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The race for the Boys’ 17th District Tournament’s top spot begins to get a lot more interesting, starting with North Hardin traveling to Central Hardin tonight.
In a span of 31 days, there are 15 district games. Central Hardin has four straight to open January and six of its next nine are against district foes. North Hardin plays three consecutive and six of its next eight are against district competition. Four of Elizabethtown’s next five are district games. And John Hardin has a stretch where five of its eight games are district contests.
“That’s just the way the schedule fell this year,” John Hardin coach Mark Wells said. “We’re just going to try to do the best we can each and every game and keep trying to get better.”
It’s an odd year in terms of scheduling. With this year’s calendar and the regular season ending earlier than normal, that’s the reason for the gluttony of games in January. Plus, coaches don’t want to risk moving too many district games to late January or early February because of the unpredictable weather.
“January is going to be a busy month,” Elizabethtown coach James Haire said. “We play three games one week and we have four games another week. It’s going to be a trying time. I do like it. I like the challenge. We’re going to take it one game, one day at a time.”
Although it’s an inconvenience this year, not all the coaches have an issue with it.
“That’s how we wanted to structure it,” North Hardin coach Ron Bevars said. “It is what it is. We usually play a couple of games in December, but for the most part, all the district games are in January.”
It should make for an exciting month, to say the least.
Right now, John Hardin stands atop the district with a perfect 3-0 mark. North Hardin and Central Hardin both are 1-1. Elizabethtown is 0-1 followed by Fort Knox at 0-2.
John Hardin had an outstanding Christmas break outside of a 25-point loss to Lexington Henry Clay. The Bulldogs won the T.J. Samson Community Hospital Holiday Classic and went 2-2 in the Republic Bank Classic at Lexington Catholic. All five teams they beat have a winning record.
Elizabethtown knocked off previously unbeaten Bardstown Bethlehem to win the Campbellsville University Holiday Classic, while Central Hardin finished third at the same tournament. North Hardin struggled in Oldham County’s Best in Hoops, but played without senior guard Ruben Gosa, who was sick. The Trojans bounced back to place second in the Lake Cumberland Hoops Classic at Southwestern.
Not only are John Hardin, Elizabethtown, North Hardin and Central Hardin playing well entering January, but all four are above .500. It’s no surprise John Hardin, Elizabethtown and North Hardin are in this position. All three were mentioned as 5th Region favorites prior to the season. But Central Hardin’s success is a little astonishing considering what they lost from last season, returning only one starter.
This span of 31 days, though, will separate the contenders from the pretenders. With seeds on the line, it’s not only going to come down to talent, but it’s going to test teams mentally. The team standing on top at the end will be the one that can handle it both physically and emotionally.
“It’s going to be really key to keep your focus,” Central Hardin coach J.C. Wright said. “It’s also going to test your mental toughness. Win or lose, you have to come back to practice the next day and get ready for another district rival.
“Under normal circumstances, you can’t look ahead one game ahead in the 17th District,” he added. “But this is a big stretch. We just have to keep doing what we’re doing and keep improving. We can’t control the other stuff. We need to focus on the things we can control.”
It should make for an intriguing 31 days.
Chuck Jones is the sports editor for The News-Enterprise. He can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or email@example.com.