Good stories are where you find them and in Kentucky high school sports, the best stories are usually found in unexpected places. For example, it is pretty much agreed upon by everyone with any sense about Kentucky history, that Kelly Coleman was the greatest Kentucky High School basketball player of all time. Over the course of the 1955 and 1956 basketball seasons, the “King”, as Coleman was known, averaged 46.8 points per game for the Wayland High Wasps. Yes, the Wasps. Wayland used to be a coal company town in eastern Kentucky’s Floyd County. Adolph Rupp called Coleman the greatest high school basketball player that ever lived. Somehow, that’s a compliment that entitles you to be called “the King” here in the bluegrass.
As I was driving down the AA highway to Brooksville this evening, on my way to watch the Pendleton County Wildcats take on the Bracken County Polar Bears, I was reminded about how important, for good and bad, that high school sports are to the various small town communities all over the Commonwealth. That there is a sense of uniqueness to where we live and what we find important.
Outsiders find it peculiar in the way we Kentuckians respond when asked where we are from. On hundreds of occasions, I have told someone, “I’m from Campbell County”. Only Kentuckians understand why I name where I am from by county. I have lived in Kentucky, Michigan, and Florida. I have traveled to almost every state in the union and Kentucky is the most unique of all of these places. There are 120 counties in Kentucky, 67 in Florida, and 83 Michigan. Twenty million people live in Florida, ten million in Michigan, we have four million. It’s just a different deal.
Watching two schools compete, while wearing their perspective county names on their jerseys is where the thread of this story begins and ends. For starters, an outline of the political boundaries of Bracken County can be found at center court in the high school gym. It matters. It is purely Kentuckian. Public high school athletics is one of the most rewarding and interesting things going on in Kentucky. For all of this state’s conservative bent and traditions, the things we hold most dear to our hearts are, often times, brought to you by something as basic as local government.
Enough already, on to the game…
Bracken County opened the game with a 7-0 run and maintained the lead well into the third quarter. Shots that had fallen for Pendleton County in their previous wins were simply rattling off the rim on this evening. Bracken County played under control and was able to fend off assaults on their lead for most of the game.
The Wildcats opened up the second half by falling for a trick inbound play. To begin the third quarter, Bracken County put all but one player in the back court and then inbounded the ball to a free Austin Crawford who dunked it home. The Wildcats were obviously tricked into defending their own basket.
From that point forward, Crawford, a sophomore, dominated the game by knocking down 15 footers at will. The Polar Bears led 54 – 46 at the end of the third quarter and seemed to be in control. Then the Wildcats went on a run in the fourth after some clutch three-point shooting by Wade Browning, tying the game up at 54. Moments later, the Wildcats took the lead for the first time with 5:39 left to play in the game.
After the lead changed back and forth several times in the final minutes, Michael Antrobus, who had struggled from the field all night, took to the free throw line and knocked down both free throws with 13 seconds remaining, giving Pendleton the lead once again, 69 – 68.
With the Cats up 70-69 with 6.9 seconds remaining, 8th grader Deontaie Allen pulled down a rebound and was seemingly tied up for a jump ball. However, Allen was called for travelling as the official believed he had control of the ball and had shuffled his feet under the defensive pressure. On the ensuing in bound pass, Hunter Lea made a scrappy defensive play forcing another jump ball. The possession arrow went to Bracken County.
With seconds remaining, Crawford took the inbound pass, penetrated inside the lane to the left and knocked down an 8 footer taking the lead for Bracken County at the final buzzer. Crawford finished the night with 44 points. Allen led the Wildcats with 24.