How many people out there picked Shelby Valley to repeat as boys' 15th Region basketball champs after graduating their top eight players, led by Mr. Basketball Elisha Justice, and having their coach, Jason Booher, leave to take a job at Holmes?
Just as I thought.
Not a soul.
But guess who'll be rolling back into Lexington for the 94th PNC/KHSAA Sweet Sixteen next week?
Yep. Shelby Valley, a team that didn't win three games in a row this season until the region tournament. First-year coach Greg Newsome's Wildcats will bring a 13-17 record into Rupp Arena as the most unlikely team in the field. (Beware: Scott County came into the 1984 Sweet Sixteen with a 13-16 record and beat No. 1-rated Newport Catholic in the first round at Rupp.)
Shelby Valley's roster includes six eighth-graders, five freshmen, and nobody who scored a point in last year's state tournament.
Newsome said his young team is "liable to hit you in the head in the stands (with the ball), or they're liable to make six threes in a row. It's always exciting because I never know what they're going to do, and they never know what they're going to do."
■ My expertise, or lack thereof, allowed me to correctly pick eight of 16 regions: Christian County (2nd), Warren Central (4th), Eastern (7th), Oldham County (8th), Dixie Heights (9th), Clark County (10th), Wayne County (12th) and Perry Central (14th). Five of my other picks made it to the region finals, so I don't feel like a complete numbskull.
■ Dixie Heights' four-overtime victory against Newport Central Catholic in an epic 9th Region finals earned the Colonels their first trip to the Sweet Sixteen in 54 years.
How big a deal was it?
Mark Pike, a Dixie alum and father of Colonels junior Zeke Pike, played for the Buffalo Bills in four Super Bowls. After watching Dixie's dramatic win over NewCath last Saturday, Pike e-mailed Dixie Coach Ken Chevalier. "He said it was the most exciting, exhilarating game he's ever been a part of," Chevalier said. "That's coming from a guy who played in four Super Bowls. That tells you how overwhelming the response and the emotions are among the Dixie people."
A big part of Chevalier's sporting life has been a quest to get to the Sweet Sixteen. He came close to playing in the 1983 state tournament his senior year at Lloyd, but the Juggernauts were upset by Highlands in the region finals. Chevalier later set his sights on getting to Rupp Arena as one of the top referees in the 9th Region. A knee injury cut short that career. He then moved into coaching. In his first season as head coach at Dixie, he got the Colonels to the 2005 region semifinals where they lost a heartbreaker to Holmes. Looking back, Chevalier said he "would've been spoiled" if Dixie had gotten to the Sweet Sixteen on his first try. "It makes it more exciting and rewarding to do it the way we did it this year, going 29-3 and winning in four overtimes. I finally get a chance to go be a part of it all at Rupp, and it's an awesome feeling."
■ While Dixie Heights had to sweat out a four-OT region final, Warren Central won a less stressful four-OT district final against arch-rival Bowling Green. Dragons Coach Tim Riley said it was a walk in the park compared to Warren Central's 68-64 victory over Bowling Green in the 4th Region finals Tuesday night. The Dragons rallied from seven points down in the last 90 seconds to win their eighth region title in 10 years. "The four-overtime district game didn't mean anything," Riley said. "The district runner-up has won the 4th Region the last three years, so we knew the big game would be the region finals. That game is a different animal. It's such a hard game, such an emotional game. It's so stressful because what's on the line — getting to Rupp."
■ Enrollments for the schools in the boys' Sweet Sixteen: Eastern (2,300); Clark County (1,650); Daviess County (1,620); Marshall County (1,457); Christian County (1,400); Dixie Heights (1,400); Oldham County (1,400); Bullitt East (1,338); Warren Central (1,130); Perry County Central (1,060); Bell County (870); Lexington Catholic (865); Rowan County (840); Wayne County (668); Shelby Valley (589); Bardstown (564).
