Scott County has gotten about as much of a chip on its shoulder as a boys’ basketball team that’s perennially in the mix for a state title can have.
The Cardinals lost to 2016 state champion Paul Laurence Dunbar in the finals of the 11th Region Tournament that season. They fell to Bowling Green, the 2017 state champ, in the quarterfinals of the Sweet Sixteen that year. Covington Catholic last season defeated Scott County for its first state championship, blocking the Cardinals from what would have been their third.
That trend suggests that this season is the one that’ll finally end with scissors on the Rupp Arena floor.
“That don’t automatically punch you a ticket to the finals, but it does get ya expectations,” said Cardinals Coach Billy Hicks. “In Kentucky there’s always at least 10, 15 or 20 teams that can beat anybody on a given night. Maybe they couldn’t beat ’em six out of seven or five out of seven, but on a given night?”
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Hicks has been on the underdog side of those odds.
“In 1998, if we’d played Lexington Catholic 20 times, we might’ve beat ’em once, but that one time was in the semifinals of the state that year,” Hicks said, referencing a game wherein his team scored 11 points in the final 36 seconds and beat the nationally ranked Knights on a three-pointer at the horn. “That makes basketball what basketball is. I’d really like our chances if it was a seven-game series, but it’s one and out.”
No team in the commonwealth returns as much experienced talent as do the Cardinals, who will start four of the same players who started in last year’s title game and played a big role in Scott County finishing 37-2. Leading the charge is Michael Moreno, a 6-foot-6 Mr. Basketball contender who’s on pace to eclipse 3,000 career points and 1,100 rebounds. The senior has not yet committed to a college program but has offers from several mid-majors
Glenn Covington, Bryce Long and Diablo Stewart join Moreno as returning starters. Covington, a football star, is one of the best defensive guards in the state. Long and Stewart should both average double-figure scoring this season; Long was less than a point away last year (9.2 ppg) and Stewart was third on the team at 11.7 (he also shot 42.6 percent from three-point range).
“This is a good group of kids,” Hicks said. “And they haven’t rested on their laurels. We’ve really worked hard, getting ready for this year.”
If members of that foursome — plus Lorenzo Williams and Cam Fluker, other key returnees who played in the finals loss — were scarred by Covington Catholic, they haven’t acknowledged it.
“Kids are very resolute, they’ve got a great way of putting things out of their mind and stuff like that,” Hicks said. “But, also deep inside ‘em, I think they’d like another shot at it.
“But there’s 17 other teams in the region that want a shot at it too.”
The next four
Last season’s record in parentheses
2. Henry Clay (18-12): The Blue Devils have missed two straight region tournaments but are expected to return to Richmond in 2019. Seniors Keaston Brown and Harris Hawkins and junior Marques Warrick will see that those expectations are met.
3. Madison Central (25-8): Talk about differing opinions — the Indians were pegged as the state’s fifth-best team but picked third in the 11th Region by its coaches. That could be due to Central graduating four of its five starters.
4. Lexington Catholic (18-10): Ben Johnson — the latest in a family of LexCath sharpshooters — might be the most explosive of the bunch, and he’s just a sophomore. Sam Vaughn, a 6-foot-7 senior who’s going to play football at Miami (Ohio), is an intriguing newcomer.
5. Lafayette (21-10): The Generals pushed Scott County to the brink in a regular-season meeting before a rematch that got out of hand in the region semifinals. A host of returnees should keep them in the thick of the 43rd District race.