GEORGETOWN — Scott County's talented underclassmen were a big reason the Cardinals were an overwhelming No. 1 pick in the state's pre-season polls.
But nobody should under-value Richie Phares' worth to Scott County's stature as a boys' basketball power.
The hustling 6-foot-8 senior was an unstoppable force in leading the host Cards to a 90-70 victory over 13th-rated Ballard in their season opener Thursday night.
Phares had a double-double by halftime and finished with 30 points and 21 rebounds.
"I think he's probably the best player in the state," Ballard Coach Chris Renner said. "I don't see enough of (Madisonville's Jon) Hood, but I love what Richie does.
"He's so good inside but he can also step outside, and he has a great court demeanor. I think he's the glue to that team."
After the tedious grind of practice, Phares was happy to finally get the season started.
"I've been waiting for this for about three months," he said. "And I've been real excited this week to get things going. This was a good way to start. Anytime you beat a good Louisville team by 20, that's a real good win."
Scott County's younger stars got off to a slow start, but eventually shone, too.
Junior guard Ge-Lawn Guyn had 23 points and seven rebounds, and 6-8 junior Dakotah Euton, who has committed to Kentucky, contributed 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Freshman Tamron Manning showed lots of poise in scoring 11 points.
Junior point guard Chad Jackson, who along with Euton transferred from Rose Hill Christian, had nine points, eight rebounds and 11 turnovers.
Scott County Coach Billy Hicks said Jackson's ball-handling troubles were "a classic case of first-game jitters.
"This was a big step up for him, going against Ballard. I know he can handle the ball."
Scott County got off to a shaky start and trailed 21-9 early in the second quarter.
"I really wasn't concerned," Hicks said, "because I've seen what we can do in practice."
Sure enough, the Cards went on a 16-1 run and took a 46-41 halftime lead. They blew it open in the second half and cruised to victory.
Hicks said he was pleased with his team's effort, and the way his defense was able to disrupt Ballard's quicker perimeter game.
The Bruins were led by senior guard Wesley Cox, who hit seven threes before Scott County started trapping him in the third quarter. Cox finished with 28 points.
"I think the biggest thing that killed us was the offensive glass for Scott County," Renner said.
"This game won't determine who goes to the state tournament, or who wins it. But it was a fun atmosphere, and that's what high school basketball is all about."
Scott County plays national power Duncanville, Tex., in the Marshall County Hoopfest on Saturday.
BALLARD (70) — Cox 28, Hardin 3, Dow 12, Chiles 12, Perkins 6, Parker 5, Means 4.
SCOTT COUNTY (90) — Phares 30, Euton 15, Guyn 23, Jackson 9, Manning 11, Flannery 2.
Ballard 19 22 16 13—70
Scott County 9 37 26 18—90
Records — Ballard 1-1; Scott County 1-0