paintsville (19-7) vs. Pikeville (22-8).
The Panthers picked up the crown in 2018. They beat Paintsville, 73-70, two weeks ago. Shelby Valley, led by former Greenup County and Bath County coach Jim Hicks, upended the Golden Eagles, 71-69, on the same night.
Reach AARON SNYDER at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2664. Follow @DIndependentQB on Twitter.