March Madness isn't defined in Webster's dictionary, but it is documented on YouTube, where you can watch C.J. Penny's buzzer-beating 30-footer that gave Anderson County a 52-49 victory over Shelby County in the 8th Region finals at Henry County on Tuesday night.
After Penny cashed his money jumper, pandemonium broke out as players, coaches and fans celebrated the Bearcats' first trip to Rupp Arena in a dozen years. "It was absolutely a heck of a finish," Anderson County Coach Glen Drury said the next day. "The 5,000 fans (at Henry County) got their money's worth. And it was deserving for C.J., who's worked so hard in his career. When the ball was in the air, I felt it had a shot."
Penny, who had hit only 10 threes all season before his heroic heave, told The Anderson News, "I knew it was going in when it left my hand."
Drury noted the fickle nature of basketball, how a lucky (or unlucky) bounce often determines a team's fate. That said, Anderson County was due a last-second victory.
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In the 1985 region semifinals, Scott County's Frank Persley hit a 20-footer at the buzzer to beat the Bearcats 58-56. In the 1996 district semifinals, Shelby County's Lance Ashby nailed a three-pointer at the buzzer to beat Anderson County 48-45.
"It's a terrible feeling to get beat on those kind of shots," Drury said. "And it's a feeling of exuberance to win on one of those shots."
■ Saturday is the 30th anniversary of the first Sweet Sixteen game in Rupp Arena. On March 14, 1979, 12th Region champ Pulaski County played 14th Region champ Hazard to open the 62nd state tournament. It was the first time the Sweet Sixteen was held in Lexington in 15 years. The KHSAA and Rupp weren't quite ready to host the event with the seamless efficiency they do now. There were no water coolers on the benches, no towels and no stat crew for that first session. Hazard Coach Roger Kirby recalled that the Bulldogs had to pay to park the team bus when they arrived at the arena. Pulaski County Coach Dave Fraley said the Maroons' bus got towed, and his players had to take cabs back to the hotel after the game. Thirty years later, a lot has changed. One thing that hasn't changed: the 12th and 14th regions will face off in the opening game of the 92nd Sweet Sixteen in Rupp Arena on Wednesday.
■ It was 30 years ago Friday that Lafayette star Lea Wise signed to play basketball for UK. Wise, who was averaging 22 points, led Lafayette to a state runner-up finish the next week. Lea Wise-Prewitt's daughter Elizabeth will be in the starting lineup Friday afternoon for Montgomery County when the Indians play Iroquois in the Sweet Sixteen quarterfinals in Bowling Green.
■ West Jessamine is the only school making its first trip to the boys' state tournament. Six teams will be in Rupp Arena for the second year in a row: Central (6th Region), Holmes (9th), Mason County (10th), Lexington Catholic (11th), Hazard (14th) and Elliott County (16th).
■ Central got off to a slow start this season. How slow? The Yellowjackets won more football games than basketball games in December. Central's march to the Class 3A football title included a semifinal victory over Union County and title game victory over Breathitt County in December. Central began the basketball season with eight consecutive losses. The Jackets didn't win their first game until Jan. 3 against Waggener. Coach Doug Bibby's team wound up going 16-6 in the new year and earned another trip to the Sweet Sixteen.
■ The ice storm that socked Kentucky the last week of January hit Grayson County especially hard. There were widespread power outages and water shortages. Grayson County High School was closed for two weeks, and the gym was used as a shelter for displaced families part of the time. That meant the Cougars didn't practice for a week and didn't play a game for two weeks. Coach Todd Johnston's team had hit a lull before that, and the disruption in its schedule didn't help. Grayson County lost four of five games, but Johnston wasn't concerned. "I think the layoff might have been good in a way because we had pretty fresh legs at the end of the year," he said.
