• Rick Capone, Sports Editor

Jackets defeat district rival Franklin County

What a difference three days make. After losing a district game at home to Western Hills on Tuesday, Dec. 6, just three days later on Friday, Dec. 9, the Woodford County High School boys’ basketball team bounced back with a strong performance and defeated another district opponent, Franklin County, at home in The Hive, 47-44. “It was a great team effort,” said Woodford head coach Ryan Wilson. “I’m just so proud of these guys for fighting, battling, especially after being as down as we were on Tuesday (after the loss to Western Hills), to come back and beat a big district rival is huge for us.” With the win, Woodford is now 2-3 overall, 1-3 in the region and 1-1 in the district. Wilson said that, after the loss to Western Hills, the team went back to work to prepare for Franklin County and worked hard on what he calls, “The Process,” which was something he mentioned after the loss to the Wolverines. “We talk to our guys a lot about embracing the process,” said Wilson. “I think all too often, not just with our guys, but any teenager, they want the prize, but they don’t necessarily embrace the process. And, as far as process, we talk about playing defense the full time, not just for a few seconds at a time. But, sustaining it. “(So), we went back to practice and we got down to the process. We focused on some specifics that we could control, which was our energy, our effort and our toughness. We did a few things at practice and I think it just really clicked with the guys.” As the game opened, however, it looked like Woodford was picking up right where it left off on Tuesday against Western Hills, as the Jackets started slowly and allowed Franklin County to take an early lead. But, while the Flyers took the lead out of the gate, Woodford was always fighting hard and making little plays that kept them close throughout the first half. “You know, tonight, we started out slow, but then we started making some plays that won’t always show up in the stat book – a deflection here, … taking a charge … some steals, some deflections, things like that,” said Wilson. “We did a lot of little things that I think built our confidence. “It was just a gutty, gritty performance. It wasn’t pretty, but I don’t think there’s anything that we do that’s going to be pretty. It was just a gutty performance all around. And, it’s nice to be on this end (winning), then the one on Tuesday (in the loss to Western Hills).” Senior Keagan Stromberg had a hot hand at the start, as he hit two jump shots to tie the game at 4-4. But then the Flyers made a few good plays and opened up a six-point lead, 10-4. Franklin County maintained its lead in the first quarter, which ended with the Flyers ahead 16-13, and then through most of the second quarter. With the Flyers ahead 20-13, however, sophomore Brandon Cromwell hit shots on back-to-back plays, both along the baseline – the first a three-pointer and the second a two-pointer, which made it a two-point game, 20-18. Franklin County came back and made a jump shot to make it 22-18, but Cromwell got fouled on a three-point attempt and hit two of three free throws to close the defecit to two points once again, 22-20. After stopping the Flyers on the next play, Woodford came back down the floor with time running out and senior Malik Richards hit a three-pointer to give the Yellow Jackets their first lead of the game, 23-22, which is how the half ended. Richards efforts were a big part in how Woodford played on the night. He even saw some time at point guard at times. “I think yesterday (Wednesday) at practice it just clicked (for Malik),” said Wilson. “I know (senior) Keagan Stromberg gave him a talk at practice yesterday, and I think that kind of hit him in the heart a little more than if I had said something. So, he stepped up and took charge like he’s supposed to. That was a Malik Richards that we’ve been waiting on all year long, and I think that’s just the tip of the iceberg with him. I think he can be even that much better down the road for us.” At the start of the third quarter, Franklin County came out fast and made a nice pass to a player under the basket who made the shot giving the Flyers a 24-23 lead. Then, on Woodford’s first trip down the floor, Stromberg hit a three-pointer to give the Yellow Jackets a 26-24 lead. Franklin County came right back, however, and tied it 26-26, but then senior Alex Cason hit a three-pointer, which was followed by two more Woodford baskets, which gave the Yellow Jackets a 33-26 lead and forced the Flyers to call a time out to regroup. After the time out, Woodford maintained control through the rest of the third quarter, which ended with the Jackets in the lead, 36-31. In the fourth quarter, both teams came out fast and hard. Franklin County hit a couple shots, then, on two of Woodford’s possessions, Stromberg was fouled and hit three of four free throws for a 39-35 Yellow Jacket lead. Franklin County tied it 39-39 on a put-back, then regained the lead, 42-39, on a jump shot and then on a free throw. Woodford fought back once again and made it a one-point game, 42-41, when sophomore Corey George hit two free throws. Wilson made sure to note the importance of George’s play in the game afterwards. “He’s that one guy where his stat line is not going to pop because he’s not going to have 15 or 20 points, maybe six or seven,” said Wilson. “But, he gets his hand on just about anything and everything. His deflections lead to somebody else’s steal, and while they get credit for it, it’s his doing. He just did a great job of taking care of the ball, and rebounding and doing what we asked him to do.” As the clock reached 2:29 to go in the game, Stewart took a pass on the baseline and drove hard to the basket for a layup to give Woodford the lead once again, 43-41. A few plays later with 1:24 left, Richards hit a three-pointer to put Woodford ahead by four, 46-42. Then with under 30 seconds, Cromwell made key back-to-back plays – on one he took a charge, then on another he fought hard for a rebound and was fouled. He made one of two free throws to give Woodford a 47-42 lead. Wilson said the team had practiced taking charges in practice and during pregame warm-ups, which paid off on one of Cromwell’s plays. “We spent about 12 minutes on Tuesday just taking charges, taking hits,” said Wilson. “We actually implemented that into our pregame warmup. So, that’s just part of that toughness that we’ve got to develop. “What a heck of a play by Brandon (Cromwell), to anticipate the drive, slide his feet and get into position and just stand there and take it. We talk about sacrificing yourself for the greater good of the team, and (what) better way to do that than (taking) a charge or diving on the floor or stuff.” About Cromwell’s play in the game, Wilson added, “He’s just a tough kid. He’ll stick his nose in there. Earlier in the second quarter he got hurt; twisted his ankle a little bit. But, he wouldn’t let me take him out. He got it fixed up at halftime and came back out and played the rest of the game. “I think that just embodies what we want everybody to do. You may be hurting, you maybe sore, but if you’re willing to give it up for your teammates, if you care about your teammates enough, it will all be worth it.” As time began to wind down, Franklin County tried to catch up, and even hit two free throws to make it 47-44, but that was as close as they got. Meanwhile, strong play by Woodford, especially by senior Trevor White, who made some great defensive plays down the stretch, gave the Yellow Jackets the 47-44 win. “Trevor was a little down on himself,” said Wilson. “He missed (a few) free throws in the fourth quarter. But, I told Trevor, I said, ‘Man, you’ve got nothing to be down on. You got big steal after big steal, you’ve got big rebound after big rebound, and had you not gotten those rebounds and been in the position to be at the line, who knows what would have happened on those possessions. We may have been six or seven points at that point.’ “Making the free throws is the easy part. It’s getting the stop to get the ball to get fouled that’s the hard part, and he did that. So, I’m proud as heck of him. He missed a free throw, came back down and still got a stop. … Gritty performance.” Richards and Stromberg led Woodford in scoring in the game with 13 points each, while Cromwell had eight points. Next up, Woodford hosts Tates Creek on Saturday, Dec. 17, then plays in the Farmers Bank of Jessamine County basketball tournament from Wednesday to Friday, Dec. 21 to 23.

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