Lexington Christian Academy was considered a title contender in each of the last two All “A” Classic state tournaments, but the Eagles weren’t hyper-focused on winning the small-school state title.
They say they are this season, and they walked the walk in their first-round game: LCA rolled in a 68-47 victory over University Heights Academy at EKU’s McBrayer Arena on Thursday, setting up a quarterfinals matchup with Louisville Collegiate at 6 p.m. Friday.
LCA entered this year’s tournament as the favorite — “The F-word that no coach likes to hear,” Eagles Coach Nate Valentine said — and was one of only two teams in the field ranked in the top 25 of Dave Cantrall’s Rating the State, coming in at No. 8 overall (Walton-Verona, which is on the other side of the bracket, is ranked 19th overall).
It looked the part of a favorite Wednesday morning as it built a 23-7 first-quarter lead and never trailed. LCA scored the game’s first seven points and at one point early in the second half led by 30 points. The Eagles’ trio of big guys — seniors Austin Hall and Carter Hendricksen and junior Kyle Rode — controlled the contest from the get-go and accounted for more than half of LCA’s 45 rebounds; UHA finished with 21 as a team.
“We knew they were gonna pressure us a lot and they fight and they scrap,” Valentine said of UHA. “Those three guys, Austin, Kyle and Carter, came ready to go and made sure those other guys were ready.”
LCA held KyKy Tandy — UHA’s star junior who has offers from Florida and Oklahoma — to 20 points on 8-for-22 shooting.
“He’s a really good, physical guard that can just shoot the lights out,” Rode said. “It’s really a tribute to our coaching staff and their preparation so that we know what to do when we come out. Our guards did a great job of containing and staying in front of him.”
Valentine said one team goal — advancement to the 11th Region Tournament for the first time in program history — took precedence over all others during the last two seasons. The Eagles achieved that last year and have a renewed appreciation for what it would mean to win an All “A” championship, which would be the first for a program that’s never made it further than the semifinals.
“This is the first year that those guys have actually talked about this being important to ’em,” Valentine said. “ … We spent so much energy my first three years here just getting out of the district and we were finally able to do that last year. We kind of played in this tournament in fear of making it too big for our guys, because we knew the district was our goal. We’ve really put all that on the back-burner now.”
Rode finished with a triple-double — 25 points (12-of-16 shooting), 13 rebounds and 10 assists, all game-highs. Northern Kentucky, Liberty and Samford are among the schools that have offered the junior, who suffered an ankle sprain against Scott County in December and missed nearly a month.
“He’s a terrific player and it’s a shame that everybody didn’t get to see him play earlier in the year. He was out three and a half weeks and it takes him a little bit of time to get back. … I feel like our guys are starting to jell together, so where I was hoping we’d be in December, we’re just now getting there.”
All ‘A’ Classic
When: Through Sunday
Where: McBrayer Arena in Alumni Coliseum, Eastern Kentucky University
Boys’ bracket: bit.ly/2ructDb
Girls’ bracket: bit.ly/2DZmQBu