High School Basketball

Last year’s small-school state champ learning to win again after shaky start to 2019

Photo slideshow: Lexington Christian defeats Frankfort in 11th Region All ‘A’ semis

Lexington Christian Academy defeated Frankfort 57-44 in the 11th Region All "A" Classic semifinals Thursday at Frankfort High School Gym.
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Lexington Christian Academy defeated Frankfort 57-44 in the 11th Region All "A" Classic semifinals Thursday at Frankfort High School Gym.

Preseason expectations for Lexington Christian Academy among boys’ high school basketball coaches were mixed.

Statewide, the Eagles were ranked eighth overall and third among 11th Region teams. LCA didn’t finish as a preseason top-five program in a vote of coaches only in its region.

Of course, the only expectations that matter at the end of the day were those harbored by the Eagles. While they lost two talented big men in Austin Hall and Carter Hendricksen, they brought back one of the best players to ever roam its halls in Kyle Rode and several other seniors who’ve had a hand in getting the Eagles to the last three All “A” Classic state tournaments.

A fourth trip is in their crosshairs: LCA knocked off Frankfort, 57-44 on the road in the semifinals of the 11th Region All “A” Classic tournament. The Eagles, ranked 23rd overall in the most recent Cantrall Ratings, will play either Model or Sayre, who met in the second semifinal Thursday night, at 8 p.m. Saturday.

Rode, a Liberty University signee who earlier this season became the program’s all-time leading scorer, finished with 15 points, five assists and four rebounds.

“This group’s been to All ‘A’ state the last three years together and having just so many seniors, man, it means a lot,” Rode said. “Especially (against) such a good team. They’re well-coached and play hard, to come in here and get a road win like that, it was special to our guys.”

On paper it was an upset: Frankfort entered the week ranked 19th overall in the state. The Panthers fell to 15-4 overall but have put themselves in position to win the 41st District outright and recently picked up a neutral-site win over No. 15 South Laurel, whose only other loss this season was at No. 1 Scott County.

LCA never trailed. The Eagles (14-6) jumped out to an 8-0 lead after hitting their first three shots of the game. Frankfort quickly got back within two points but LCA finished on a 14-2 run to close out the first frame.

“I think we were ready,” LCA Coach Nate Valentine said with a grin. “The All ‘A’ is a big deal to us and we’d obviously like to get back to Richmond again. We had really good preparation leading up to it, a lot of competition in practice. We’ve been playing really well in the first half. It’s been kind of that third quarter, as you saw tonight, that’s bogged us down.”

The Panthers used a 13-5 edge in the third quarter to get within single digits, 40-31, and pulled within seven points early in the last period, but LCA staved off the rally and maintained a comfortable lead down the stretch. Johnathan Tillman led Frankfort with 17 points, 11 rebounds and three assists.

LCA lost three of its first four games this month, two of them by single digits to 43rd District foes; they had double-digit leads in the second half of all three. They’ve since won three straight.

“We’re a different team than we were last year, and we’ve got to figure out how to win games and keep talking about making winning plays,” Valentine said. “A lot of times guys try to go off and make a big play on their own and we’ve just got to make winning plays within what we can do, and we were fortunate enough tonight.”