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John Hardin senior Brandon Price remembers the butterflies swirling before his first start in the Boys’ 5th Region Tournament two years ago at Green County High School.
Last year, Price didn’t have the same feeling. He knew what to expect and he was much calmer, helping John Hardin to its second region championship.
Price, along with senior forward Daveon Greene and junior guard Keon Williams, started during John Hardin’s run to the state quarterfinals. Sophomore guard Elijah Smith came off the bench. The Bulldogs are hoping their postseason experience can help them this year.
“It helps a lot,” Price said. “I remembers shaking during the National Anthem my sophomore year. We were experienced last year and that was a big advantage. We have a lot of veterans this year. It’s not the most talented team that wins the region tournament. The team that wins is playing their best ball and it’s the team that’s prepared the best.”
John Hardin (25-3) is on top of its game right now, riding a 17-game winning streak entering its region quarterfinal against the Bardstown Tigers (23-9) at 8 tonight at Hart County High School. The game follows the LaRue County-Adair County quarterfinal at 6 p.m.
This marks the third consecutive year the teams have met in the region tournament. John Hardin pulled away for a 74-66 victory in last year’s championship to claim its second region title, while Bardstown beat the Bulldogs in the first round in 2011 on its way to the championship.
The teams played early in the season with John Hardin rallying for a 76-71 victory over the Tigers on Dec. 7. Junior guard Patrick Anderson said the Bulldogs know what to expect from Bardstown.
“They came out with a lot of intensity,” Anderson said. “They attack the basket, but they also have good shooters. They push the tempo, just like us. It’s going to be a tough game.”
John Hardin coach Mark Wells said his team hasn’t rebounded as well as the Bulldogs did early in the season. That’s a concern for Wells against Bardstown, which pounds the offensive boards. It will be imperative for John Hardin to limit Bardstown’s second-chance points.
“They’re a great rebounding team,” John Hardin senior forward Ricky Burns said. “We have to play good defense and box out. We have to be prepared to rebound. It’s not all about boxing out, but we have to run to the ball on long rebounds.”
The Tigers have one of the region’s most explosive players in senior guard Devonte Grundy, who was injured in the 19th District Tournament but should play tonight. Grundy isn’t the only option as senior guards Marcus Cosby and Jared Hickman and sophomore guard L.J. Cowherd are capable of big nights.
“They penetrate to the basket so well,” Wells said. “They are one of the quickest teams, if not the quickest, we’ve played. They’re athletic and they drive to the basket. Once you rotate over, you’re not in position to rebound and they kill you on the boards. All year, our focus has been on defense and that will be the key tomorrow night.”
While Bardstown is the second-highest scoring team at 67.3 points a game, the Bulldogs are even, leading the region in points per game at 72.5. Four players – Price, Greene, Williams and Anderson – average more than 11 points per game.
“Everything,” Bardstown coach James Brewer said when asked what the Bulldogs did well. “They are a real hard team to scout. Price is a phenomenal player, one of the best in the region. Greene is a phenomenal player. They have good players around them.”
But Bardstown might have history on its side. The last time the region tournament was at Hart County, the Tigers won it in 2008, and the last time they met John Hardin in the first round they went on to win the championship in 2012.
“The last couple of years, it’s been John Hardin, Bardstown and North Hardin that’s controlled the region,” Brewer said. “John Hardin is by far the best team. North isn’t far behind with the type of kids they have. I love that type of challenge. I look forward to it.”
Chuck Jonescan be reached at (270) 505-1759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.