The Ashland Tomcats had perfection on their minds — an undefeated Sweet Sixteen championship — in mid-winter of 1961. Bob Wright's basketball team had a 21-0 record when it played Lafayette at Morehead College exactly fifty years ago, on Feb. 11, 1961.
Ralph Carlisle's Generals didn't figure to play the role of spoiler. They were 11-5, with losses in four of their previous seven games.
But even the greatest of teams can't win 'em all.
Lafayette rallied from a 30-19 deficit to stun Ashland 59-58 on Bob McConathy's layup with 49 seconds left. The defeat didn't derail the No. 1 Tomcats from reaching their No. 1 goal. They won their next 15 games to capture the Sweet Sixteen title.
But Larry Conley, one of Ashland's stars, said the loss to Lafayette still stings half a century later. "Absolutely," Conley said this week. "I remember riding home on the bus and how disappointed we all were. By that point in the season we knew we were really good, and we actually thought we were going to go undefeated."
Wright didn't try to sell the loss as a good thing. "He was always a positive guy, so he just said, 'Look, it's over with. We've gotta move on, and we'll play better from now on,'" Conley said. "And we did. After that nobody really came close to us."
The '61 Tomcats will get together for a reunion at this year's Sweet Sixteen, setting up shop at the Hyatt Regency in between the semifinals and finals on Saturday, March 19. They'll welcome friends and fans to stop by to talk about their 36 wins that year, not the one loss to Lafayette.
■ Paul Laurence Dunbar's boys, who lost to Tates Creek 79-38 in mid-January, scored one less point in the rematch but still stunned the Commodores 37-32 last week in what might rate as the biggest upset of the season. Tates Creek, then-No. 5 in the state, was coming off a victory over No. 1 Eastern, its 13th win in its last 14 games. At the time Dunbar was No. 93 in Dave Cantrall's ratings and had lost 11 of its previous 12 games. Bulldogs first-year coach Justin Yeary said the key to the shocker was frustrating Tates Creek's offense. "We got a little lucky there. They didn't shoot well at all." Dunbar took advantage and pulled the shocker. "Was it the fluke of all flukes, or has Dunbar turned the corner a little bit?" Yeary asked. "I do think we're closing the competitive gap in the city." The Bulldogs have beaten Lafayette twice, given Bryan Station a scare and now own a victory over Tates Creek. "I think the game was huge for our kids and huge for the basketball community in this building," Yeary said.
■ Tates Creek's 32 points in its loss to Dunbar was its lowest-scoring total since it lost to Daviess County 47-29 in December, 1995.
■ Winning the boys' Touchstone Energy All "A" Classic small-school basketball title was a big deal for Betsy Layne. After the Bobcats won the championship in Richmond on Sunday, the team made its way home and was greeted at the Floyd County line by an escort. "There was a motorcade of probably 200 cars, with the fire department and state police taking us to the school where we had a celebration in the gym," Coach William Newsome Jr. said. "We had another celebration Monday morning at the school." Newsome, 67, is in his second stint at Betsy Layne. In 1976, his first season, he took the Bobcats to the Sweet Sixteen. They made a return trip in 1980. But Newsome said winning the All "A" is better. "It's tops, no doubt. Even if it is Class A, it's still a state championship."
■ Jason Booher, who coached Shelby Valley to back-to-back All "A" titles and the Sweet Sixteen championship, thinks it's great that Betsy Layne kept the small-school title in the mountains. Booher, now at Holmes, said in an e-mail that "mountain basketball will always hold a special place in my heart, and I have a lot of great memories from Eastern Kentucky." While Shelby Valley was favored to win the All "A," Betsy Layne was not. Dave Cantrall rated the Bobcats 11th out of 16 teams in this year's tournament.
■ Becca Greenwell put on a show while leading Owensboro Catholic to the girls' All "A" title. The 6-1 sophomore set records for most points in the finals (33) and the tournament (122). She tied records for most field goals (44) and most free throws made (34) in the tournament, and was one shy of the rebound record (57). Greenwell has already shattered Owensboro Catholic's school scoring mark set by Kris Miller, Miss Basketball in 1986. UK Coach Matthew Mitchell was a regular at the All "A" to make sure Greenwell knew she's a top-priority recruit.
■ Shelby County junior Eric Schreiner had a dramatic game-winning shot last week, a turn-around three that banked in at the buzzer to beat district rival Anderson County 55-54.
