When Burgin was suffering through a 3-23 basketball season a few years ago, I visited the tiny school in Mercer County on a cold January day and wrote about how Coach Don Irvine and his boys' team had to settle for small victories not reflected on the scoreboard.
With Burgin enjoying success this season — the Bulldogs won 11 of 13 games for their best start in almost 40 years — it seemed only fair to check in with Irvine again. "We're having fun, that's for sure," he said. "We've exceeded expectations, especially when you consider one of our best players transferred out. I just hope we can keep it going and finish strong."
Burgin's best win came at Mercer County, beating the Titans for the second year in a row and handing them the first loss in their new gym.
The Bulldogs have made steady progress since that three-win season in 2004-05. Last year they ended a streak of seven consecutive losing seasons, and now they're shooting for the program's best finish since a 21-5 record in 1970.
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Seniors Zack Irvine, the coach's son, Patrick Cannada and Bill Beckerson, and junior Logan Hill are averaging in double figures. Juniors Timothy Riddle and Trenton Claunch are close behind.
Does Burgin have a chance to win the All "A" Classic region? "We'll have to play our best to get out," Irvine said. "Danville is awfully good, but we are hosting it so I like to think we have a shot. We're not talented enough to have a bad performance and win."
■ Pineville is another small school with something to brag about. James David Strange (24.8 ppg) and Chelsey Smith (25.0) are among the state's top scorers.
Strange, a 6-foot senior guard, is the son of Mountain Lions Coach J.D. Strange. He's hitting 45 percent of his three-pointers, which isn't a surprise considering he's hit 211 of 518 (41 percent) for his career. Strange, who averaged 17.5 last season, has boosted his production despite being dogged by junk defenses. His dad said James David has shown "a lot of self-ambition" by working hard in the off-season, including 5:45 a.m. drills. Centre, Transylvania and Union are among the colleges showing interest.
Smith, a 5-8 sophomore, transferred from Bell County midway through last season. Pineville girls' coach Russell Thompson said Chelsey's speed enables her to "get a lot of steals and transition layups." She is also a good three-point shooter and is deadly from the foul line.
■ Bath County's boys have won 11 of 13 games, a solid follow-up to last year's dramatic turnaround. Jim Hicks' Wildcats went 20-5 last year, ending 18 straight losing seasons, and won their first district title in 31 years. Last week Bath County beat Montgomery County 83-62 behind Zak Metz's 38 points and 14 rebounds, and Taylor Maze's 23 points and eight assists. Metz is averaging 24 points and 11 rebounds. Maze is averaging 20 points and six assists. The Cats could meet No. 1 Elliott County in next week's All "A" regional.
■ The matchups are set for the Touchstone Energy All "A" Classic boys' and girls' tournaments that will be played Jan. 28-Feb. 1 at EKU's McBrayer Arena. Among the boys' favorites are Elliott County (16th Region), Shelby Valley (15th) and Hazard (14th). Two-time defending champ Lexington Christian (11th) looks to be the girls' team to beat again.
Boys' pairings: 3rd Region vs. 2nd; 5th vs. 11th; 1st vs. 6th; 4th vs. 14th; 10th vs. 13th; 7th vs. 16th; 15th vs. 8th; 12th vs. 9th.
Girls' pairings: 6th Region vs. 10th; 14th vs. 9th; 4th vs. 3rd; 13th vs. 11th; 15th vs. 2nd; 8th vs. 7th; 16th vs. 5th; 1st vs. 12th.
■ Former UK coach Joe B. Hall, a devoted fan of high school hoops, said it was "a great big honor" to have the Kentucky Prep Classic named after him. Hall was given a plaque and introduced to the crowd at the 18th annual Prep Classic at Montgomery County last Saturday. The event, created by Ira Combs, will now be known as the Joe B. Hall Prep Classic. "I'm so appreciative to be associated with anything to do with high school basketball," said Hall, who is a regular at games in Central Kentucky, and tries to see as many of the state's best teams and players as possible. He rates Holmes No. 1, but Elliott County is "unquestionably my favorite team. The way they play together and their effort remind me of some of Bobby Keith's Clay County teams, or John Bill Trivette's Pikeville teams."
