17TH DISTRICT GIRLS' BASKETBALL: Can anyone crash Elizabethtown's party? (02/19)

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By Chuck Jones

The Girls’ 17th District Basketball Tournament has become repetitive. It’s been the same results for the last six years. Elizabethtown and North Hardin have met in the championship with the Lady Panthers winning each time.

So is there any reason to think this year’s tournament is going to bring anything different? Not if the regular season is any indication.

Elizabethtown won seven of its eight district games by 16 or more points to earn the top seed for the fourth consecutive year. North Hardin, whose only two district losses came to Elizabethtown, won each of its remaining six district games by double digits.

Meanwhile, John Hardin is the third seed after going 4-4 in district play. Central Hardin’s only two district wins came at Fort Knox’s expense. The Lady Bruins meet Fort Knox at 6:30 tonight at North Hardin’s Ron Bevars Gymnasium in the district quarterfinal for the second consecutive year.

It’s not uncommon for the 17th District to go through stretches like this. Elizabethtown and Central Hardin met in the finals five straight times from 1996-2000 with the Lady Panthers winning four of them.

Prior to that, Central Hardin topped Meade County in the district final five consecutive years from 1991-95. Fort Knox beat North Hardin in three straight district championships from 1978-80.

But why has it worked out the same in recent years?

“E’town has had some really good teams and we’ve had good teams,” North Hardin coach Chris Corder said. “It’s kind of just happened that way. It’s been us and them in the finals here lately. It runs in cycles.”

It’s been an extended cycle for the Lady Panthers, who have been in 15 of the last 17 district finals with the only exceptions being in 2002 and ’05. They’ve won 14 district championships during that span.

When he took over the program 19 years ago, Coach Tim Mudd wanted to build Elizabethtown into a program which didn’t win occasionally but challenged for championships every season.

“In the early stages in my career, I knew I didn’t want our program to be a one-hit wonder so to speak,” Mudd said. “In ’96, we had a good team and lost to Central Hardin in the region final and they went on to finish second in the state. We won the region in ’97 and finished second and we won the state in ’98.

“I didn’t want to be a program you only heard from every four or five years,” he added. “I’m not happy with being the region runner-up the last three years. But you can’t win it if you’re not there. I’m most proud of that we’ve been consistent year in and year out.”

Corder has tried to build the same type of program at North Hardin, which had only marginal success prior to 2005. The Lady Trojans’ first district championship came in 2002, and now they’ve been in the district finals seven of the last eight years.

Tony Perkins led the Lady Trojans to the 2005 district title and James Slaven continued what Perkins started. Now, Corder has put his stamp on the program, winning 45 games the last two years.

“Our middle school programs keep getting better and better,” Corder said. “That’s been a big part of it. We’ve had a good run of talent. We’ve had players like Destiny Bramblett, Brianna Woodson and Chanel (Roberts). We’ve had good classes and you’re only going to go as far as your seniors take you. That’s been important.”

Like Corder, Mudd said the value of a strong middle school program and youth program can’t be measured.

“It’s huge,” Mudd said. “There are a lot of Saturday mornings when myself, my coaching staff and my players would probably like to be somewhere else. But that has paid big dividends. We’re developing relationships with players and parents at an early age. (T.K. Stone) coach Patty Lucas has done a wonderful job with the middle school program. All that pays off in the long run. It’s not all me or what we do at the high school level. It’s the work of everybody.”

Although Corder has liked the program’s progress, he admits the Lady Trojans need to get over the hump. They have some things working in their favor, such as hosting the tournament, one of the most dominant players in Roberts and playing a challenging schedule to get them ready for the postseason.

“I’m pleased with the direction we’re headed, but I’m not satisfied,” Corder said. “We’ve won 23 games against a pretty challenging schedule. I’m proud of that. Now we have to think about taking the next step which is to win district on our home floor. We’ve have a good season, but if we don’t win Thursday night, no one will remember we won 23 games.”

The Lady Panthers (20-7) play the winner of the Central Hardin-Fort Knox game at 6 p.m. Thursday. They are led by freshman Erin Boley, who averages 17.7 points per game, and sophomore Reauna Cleaver, who scores 11.7 points a game. What Mudd has been pleased with is the contributions outside of those two.

“I think the biggest difference is that we’ve been able to score the basketball better this year,” Mudd said. “That was a major concern. You can talk about defense all you want, but if you can’t score the basketball, you’re not going to win. We are much more balanced.”

The Lady Trojans (23-6) play John Hardin (22-7) in the nightcap Thursday at 8. They are led by Roberts, who averages a double-double and has given the Lady Bulldogs fits.

If there’s one team that could throw a wrench into another Elizabethtown-North Hardin final, it figures to be John Hardin, which has set a school record for wins in a season. The Lady Bulldogs have never played in a district final since the school opened in 2001.

This could be the team to get John Hardin there, which would be a huge step for the program. The Lady Bulldogs have 1,000-point scorer Michelle Montgomery, who can be a force in the paint, and she is surrounded by juniors Tajah Haley, Nawdya Fletcher and Zacchea Small, who all are capable of having a big night.

While John Hardin is trying to make history, Elizabethtown and North Hardin are hoping history continues to repeat itself.

“Obviously being in the district finals is the most important thing,” Corder said. “The most important game we’ll play this year is Thursday night. Win and we get to keep playing for another week. We know if we lose the season is over. You want to be playing Saturday night, because that means you’re season keeps going.”

Chuck Jonescan be reached at (270) 505-1759 or cjones@thenewsenterprise.com