High School Basketball

Pikeville survived midseason slump to make return trip to Sweet Sixteen

Wyatt Battaile, a 15th Region finalist for Mr. Basketball, leads Pikeville in scoring and rebounding.
Wyatt Battaile, a 15th Region finalist for Mr. Basketball, leads Pikeville in scoring and rebounding. Appalachian News-Express

The 101st Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen basketball state tournament tips Wednesday at Rupp Arena in Lexington.

Below is the team profile for the Pikeville Panthers, who will meet John Hardin in the first round at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

PIKEVILLE

Region: 15th

Record: 24-9

Enrollment: 327 (180 boys)

Coach's résumé: Elisha Justice is 47-18 in two seasons at Pikeville. He’s led them to back-to-back Sweet Sixteens

Probable starters

1) Kyle Watkins, 5-10, Jr., 6.6 ppg

2) Wyatt Battaile, 6-4, Sr., 24.3 ppg

11) Connor Roberts, 5-11, Jr., 14.1

12) Cade Byers, 6-3, Sr., 5.8 ppg

23) Christian Billiter, 6-1, Jr., 4.2 ppg

How they got here

Pikeville comes into the Sweet Sixteen on a six-game winning streak capped by a 52-45 win over Johnson Central in the 15th Region finals. The Panthers hit a rough patch in early February, losing four out of seven games including a 68-51 blowout loss at Johnson Central on Feb. 6. They got better.

Players to watch

Wyatt Battaile leads the team in scoring and rebounding in becoming the 15th Region’s Mr. Basketball finalist. “He’s really good at getting to the rim, but he’s also got a good mid-range game,” Coach Elisha Justice said. Battaile has gotten more focused on the boards in the postseason and been putting up double-doubles down the stretch. “He just does a little bit of everything for us.” Connor Roberts chips in 14.1 points per game and leads the team in three-point shooting, going 46-for-116 for a rate of 39.7 percent.

Glue guy

The Panthers’ early February woes coincided with the loss of senior Cade Byers to injury during an All “A” Classic game. “He’s the type of guy that does things that most people don’t really notice because he doesn’t always score a lot of points, but he rebounds, he blocks shots, he changes shots and he gets deflections and steals,” Justice said of the forward, who missed 12 games. Pikeville started flailing but righted the ship in time for the 59th District Tournament; when Byers returned to the lineup in the first round of the regional, it gave the team a jolt.

“You’d expected him to be a little bit rusty, but it was like he hadn’t sat out at all. He was just as good as he had been before and it just changed our whole team,” Justice said.

Sweet history

This is Pikeville’s 15th appearance in the Sweet Sixteen and its second straight. The Panthers ended a 17-year drought without a region title last year, but lost to Perry County Central in the first round, 61-46, with a team led in scoring by a junior and a sophomore (Battaile and Roberts).

Chris Ware | Herald-Leader staff
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