• Rick Capone, Sports Editor

Yellow Jackets defeat Frankfort in district game

Keagan Stromberg towers over some Frankfort defenders to make this jump shot during the Woodford County High School boys’ basketball team’s 68-65 win over their district rival at home in The Hive on Saturday, Jan. 2. Stromberg finished the game with 13 points and eight rebounds. (Photo by Rick Capone)

It was a great Christmas break for the Woodford County High School boys’ basketball teams. They began the holiday season travelling to Pigeon Forge, Tenn., for the King of the Smokies basketball tournament, which was held Mondaythrough Thursday, Dec. 28 to 31. There they finished 3-1 and won the Consolation Championship with a dramatic last-second tip in. Then they returned home to The Hive to face Frankfort in a key district game on Saturday, Jan. 2, and defeated the Panthers 68-65, to remain undefeated in the 41st District. With those games complete, Woodford is now 8-6 overall, 4-2 in the region and 3-0 in the district. Prior to the game against Frankfort, Woodford head coach Scott Hundley was honored in a short ceremony for winning his 100th game, which came in Woodford’s win over Heritage in the Consolation Championship game at the tournament in Tennessee. “I’m very fortunate to have such amazing student-athletes to work with at Woodford County High School,” said Hundley. “The 100 wins is a nice accomplishment, but more important to me was having those players that played for me in the past, and those that are playing for me now, be able to celebrate with me. Helping them achieve their goals at the next level, whatever they may be, is what I am most proud of.” In his five (completed) seasons at Woodford, Hundley has led the Yellow Jackets to three 41st District titles, five 11th Region tournament appearances and one 11th Region championship appearance. In the game against Frankfort, Woodford took a 5-4 lead in the first quarter, and behind good shooting by seniors Wesley Smith and Tucker Sly, junior Keagan Stromberg and sophomore Chandler Stewart, the Yellow Jackets had a 17-14 lead at the end of the first quarter. In the second quarter, Woodford continued to put pressure on Frankfort, but the Panthers fought hard and tied the game three times, 20-20, 25-25, and 27-27, and also took the lead twice, 20-19 and 29-27 near the end of the quarter. But, just as the half was coming to an end, Woodford senior Bryce Hewitt came off the bench and hit a put-back to tie the game 29-29 as the teams headed to the locker room for the break. “Bryce is an energy guy,” said Hundley. “He came in there and got a few rebound put-backs for us. The only thing with Bryce is you kind of got to pull him back a little bit because he’s so excited to play and he does so many good things, but sometimes he gets himself in trouble because he’s going too hard as far as over the backs and things like that. But, he definitely brought a spark off the bench today.” In looking at the halftime stats, however, Woodford would have been in the lead if they had been able to hit their free throws; they were 4 for 9 in the half. Missed free throws hurt the Yellow Jackets throughout the game, until the very end, when it counted the most. They finished the game 24 of 42 for a 57.1 free-throw percentage. In the third quarter, both teams stayed close the entire way, with neither team being able to get more than a three-point lead. Down 40-37, Stewart drove down the lane for a layup, made it, was fouled and completed the three-point play to tie the game 40-40. On Woodford’s next possession, Sly hit a three-point basket to give Yellow Jackets a 43-40 lead. Then, following two free throws by Frankfort, Sly made a nice pass to Smith under the basket for two more points to make it 45-42 at the end of the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, Woodford began to take control, while Frankort seemed to tire a bit. A pass from Stromberg to Smith for two-point jumper, a successful three-point play by Smith, a free throw by Stewart and a steal, drive and layup by Stromberg gave Woodford a 53-44 lead. After that, while Frankfort continued to fight and kept the game close, Woodford maintained the lead and went on to the 68-65 victory. “We showed a lot of resilience after not playing very good in the first half against a very athletic and well-coached team in Frankfort,” said Hundley. “The coach for them (Nick Barton) does a good job of putting them in good spots to score. We were able to, at the end of the game, control the pressure enough to get to the foul line and knock them down. That kind of made the difference in the game.” Stewart led Woodford in scoring in the game with 27 points and five rebounds. “Chandler Stewart had a great Christmas season,” said Hundley. “There were some things where we had some adversity on the court, and we showed a lot of toughness and a lot of growing up by overcoming some of them.” Smith finished with 14 points and four rebounds, while Stromberg had 13 points and led the team with eight rebounds. In addition, Hewitt and Sly had six points each. “Keagan is doing a much better job,” said Hundley. “He had a really good Christmas break. He started to attack. We look for him to be kind of a go-to guy. So, he’s willing to drive more. We’ve set some plays for him. “Another person that’s doing a good job is Wesley Smith. He’s doing a very good job of controlling the middle against sometimes guys that are bigger and stronger than him. But, he really holds his own in there.” At the tournament in Tennessee, Woodford opened with a 74-49 loss to Grainger, Tenn., on Monday, Dec. 28. Then, in their second game on Tuesday, Dec. 29, the Yellow Jackets defeated Northview Academy, Tenn., 62-48, and then followed that up on Wednesday, Dec. 30, with a 69-51 win over Pigeon Forge, Tenn., to advance to the Consolation Championship game. In the Consolation Championship game against Heritage, Tenn., on Thursday, Dec. 31, Woodford won 37-36 in dramatic fashion. Hundley explained the final seconds of the game: “We had a sequence where they (Heritage) missed a free throw on the front end of a bonus, (then we) came down the floor with about nine seconds left, and Chandler shot one and (the ball) just didn’t hit anything (and) was rolling out of bounds. Wesley made a great extra effort to knock it off one of their guys, and so that gave us .5 seconds under the goal. “We were fortunate enough that their coach called a time out and allowed us to set up a play. So, there were a lot of things that happened in sequence that had to happen just right, and it did. “We ran a little lob play where Wesley screened for Keagan, (Sly threw it in) and Keagan caught it with about .5 seconds and tipped the ball and it kind of sat on the back of the rim and then fell in. And, so the guys went crazy and had a really good time. It was a great way to end a good Christmas tournament.” The trip to Tennessee, and the entire Christmas season, was a chance for the players to bond, and to learn to play together as a team. “We had a Christmas season of resilience,” said Hundley. “Our guys responded well, came back, got three wins on the road in Tennessee at a good Pigeon Forge tournament. But, it was definitely a lot of fun, and some of those things, wins and losses aren’t as important as the experience of team bonding and things like that down there.”

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