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Forget about red because Travis Wootton’s blood runs LaRue County blue and white.
He coaches at the school where he starred in high school in the late 1980s and early ‘90s and at the school where his older sister, Allison, led the Lady Hawks – who he now coaches – to new heights and their last previous win against 5th Region powerhouse Elizabethtown prior to this season.
So win or lose, tonight’s game against the top-ranked Marion County Lady Knights (34-0) in the Girls’ 5th Region Basketball Tournament’s championship game at Green County High School will hold a special place in Wootton’s heart.
While setting up the scoreboard before Monday afternoon’s practice, Wootton said he didn’t feel nervous about leading his Lady Hawks against the region tournament’s three-time defending champions. He also downplayed his significance in helping the Lady Hawks advance to the region final for the first time in the program’s 39-year history.
“I’m excited, but for the girls, it’s special,” said Wootton, who turns 40 next month. “The girls have put a lot of work and dedication into making it this far and it’s great to see it pay off for them.”
It’s paid off for him, too.
In his eighth season at his alma mater, Wootton has led the Lady Hawks to a 27-5 record and their second 18th District Tournament title in three years as LaRue County finished 8-0 against district foes. Among other feats this season, the Lady Hawks handed then-sixth-ranked Elizabethtown a double-digit loss – trailing just once in the second half while holding the Lady Panthers to a regular-season low 39 points – and five winning streaks of at least three games, including the nine-game one the Lady Hawks are currently riding. The Lady Hawks opened their playoff run with a 54-11 rout of Hart County in the 18th District semifinals in what is believed to be the Lady Raiders’ lowest-scoring output in postseason history.
The postseason road to the final was anything but easy after that, though, for Wootton. His team led by just one point with 15:23 left in the game before pulling away from Caverna, 61-40, in the district final.
Adair County, which beat LaRue County in the regular season, had a chance to take the lead on the Lady Hawks in the final minute of their region tournament quarterfinal before LaRue County held on, 60-57. And Nelson County put LaRue County into a double-digit hole early in the game for the second straight meeting, only to watch the Lady Hawks rally for a 68-67 win – Nelson County had won its last 11 games when scoring 60 or more and LaRue County had lost its last eight games when allowing teams to score at least 60.
“It’s kind of instilled in the girls that we’re never out of a game and we’re never going to quit,” Wootton said. “And that’s what they bring. They’re hungry.”
So is Wootton, at least according to veteran assistant coach Tommy Adams.
Adams, 65, appeared in the region final four straight seasons as Hart County’s head coach and led the Lady Raiders to state tournament appearances in 2000, ’01 and ’02. Tonight will actually be Adams’ sixth appearance in a region final as he was an assistant to Kenny Rucker when East Hardin lost to 1984 title game to Minor Harmon.
“I think Travis has really matured as a young coach,” said Adams, who is joined by fellow assistants Kyle Baker and Roy Walker coaching alongside Wootton. “Travis has come into his own game as far as pressuring teams and playing up-tempo. He’s really a good young coach, right now. Me and Roy have been with him for three years and we’re just old-timers.
“One of the keys to the game is having your kids see that you’re staying under control,” Adams said. “Then your kids will stay under control and I thought Travis did a great job of that last night (against Nelson County), because there are a couple of times we could have almost bought the farm.”
On the opposing sideline tonight is Trent Milby, who is just the second coach in girls’ region history to appear in five straight finals behind Elizabethtown’s Tim Mudd, who had seven straight title game berths from 2006-12. Milby went to the 2012 state final and is the 2013 Naismith Award National Coach of the Year.
Milby could set a girls’ region record tonight by winning his fourth straight region title – in the same gym he starred in as a high-school player, no less.
“I think Trent Milby has a basketball mind,” Adams said. “I remember when he played and I watched him play in high school and I wanted him as an assistant coach years ago.”
As it turns out, Wootton has a pretty good basketball mind, too.
Nathaniel Bryancan be reached at (270) 505-1758 or email@example.com.