Ashland goes after invitational crown for the 14th time
ASHLAND -- The Ashland Tomcats boys basketball team has a chance to win its Ashland Invitational Tournament for the first time since 2001 and for the 14th time 58 years of the competition.
To do so, Ashland will have to hand Newport Catholic its first loss of the season when the teams clash at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, in James A. Anderson Gymnasium.
The Tomcats (9-2) rolled against out-manned and out-gunned South Laurel (4-7) in Friday night's semifinal, 69-51.
But head coach Buddy Biggs knows his team has to take it up a notch if they want to knock off the Thoroughbreds (10-0) and claim the AIT title.
"They're a great team," Biggs said. "We knew when we invited them. ... they would probably be the best team in the tournament. We've got a chore (Saturday night). Those guys are really, really good."
The Thoroughbreds got to the final by knocking off the Russell Red Devils in a hard-fought game, 67-61.
Russell (9-4) never led in the contest, and had been down by as many as 10, but kept fighting back, and were in a position to tie with just more than a minute left on the clock.
Down 64-61, Jacob Porter, who finished with 17 points for the Red Devils, got an open look at a three, but the shot rimmed out, and Russell didn't score again.
The Red Devils were troubled by the combination of Jake Shulte down low and Michael Bueter outside.
Shulte made several layups off of alley-oops and even threw two passes down for dunks, while Bueter went 3-for-4 from 3-point range.
"We didn't do a good job or preparing our kids for the lob plays," said Russell head coach Merle Kidwell. "We lost Bueter a couple of times. ... I think if we could have tied it or taken the lead, it might have been a different situation.
"They're 10-0 for a reason. They're one of the best teams in northern Kentucky but we were right there. I think we got better tonight."
Ashland's contest with South Laurel was never really in question, though the Cardinals always seemed to have a spurt to keep the game within reach, getting as close as 40-31 in the third quarter and starting the fourth quarter down 11.
But the Tomcats scored the first seven points of the final frame to take a 57-39 lead, and South Laurel wouldn't get within striking distance for the rest of the night.
Ashland's effort was anchored by Nick Miller with 23 points and seven rebounds.
"Nick is a very consistent player," Biggs said. "He stuffs the stat sheet every night. He's a big strong kid who can shoot it well, he can drive it well, and good things happen when he gets the ball."
Whether Ashland's big men can match up with Newport -- the Thoroughbreds play two 6-foot-6 fowards and a 6-8 center -- will be key in deciding who walks away with the 2012 AIT title.
"We were plus 13 on rebounds tonight, obviously (Saturday) night that's going to be more difficult," Biggs said. "Our kids are really going to have to go to war on the glass."
In early AIT games West Jessamine got 45 points from Daulton Peters in a 69-63 win over Boyd County and Henderson County topped Sheldon Clark, 49-38.
SOUTH LAUREL 11 9 19 12 -- 51: Zac Baxter 13, Matt Slavey 11, T. Grubb 4, Anders 2, Jones 2, Vandeventer 4, Miller 2, Rader 5, J. Grubb 6, Helton 2.
ASHLAND 19 15 16 19 -- 69: Thompson 1, Tyler Stewart 10, Logan Salow 12, Friley 6, Wesley 5, Hart 2, Dikembe Dixson 10, Nick Miller 23.
RUSSELL 11 14 20 16 -- 61: Estep 7, Hayes 4, Lance Evans 13, Jacob Porter 17, Kyle Skaggs 16, McGuire 4.
NEWPORT CATHOLIC -- 67: Pangallo 5, Michael Bueter 21, Seibert 9, Haas 2, Jake Shulte 15, Drew McDonald 15.
WEST JESSAMINE 13 22 27 17 -- 69: Daulton Peters 45, Will Henderson 14, Kossick 4, Irgang 4, Adkins 2, Fain 8, Jackson 2.
BOYD COUNTY 14 16 15 18 -- 63: Austin Hunt 20, Wallace 2, Stacey 6, Jerrell 3, Grayson Griffith 11, Burgess 5, Brandon Lowe 14.
HENDERSON COUNTY 15 10 11 13 -- 49: Comer 9, D.J. Washington 10, David Simmons 10, Sanners 5, Norman 4, Smith 5, Cooper 6.
SHELDON CLARK 13 10 4 11 -- 38: Chase Pressley 10, Dylan James 10, Blackburn 1, Smith 2, Chase Kirk 13, Rice 2.
2:30 p.m., Boyd County vs. Sheldon Clark
4 p.m., West Jessamine vs. Henderson County
6 p.m., Russell vs. South Laurel
7:30 p.m., Newport Catholic vs. Ashland