Among ESPN host Chris Berman’s famous catchphrases is, “That’s why they play the game!”
Berman would use it when preparing the audience for highlights of an upset.
While the Knox Central Basketball faithful may not agree, to the rest of the 13th Region world, the Panthers’ 78-63 win over North Laurel in the 13th Region Championship Saturday night was exactly why they play the game.
On paper, the 25-2 Jaguars, who were undefeated against 13th Region opponents this season, should have already had hotel reservations in Lexington and been working up a game plan for the first–round state tournament game against the winner of the 16th Region on Thursday.
Knox Central had lost twice to Corbin during the season, while North Laurel had beaten them twice, including Friday night’s 74-65 victory in the region tournament.
The Panthers had also lost at South Laurel on March 6.
North Laurel’s only losses were to state powers Lexington Catholic and Ashland Blazer.
North Laurel has one of the most prominent players in the state in Reed Sheppard, who is a prolific shooter and ball handler.
Sheppard had a great night for the Jaguars, putting up 38 points.
The Panthers countered with a team effort as five players scored in double figures on a night that saw them hit a combined 26 of 45 from the floor.
In addition, Knox Central crashed the boards, out rebounding the Jaguars, 29-18.
While more players should strive to be like Sheppard, who is fundamentally sound and doesn’t make many unforced errors, high school basketball would be a better game if more teams were like Knox Central, and even Corbin.
Basketball is supposed to be a team game.
Watching a team that gets its points from multiple players, and who has multiple players that can be the difference-maker on a given night makes the game more interesting, and puts a team in a better position to be successful.
Corbin certainly developed into one of those teams over the course of the season. If you look back at the stat sheets from January, Hayden Llewellyn was the one constant that the Redhounds had.
As the season wore on, Josh Hibbits, Dakota Patterson, Carter Stewart and Brody Wells became more consistent scoring options.
Llewellyn, Patterson, Stewart and Wells will all be back for the Redhounds in 2021-22.
Whitley County could be in a similar position, but that didn’t come without some temporary pain.
Coach Mark White was forced to throw his underclassmen, and even some middle schoolers into the fire against experienced varsity teams after losing several players midseason.
The good news for Colonels’ nation is that those, now game-tested players, will be returning.
As of now, the 2021-22 Colonels will feature one senior and seven juniors.
Another team that will be deep and looking to rebound.
It has been 2016 since the 13th Region Champion has made it out of the first round of the Sweet 16. That year, South Laurel went to the final four. Knox Central has a big challenge in Ashland Blazer.
But that is why they play the game!