■ Adair County's Kyle Young, a 6-4 junior, had 21 points and 11 rebounds in a win over Bethlehem. Kyle is the son of former Adair County standout Jeff Young and grandson of former Indians coach Keith Young.
■ Clinton County point guard Keifer Dalton, an eighth grader, had a school-record (for boys) 15 assists to go with nine points, seven steals and five rebounds in a win over Jenkins.
■ Beechwood freshman Tyler Fangman had nine three-pointers and 45 points in an 88-67 loss to Boone County.
■ The KHSAA's Board of Control this week approved a new alignment of 6th and 7th region basketball. Most of the teams in those regions will swap places. For example, 7th Region powers Ballard, Eastern and Trinity will be in the 6th Region starting next season, while 6th Region teams such as Butler, Pleasure Ridge Park, Fairdale and Iroquois will switch to the 7th. Jeffersontown will remain in the 7th and Central will stay in the 6th, but they'll have different company. KHSAA commissioner Julian Tackett said that no matter how much discussion or debate there is, "there will not be unanimous agreement on alignment." Still, the wholesale flip-flop seems odd. For tradition's sake, why not keep as many teams as possible in the same numbered districts and regions?
■ Nicholas County will host the inaugural Shoot for the Cure Classic this weekend to benefit the American Diabetes Association. After a Nicholas County-Washington County girls' and boys' doubleheader Friday, most of Saturday's boys' games will involve schools with ties to Nicholas County. Harrison County vs. LaRue County, noon; Deming vs. Central Hardin, 2; Montgomery County vs. LCA, 4; Tates Creek vs. Shelby County, 6; Henry Clay vs. Mason County, 8. Among the Nicholas County connections: Henry Clay Coach Daniel Brown was an all-state player for the Bluejackets. Tates Creek athletics director Joe Ruddell played football for Nicholas County. Shelby County principal Eddie Oakley and Mason County Coach Chris O'Hearn both coached there. Deming assistant John Brown played for the Bluejackets. Montgomery County principal Marty Feltner is a former Nicholas County administrator. "It's a chance to showcase our new gym and raise awareness of diabetes with the help of a lot of friends," Nicholas County athletic director Robert Hopkins said.
■ Blue Grass Baptist senior Sarah Dugger organized a "Shoot for the Cure" junior-varsity tournament to raise money for breast-cancer awareness last weekend. The event raised almost $1,800, with the host school raising almost $1,200 in the "Pink Out Challenge." Dugger, the only senior on the varsity basketball team, is also a standout softball pitcher who has led Blue Grass to three Kentucky Christian Athletic Association state titles.
■ Mason County lost a coach, a friend and loyal supporter when Mike Murphy died this week. He was 53. Mr. Murphy was Mason County's baseball coach, and groundskeeper for the school's sports fields. He was also part of Royals basketball. He drove the team bus and served as timekeeper.
■ Scott County is mourning the death of Charles "Eddie" Doan, who was involved in youth sports as a coach, referee, umpire and helper for almost 50 years. He was uniform manager for the Cardinals' boys' basketball team this season. Mr. Doan died Saturday. He was 69.
■ Woodford County hopes to defend its title in the region wrestling tournament Saturday at Tates Creek. The competition begins at 10 a.m. Finals start around 5:30 p.m. The top four finishers in each weight class advance to the state tournament in Frankfort next week.
■ Central Hardin football coach Mike Lawson is stepping down. He led the Bruins to a school-record nine wins last fall. Lawson had a record of 73-41 in 10 years, including stops at Owensboro Catholic and Marshall County. He was also an assistant at Lexington Catholic.
■ Scott County football player Jay Willmott will walk on at UK. Cardinals Coach Jim McKee said UK assistant Greg Nord talked with Willmott about focusing on punting and kicking off. "The kid has a cannon leg. I see good things for him," McKee said. Scott County receiver James Happy signed with Kentucky State.
■ The KHSAA has approved new tie-breaker rules for district soccer games that will go into effect next season. Currently, there is no tie-breaker for regular-season matches that end in a tie. That will change. Regular-season seeded district matches and post-season matches that are tied after regulation will go to two five-minute sudden-victory periods. If that's not enough to determine a winner, there will be a penalty-kick shoot-out. Regular-season tournament games will go directly to penalty kicks. Regular-season games between teams not in the same district will still end in ties.