Darren Doyle, story
Laney Meredith, photos
There were actually three teams that showed up for the Wildcats' season opener at home against Breckinridge County last night. You not only had the Breckinridge County Fighting Tigers and the Wildcats, but also another Edmonson County team that decided to show up for the second half. Wildcat fans weren't all that excited to watch the first half team, but they'll tell you that the second half bunch needs to show up every night as ECHS defeated Region 3 top ranked Breckinridge 80-77 in an intense comeback win.
Sloppy play, poor defensive positioning, and foul trouble were keys that allowed Breckinridge to control the pace of the game throughout the first half. The Wildcats had trouble handling the ball, they forced shots, and committed some cheap fouls that forced two starters, senior forward Hunter Buttram and junior center Iszic Blankenship to sit the bench more than the coaching staff would've liked.
"Call it the first game jitters, I guess," said assistant coach Bart Weaver. "Maybe being nervous against a top pre-ranked team in the region, but once we got going, we made some adjustments. We had some guys really step up, they played their roles, and we're really proud of them."
Breckinridge held an easy 7-9 point lead throughout most of the first half as the Wildcats continually played catch up, trailing 37-30 at the half.
"We started chasing their two best players and worked a triangle defense against the rest of them. We put a tremendous amount of pressure on Mingus (Breck Co. guard), and he's one of the best players in the region," Weaver said.
During the 3rd, the Wildcats offense began to show life for the first time in the game as they went on a 9-0 run to cut the lead by two. Blankenship picked up his third foul early in the quarter and had to sit again. ECHS outscored the Tigers 23-20 in the quarter but still trailed 57-53 going into the fourth.
Junior guard Caleb Skaggs provided a huge spark off the bench as he drilled back-to-back 3's early in the 4th, and that was followed up by a Buttram three pointer which tied the game at 62 all. Aggressive play in the paint from senior Cuban Sowders resulted in a three point play and another couple of free throws by Sowders to keep the game close.
The dagger came for the Tigers when Skaggs buried another three pointer to give the Wildcats a 70-69 lead with about three minutes to go. The Wildcats would never trail again as they nailed 10 out of 10 free throws down the stretch, showing extreme composure and holding on for the win, 80-77.
Offensively, the Wildcats were led by junior Bailey Board with team high 23 points, going 7 for 9 from the free throw line, while Senior Hunter Buttram added 21 points, went 5 for 8 from the three point line, grabbed 5 rebounds and went 2 for 2 from the free throw line. Two very big ones, made with 7.7 seconds to go.
"We shot the ball very well as a team, especially from the free throw line down the stretch when we needed them," said Buttram. "It feels great to be a senior on this team. I love these guys and I'm just glad I could contribute to help my team win. It was a great team win with Breckinridge being top in our region. I just hope we keep getting better and keep winning."
The Wildcats shot an amazing 88% from the free throw line, 50% from the field, and a crazy 69% from three point range.
The Wildcats saw a total of four players in double figures, with a very solid team effort all around.
Senior Cuban Sowders fouled out, but added 14 points, and calmly hit 8 out of 9 free throws.
Junior Caleb Skaggs finished with 16 points, shooting 4/5 from three point range and hitting all 4 of his free throws during the final two minutes of the game.
"It means a lot to come out with a statement win over Breckinridge," Skaggs said. "They were preseason number one in the region and we love being the underdog. Nobody was giving us a chance, so we wanted to start out with a statement win."
Also helping the cause was junior Iszic Blankenship with 4 points and 2 rebounds, and senior Jarrod Hines added 2 points.
The Wildcats will travel to Cumberland County this Saturday in a girl/boy doubleheader. Girl's action is scheduled to begin at 3pm with the boys tip off immediately afterward.