Chris Renner, in his 20th year at Ballard, has an overall record of 523-122. He led the Bruins to the 1999 state title, and runner-up finishes in 2003, ’07, ’10 and ’13.
4) Marshon Ford, 6-2, Jr., 8.4 ppg
10) Dorion Tisby, 6-3, Jr., 9.1 ppg
14) Antoine Darby, 5-11, Sr., 7.5 ppg
22) Jamil Wilson, 5-11, Sr., 13.0 ppg
23) Clivonte Patterson, 6-4, Sr., 17.2 ppg
How they got here
Ballard didn’t lose to an in-state team outside of the top five all season, and at No. 6 in the Cantrall ratings, the Bruins entered their 7th Region semifinal matchup with Trinity just three spots behind the Shamrocks. Still, Ballard was seen as a big underdog. “I felt like they were the best team in the state, and I knew it was going to be a tough task,” Renner said. “But our guys never doubted that we could win the game.” The Bruins turned up the defensive pressure, used their speed and quickness to their advantage and created a little “havoc,” as Renner put it. Ballard won that game 57-41 and went on to trounce Louisville Christian 60-37 in the region final.
If Ballard and Fern Creek both win Thursday afternoon, the Bruins will find a former member of the family waiting for them in the quarterfinals: Tigers Coach James Schooler, who was an assistant coach for Ballard for two seasons. “James was a big part of our program,” Renner said. “We didn’t want to lose him, but we also knew he needed to take that next step. He’s such a hard worker, committed to doing things the right way. I’m proud of him, happy for him, and I’m excited to possibly have the opportunity to play them in the second round of the state tournament. But we both have to take care of business first.” Fern Creek is responsible for three of Ballard’s losses this season.
Player to watch
Clivonte Patterson is Ballard’s leading scorer (17.2 points per game) and rebounder (9.7 per game), the 7th Region player of the year and a Mr. Basketball finalist. “Offensively, he can score from every spot on the floor,” Renner said. “He’s a lefty, so he’s crafty. Probably his greatest attribute is his tenacity on the boards. He’s a really strong rebounder. And he’s also an excellent passer. So teams can double … but he knows how to pass the ball very well.”
Ballard is in the state tournament for the 17th time. It won the title in 1977, 1988 and 1999.
Maze Stallworth is in his first season at Taylor County. Before that, he was 40-61 in three seasons at Casey County. He was also on the first John Hardin team to advance to the Sweet Sixteen (in 2006) before starring at Morehead State.
2) DeJhon Irvin, 5-9, So., 8.3 ppg
5) TreVon Smith, 6-2, So., 17.5 ppg
20) Grant McQueary, 6-2, So., 2.6 ppg
23) Austin Ellis, 6-2, Jr., 7.9 ppg
24) Ezra Oliver, 6-1, Sr., 18.2 ppg
How they got here
The Cardinals were 4-7 over their last 11 games of the regular season and suffered a 90-72 loss to Adair County in the 20th District title game. But Taylor County is peaking at the right time, and the Cards defeated Adair 67-66 for the region title, turning the tables on an Indians squad that had beaten them three times this season and took a 24-game winning streak into that night. Taylor County was coming off two consecutive trips to the Sweet Sixteen, but lost its coach and two stars players from those seasons. Still, expectations remained the same. “These kids were playing for a region title,” Stallworth said. “That’s the standard. They understand that, they embrace it.”
Losing a lot
The Cardinals lost their head coach and 75 percent of their scoring from last season, and outside expectations weren’t high for Taylor County following the graduation of Xavier’s Quentin Goodin and the transfer of highly touted point guard David Sloan. How does a young team get past that? “You kind of don’t talk about it as much, to be honest with you,” Stallworth said. “The kids know. They know what they lost. But, at the same time, these kids embraced the role of being ‘that guy’ now. … These kids, they wanted to be in that position. And they finally got the chance to do it.”
Player to watch
After playing in the shadow of Goodin and Sloan the last two seasons, this was senior Ezra Oliver’s time to step up. He averaged 18.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and shot 44 percent from three-point range for the Cards. He’s now been a starter on a team that has won 73 games over the past three seasons. “The kid’s a winner,” Stallworth said. “He comes in the gym, no matter who it is, he says he’s going to beat you. And then he does it. He’s just one of those kids you want to coach.”
This is Taylor County’s eighth trip to the Sweet Sixteen. The Cardinals have never made it past the quarterfinals.
Ballard vs. Taylor County
What: First round of boys’ Sweet Sixteen basketball state tournament
Where: Rupp Arena
When: 1:30 p.m. Thursday