■ The injury bug bit several high-profile players and put a different spin on the hoops season. When Scott County star Richie Phares went down with a knee injury in the region semifinals, so did the Cardinals' aura of invincibility. Manual star Jacob Jenkins was plagued by a foot injury all winter, and the Crimsons never lived up to their pre-season top-10 rating. Warren Central never hit its stride again after sophomore standout Jordan Shanklin missed the last six weeks of the regular season and the district tournament. And Madisonville star Jon Hood's long-shot hopes of making the state tournament were squashed when he suffered a stress fracture in his foot in the district tournament. Clark County lost promising sophomore Travis Purvis to a torn ACL in November, and sophomore Corey Rogers to a broken nose for a long stretch the second half of the season. Phares' injury was reminiscent of 2004 when Lexington Catholic senior standout William Graham tore an ACL in the first round of the regional tournament, and the Knights fell to Lafayette in the region finals.
■ North Hardin boys' coach Ron Bevars' phenomenal winning streak in region title games is over. When Adair County clipped North Hardin in double overtime in the 5th Region finals, it was Bevars' first loss in 12 region championship appearances. Morehead State signee Darren Ballou had 24 points and 11 rebounds for Adair County. So while his college team heads to the NCAA Tournament, Ballou heads to the Sweet Sixteen.
■ According to Northern Kentucky sports writer Terry Boehmker, Holmes' 32-29 victory over Boone County was the lowest winning score and fewest total points in a 9th Region boys' finals since the playoff format was started in 1947. Holmes Coach David Henley had been through a similarly tense, low-scoring title game before. He played on the Carlisle County team that lost to Henry Clay 35-33 in three overtimes in the 1983 Sweet Sixteen finals.
■ Elliott County's romp to the boys' 16th Region title was no surprise. The Lions were 21-0 against region opponents this season. Ethan Faulkner, who had triple-doubles in the semifinals and finals, was named MVP of the region tournament for the third year in a row.
■ South Laurel's 6-foot-8 junior, Matt St. John, had 24 points and 32 rebounds in a region semifinal win over Middlesboro. St. John's rebound total wasn't close to the state record. In fact, it ranks only 14th on the all-time list. Russ Milton of Fredonia had 48 rebounds in a game against Marion in 1957. King Kelly Coleman of Wayland had 41 against Maytown in 1956.
■ On Jan. 2, Christian County trailed Henderson County by seven points at halftime before rallying to win 76-62. So when Christian County trailed Henderson County by seven points at halftime in the 2nd Region finals, it was no big deal. Christian County rallied to win 95-82 behind Corey Wilford's 23 points. The Colonels will make their way to Rupp Arena for the third time in four years under Kerry Stovall.
■ Two years after leading Lexington Christian to the girls' Sweet Sixteen title, Emily London is starring at Samford University. The 5-foot-7 sophomore is third in the nation in three-point shooting percentage (64 of 138 for 46 percent) and free-throw accuracy (83 of 92 for 90 percent). London averaged 13.8 points for the Bulldogs, who finished the season 22-7, including a school-best 16-4 in the Southern Conference.
■ Adia Mathies of Iroquois and Jordan Whiting of Trinity are the Kentucky Farm Bureau High School Athletes of the Year and will be honored at the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame banquet on April 29. Mathies has scored almost 3,000 points in her basketball career and has signed with Kentucky. Whiting was part of four state championship football teams at Trinity and was a standout in wrestling and track and field. He has signed to play football at Ohio State.
■ Indiana wrapped up its girls' state basketball tournaments last weekend, highlighted by a showdown between two of the nation's top teams in Class 4A. Ben Davis, No. 1 in USA Today's ratings, wrapped up a 30-0 season by beating previously undefeated South Bend Washington, No. 4 in USA Today, on a last-second shot by Bria Goss. In Class 2A, Heritage Christian, which was rated in the top 15 nationally, also won a state title on a last-second shot.
■ Trinity and St. Xavier will play their annual football showdown on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 4 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. The game had to be rescheduled from Friday, Oct. 2, because Louisville is playing Pittsburgh in a Big East game that night.
■ Tates Creek defensive lineman Tanner Strein has committed to play football at Lindsey Wilson.
■ Mike Rogers, an assistant at Graves County the past five years, is the new head football coach at Warren Central.