High School Sports

Sweet Sixteen preview: Mason County vs. Taylor County

Quentin Goodin has helped lead Taylor County to its second consecutive Sweet Sixteen. Goodin, who has signed with Xavier University, is a better shooter and leader as a senior.
Quentin Goodin has helped lead Taylor County to its second consecutive Sweet Sixteen. Goodin, who has signed with Xavier University, is a better shooter and leader as a senior. Herald-Leader

MASON COUNTY

Region: 10th

Record: 23-10

Enrollment: 814

Coach’s résumé

Buddy Biggs is in his first season as head coach of the Royals. He has an overall record of 297-176 in 15 seasons and led Pendleton County to the Sweet Sixteen in 2005.

Starters

1 Antwavon Williams 6-0 Sr. 19.8 ppg

11 Isiah Garrison 5-11 So. 12.7 ppg

13 Conner Sweeney 6-4 Sr. 14.4 ppg

24 Darren Williams Sr. 6-5 9.5 ppg

35 Jaylen Lofton Fr. 5-10 4.5 ppg

How they got here

Mason County lost six of its top seven scorers to graduation last year, but Biggs and the new coaching staff decided not to lower the always-high expectations that surround the Royals’ program. “We still wanted to strive to compete for district and regional championships,” Biggs said. “And the kids did a great job of buying in and listening and not paying attention to the experts, so to speak. … And here we are. It’s been a great run.” The Royals, underdogs all season, eked out victories over Campbell County, Paris and Augusta in the 10th Region Tournament to get to Rupp. Anwavon “Pig” Williams is the go-to guy, Sweeney is the team’s leading rebounder, and Garrison has emerged as one of the future faces of the storied program.

Home again

Biggs actually spent a season on the Mason County bench in 2001-2002, his last as an assistant coach before taking the head coaching job at Pendleton County. He spent five years with that program and the past nine seasons at Ashland Blazer. Biggs, a Covington Catholic grad, was also an assistant coach at Beechwood and Henderson County earlier in his career. The move back to Maysville was a no-brainer for the former Royals’ assistant. His wife, Allison, is a Mason County graduate and former cheerleader for the Royals. “In a sense, it was moving home for both of us,” said the coach.

Player to watch

“Pig” Williams is the Royals’ do-everything player and the only returning starter from last season. He averages nearly 20 points, six rebounds and five assists per game. Williams’ deep three-pointer at the buzzer lifted Mason County past Campbell County in the region quarterfinals, kick-starting the Royals’ magical run to Rupp. “He’s our floor general and plays at the point quite a bit,” Biggs said. “He leads us on the floor. He’s a tremendous defender, as well. He’s the best perimeter defender we have. He usually guards the opposing team’s best player. His leadership has been very crucial to us.”

Sweet history

Mason County is in the state tournament for the 15th time — all since 1981 — and the Royals won the Sweet Sixteen title in both 2003 and 2008.

TAYLOR COUNTY

Region: 5th

Record: 24-8

Enrollment: 857

Coach’s résumé

Rich Gatewood is 78-20 in three seasons at Taylor County. He also led Moore to a 23-8 record in 2012-2013, his first season as a head coach.

Starters

2 Devin Rafferty 6-4 Sr. 5.0 ppg

3 Quentin Goodin 6-4 Sr. 23.1 ppg

10 David Sloan 6-0 Jr. 20.3 ppg

14 Dylan Gaines 6-5 Jr. 11.7 ppg

24 Ezra Oliver 6-0 Jr. 6.6 ppg

How they got here

The Cardinals came into the season with a target on their backs, and it took a little while to adjust to the expectations. The state’s preseason No. 1 team started the year with a 7-7 record. The schedule was tough, but the results were still disappointing. Gatewood said the hardest thing was getting the players to understand that every opponent was going to be amped to play them. “We’re going to get everybody’s best shot,” he said. “Whoever we play, we’re their Super Bowl.” Once that sunk in, the Cards started rolling, winning 17 of their last 18 games. Goodin and Sloan are nationally known recruits, Gaines was finally ruled eligible to play just a few weeks ago after transferring from Warren East, and DeJhon Irvin and TreVon Smith are two freshmen to watch off the bench who regularly provide Taylor County with a defensive spark.

A second chance

Taylor County’s trip to Rupp last season was its first state tournament appearance in 32 years, and the Cardinals fell to Hopkinsville in the first round. Most of the key contributors from that team are back this time around, and Gatewood says last year’s experience has driven this year’s squad. “You can’t coach or teach experience. You just can’t,” he said. “Now they know what to expect. They’re telling guys who have never been there, ‘Hey this is what’s going to happen and this is what we got to do.’ The experience is unbelievably key to this year’s run. There’s no doubt about it.”

Player to watch

Goodin is the top-rated recruit in the state, and he has already signed to play for Xavier University next season. He’s always put up big stats, and Gatewood says his star player has developed into more of a leader this season. Goodin excels at getting to the basket, but he’s been working on his outside shooting, too. In the region title win over Bardstown, he was 5-for-6 on three-pointers and scored 33 points. “When he’s making shots like that, he’s unguardable,” Gatewood said.

Sweet history

This is Taylor County’s seventh trip to the Sweet Sixteen and the second consecutive year it will be playing in Rupp. The Cardinals have never made it past the quarterfinals.

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