■ Morton Combs, who died last week at age 96, was one of the most distinguished figures in the history of Kentucky high school basketball. Combs hit the winning shot for Hazard in the state championship game against Male, but he is best remembered for coaching Carr Creek to the 1956 Sweet Sixteen title. Combs had a career record of 456-148 in 19 seasons and was a charter member of the Dawahares/KHSAA Hall of Fame. Combs was also at the forefront of integration as a coach and principal. According to Don Miller's book, The Carr Creek Legacy, Carr Creek was the first all-white high school in the state to play an all-black high school, Louisville Central in the 1954-55 season. Combs was also a hoops prognosticator. In an interview in February 1987, Combs predicted that "it won't be long before (a mountain team) wins the (state) championship again," something that hadn't happened since Carr Creek title in '56. A month later, Clay County won the 1987 Sweet Sixteen.
■ Clay County will celebrate the 20th anniversary of its girls' Sweet Sixteen championship on Saturday after the Tigerettes' afternoon game against Conner. The recognition ceremony will start at 5 p.m. Clay County won the 1989 title, beating Clark County 48-44 in three overtimes even though MVP Kim Jones fouled out in the first extra period. Coach Donnie Gray's team finished 31-3.
■ Menifee County senior guard Chelsea Williams, the all-time leading scorer (girl or boy) in school history, has eclipsed 2,000 points.
■ Murray State signee Mariah Robinson of Ohio County had 10 points, 10 rebounds, 10 steals and nine assists in a win over McLean County.
■ Leslie Eagle of Morgan County has become the program's all-time leading scorer with 1,928 points.
■ Anderson County's boys won a road game at Oldham County last week for the first time in 33 years. The last time they did it, current coach Glen Drury was a junior point guard for the Bearcats.
■ Paul Dunbar hosts the annual S.T. Roach Classic on Saturday. The boys' quadruple-header: Dunbar vs. Cumberland County, 2:15; Henry Clay vs. Daviess County, 4; Lafayette vs. Rowan County, 5:45; and Cooper vs. Cincinnati Oak Hills, 7:30.
■ Mason County senior Russ Middleton has overtaken his dad on the Royals' all-time scoring list. Russ has 1,532 points. Kelly Middleton had 1,523 during his career in the early 1980s. Russ has signed with Georgetown College, where his dad was a standout. Kelly is now an assistant superintendent in Mason County.
■ Apollo's Tony Hopper and Scott County's Steve Helton have been named coaches for the boys' and girls' Kentucky All-Star teams that will play Indiana this June. Hopper has guided three schools to the Sweet Sixteen — Central City in 1989, Muhlenberg North in 1994 and Apollo to a state runner-up finish in 2006. He has an overall record of 396-162 in 19 years. Hopper's top assistant will be Mike Listerman of Covington Catholic. Helton is in his ninth year at Scott County and has a record of 191-69. He led the Lady Cards to the Sweet Sixteen in 2001 and '05. Helton's top assistant will be Tommy Adams of Hart County.
Tryouts for the all-stars will be April 17-18 at Campbellsville University. Kentucky will play Indiana on Saturday, June 13, at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, and Sunday, June 14, at Bellarmine in Louisville.
■ The original Kentucky-Tennessee all-star football series went kaput a couple years ago, but for Reggie and DeRon Hicks, the National Guard Border Bowl is a suitable replacement because it gives them some bragging rights. Reggie and DeRon are believed to be the first father and son to participate in the football rivalry. Reggie quarterbacked Shelby County to the 1987 Class 4A state title and played for the Kentucky all-stars against Tennessee the following summer. His son DeRon, a wide receiver and defensive back at Franklin County, is on the Kentucky team that faces Tennessee in Saturday's second annual Border Bowl. It matches seniors from the eastern parts of the two states. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. Saturday at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg. Tickets are $6.
■ Newport Central Catholic's Bob Schneider, the state's all-time winningest football coach with 338 victories, told the Cincinnati Enquirer he will return for a 44th season later this year. Schneider, 70, has had the Thoroughbreds in the state finals four years in a row. NewCath has been runner-up to Fort Campbell the last two years. Schneider has three titles and six runner-up finishes.
■ The Kentucky High School Baseball Coaches Association will induct four people into its Hall of Fame during this weekend's annual convention in Louisville. Coaches Phil Bell of Shelby County, Dwayne Ellis of North Hardin and Jeff Wilcox of Ashland Blazer will be honored, along with umpire Micky Strader.