■ Gary Ball will host a Sweet Sixteen special that will air twice on Tuesday — at 1 p.m. on WKYT and at 6:30 p.m. on CWKYT.
■ When Allen Feldhaus Jr. was a senior at Mason County, he helped the Royals reach the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in school history in 1981. It was the start of big things for the Royals, who've been to the state tournament 14 times and won it twice. Feldaus, now the boys' coach at Madison Central, hopes daughter Ashton is helping to start the same kind of tradition for the Lady Indians. Ashton is a sophomore starter on Madison Central's first girls' region title team that made its Sweet Sixteen debut against No. 1 Rockcastle County on Thursday. "I told her regardless of what happens, enjoy it, remember how it feels and hope you have a chance to get back there." Feldhaus took his daughter and her teammate Jenna Cornelison to last year's state tournament to "let them to get a feel for what the Sweet Sixteen is all about."
■ Lexington Catholic's win over Madison Central in the boys' 11th Region finals was its 14th victory in a row over the Indians since 2002.
■ Robin Kelsch put a unique twist on March Madness. In his last act as boys' basketball coach at Augusta, Kelsch took a pass from one of his players, stepped onto the court and hit a three-pointer as the buzzer sounded in the Panthers' 99-69 loss to Scott in the first round of the 10th Region tournament at Mason County (video above). One referee signaled a three and the points were posted on the scoreboard, then taken off. Kelsch, who is stepping down after 13 years as coach to become the school's principal, planned the shot with his team days before. He cleared it with Scott Coach Brad Carr during a timeout late in the game. "I wanted to go out in style," Kelsch said with a laugh. I told my kids to dish it to me and I was going to jack it. Of course, if it'd been a close game I wouldn't have done it." Kelsch was a good shooter in his playing days at Augusta, but he didn't expect to make his final (and only) shot as coach. "I was going to be happy just to shoot it," he said. When the 25-footer nestled in the net, Kelsch was surprised and his players were thrilled. "It made them forget about the final score. They were grabbing and hugging me," said Kelsch, who leaves the sidelines as Augusta's all-time winning coach with 150 victories.
■ The Touchstone Energy All "A" Classic is moving its boys' and girls' state basketball tournaments to the Frankfort Convention Center for at least three years starting in 2012. The All "A" was played in EKU's McBrayer Arena in Richmond the last 20 years. All "A" director Stan Steidel said the relocation was "all about scheduling" because EKU could not lock in dates far enough in advance. The Frankfort arena has 5,365 seats. That's a smaller capacity than McBrayer Arena, but still plenty big for the small-school tournaments.
■ Estill County's boys put in a lot of overtime this season — a dozen overtimes to be exact. Coach Jon Bentley's team had a six-OT marathon against Bourbon County, a two-OT tussle with Menifee County, and four other games that went one overtime.
■ Mark Maynard, a long-time newspaper man for the Ashland Daily Independent, has written a book about the Tomcats' 1961 state title. It's called Teamwork: Ashland's 1961 Championship Basketball Season. The book can be purchased online at markmaynardbooks.com.
■ Tom Crews has resigned as the boys' coach at Male where he went 113-61 in six years. Crews said he is "tremendously enthused about pursuing a new start and a new situation" in coaching.
■ The women's NCAA Tournament will include three Lexington Christian alums: Emily London (Samford), Anna Martin (DePaul) and Sarah Beth Barnette (UK).
■ Henry Clay swimmer Nick Wrightson will be in Sports Illustrated's "Faces in the Crowd" feature this week. Nick's friend Hayes Gardner made the push to get Wrightson recognized in SI. The Henry Clay senior won three straight 200 freestyle state titles, and was part of the Blue Devils' state championship 400 relay this year.
■ Former Tates Creek and Louisville football player Pete Nochta is a graduate assistant at Purdue where he will coach tight ends, the position he played in college.
■ Greenup County hired Chris Mullins as its football coach. A 1999 graduate of Greenup County, Mullins was an assistant the last five years.