For the first time since 1997, a state title trophy is headed to Lotts Creek.
Cordia defeated Murray 62-45 in the boys’ All “A” Classic championship, giving the Lions their first finals win in their second trip to the tournament.
Anthony Nelson was named MVP of the tournament. He stuffed the stat sheet to the tune of 14 points on 50-percent shooting, six rebounds, five assists and three blocks for Cordia, whose triumph came about a year and a half after the KHSAA handed down sanctions which initially barred it from playing games and banned it from the 2014-15 and 2015-16 postseasons. The school was tagged with violations ranging from recruitment to providing illegal benefits to its players.
The Lions eventually were permitted to play up to 15 games last season and a full schedule this year, but the postseason bans remained intact. Therefore, the small-school tournament (whose champions aren’t recognized by the state’s governing body) became their de facto state tournament.
“This was our Sweet Sixteen tournament. This was our goal,” said Ajenee “Lulu” Chisolm, whose mother game him a nickname that stuck because his first name — pronounced Ah-zuah-nay — was too hard to say. “This was the only thing we were reaching for. Me and my team came together and we accomplished our goal.”
It was Cordia’s first state title in any sport since an individual boys’ cross country win in 1997, and its fourth team title in school history (the other three came in Class A boys’ cross country in 1988, 1989 and 1995).
Alice Whittaker, a Cordia fixture and niece of the late Alice Slone, who founded the school in 1933, wore a large part of the championship net atop her head following the victory. The whole experience — from the criticism cast Cordia’s way to being crowned on Sunday — has been overwhelming, she said.
“We hung in and it happened,” Whittaker said. “ … These kids have given their all and they’re good kids. They eat a lot. I have to feed ’em, but they’re good kids.”
The Lions took command of a back-and-forth game with an 11-2 run to end the second quarter, earning them a 24-17 halftime advantage.
Cordia played with a double-digit lead much of the third quarter before Murray’s Preston English trimmed its lead to eight after swishing a three-pointer from the right corner as the quarter horn sounded. A 10-2 run midway through the final period swelled the Lions’ lead to 16 points.
That was well out of reach for a Murray squad that struggled to find its shot all night. The Tigers were 15-for-60, including just 3-for-28 from behind the arc. James Boone, a Samford signee, led Murray with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
“It hurts today but they’ve got nothing to be sad about,” Murray Coach Bart Flener said. “Their effort was there all week. We just couldn’t put the ball in the basket today.”
Cordia Coach Rodrick Rhodes said Owen County, whom Murray beat on a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Boone on Saturday night, deserved some credit for wearing down the Tigers.
“I think Murray was really tired from competing against Owen County and their big kid (Carson Williams),” said Rhodes, a former University of Kentucky standout. “I think that made our job a little easier.”
This title brings validation to a group of kids who stayed the course at Cordia in spite of the sanctions and any criticism stemming from the KHSAA investigation. Other schools tried to take their players and mislead them with false information, Rhodes said, yet they blocked out the noise and dug in for this opportunity.
He hopes the community, region and state can recognize what Cordia’s done in the present moment and allow it to move forward.
“Accept us. Accept these kids,” Rhodes said. “They’re a part of that community. They love eastern Kentucky. I just wish they would accept these kids.”
Cordia 62, Murray 45
Murray (19-5) — Clark 4, English 11, Hornbuckle 8, Boone 12, Curtis 7, Flener 2, McClure 1.
Cordia (14-7) — Mercado 12, Chisolm 5, Biallas 6, Spurgeon 1, Nelson 14, Henry 9, McDonald 11, Keita 4.
Anthony Nelson, Cordia (MVP); James Boone, Murray; Ajanee Chisolm, Cordia; Ethan Clark, Murray; Dominique Compton, Green County; Preston English, Murray; Brennan Hall, Newport Central Catholic; Travion Hollowell, University Heights; Ramon Mercado, Cordia; Spencer McKinney, Danville; Jordan Perry, Morgan County; Ben Weyer, Newport Central Catholic; Carson Williams, Owen County.