• Bill Caine, Woodford Sun Sports

Jackets win Gateway Holiday Classic

The WCHS basketball team won three straight games to win the Gateway Holiday Classic held at Montgomery County High School. The Jackets were led by Senior Nick Smith who averaged 26.3 points per game in the tournament. The Jackets defeated Montgomery County in the semifinals 53-43. In the finals, The Jackets defeated Boyle County 69-63. Smith scored 23 in the championship game and junior Brandon Cromwell scored 15. The Jackets jumped out to an eight point lead at the half but Boyle County went on a third quarter scoring barrage to take the lead. The Jackets crept back into the game late in the fourth quarter before taking the lead and holding on for the win.

In the opening round, the Jackets beat Powell County 82-75 on Thursday, Dec. 28. The Jackets survived a second half surge by the Pirates and had a pair of clutch three-pointers in the last two and a half minutes by junior guard Ben Nash making his season debut.

“Offensively, I think we were decent,” said WCHS Coach Ryan Wilson. “ We were lacking effort on defense and we can't survive playing that way. This is something we have to clean up right away and I think my guys know that.”

“I was pretty nervous out here tonight so thankfully I was able to knock a shot down and settle my nerves a bit,” said Nash. “I feel like my biggest challenge is to get into game shape right now and when I do, I will be much more comfortable in these close game situations.”

The game began with junior guard Ryan Duke hitting a wide open three-pointer and the Pirates answering with a three on their first possession. Duke hit another three-pointer and then Smith made a terrific head fake to get his defender in the air to score in the post. The Pirates made another three and the score was 11-10 in favor of the Jackets in the first 80 seconds of the game. Cromwell made a steal at half court and scored on a jumper from the foul line. The Pirates made another three-pointer to tie the game and the Jackets went on a 13-2 run to close out the quarter highlighted by a three-pointer by Smith and a layup by Cromwell. The Jackets took a 27-16 lead into the second quarter.

“When we slow down and run coach's offense, we can be great,” said Smith. “We tend to get a little ahead of ourselves at times and when we do that, we let teams back into the game.”

Duke's hot shooting continued in the second quarter. Duke hit a three in the corner and then junior guard Anthony Tabor hit a three on the next Jacket possession. The Pirates went on a 6-0 run to slow down the Jackets' attack and Wilson called a time out. The Jackets crashed the boards in the second quarter and were able to create second chance points. Junior forward Corey George scored in the paint after an offensive rebound. George was injured on the next play down the court when he was hit in the face by a Pirates' player elbow and the game was stopped to attend to the blood on the court. George returned to the game and Cromwell hit a three late in the quarter and the Jackets took a 13 point lead into halftime.

In the third quarter, The Pirates came out firing the three ball. After a pair of three-pointers by the Pirates, the Jackets responded with Cromwell and Tabor each hitting a three-pointer. The Pirates went on a 8-0 run to cut the lead to five points and the Jackets called timeout. Smith scored in the paint on a spin move in the post late in the quarter and the Jackets led 54-49 after being outscored 21-13 in the quarter.

“We just have to play better defense,” said Tabor. “If we play our game and stay in front of the ball handler, we will be fine. Coach woke us up after the game with that message and I am hopeful it won't happen again.”

The Pirates scored quickly to start the fourth quarter and the Jackets responded when junior forward Justin Alexander grabbed an offensive rebound was fouled and scored completing a three point play. Alexander made a terrific pass along the baseline to find a wide open Smith who knocked down a three-pointer. The Pirates went on a 6-0 run to cut the Jacket lead to one point with four minutes to play and Woodford called timeout. The Jackets passed the ball around the perimeter until Cromwell found an opening and made a three-pointer. Both teams exchanged baskets for the next two minutes of the game. Carlos Hernandez was terrific for the Pirates in the fourth quarter. Hernandez scored 13 points in the final frame to bring the Pirates within a point a few times. Cromwell made a pretty pass to Nash who made a three pointer on the left wing and two possessions later Nash hit a second three to make the score 76-70 with 40 seconds left. The Pirates were forced to foul the Jackets for the remainder of the game. Smith and Tabor both made their free throw attempts down the stretch. Smith led all scorers with 28 points and Cromwell added 22.

“Having Nash back brings another level of toughness for us,” said Wilson. “He's a leader and the guys love him. Nash already knows the offense and we are happy he is healthy and can contribute.”

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