The Central Hardin Bruins have never won a 5th Region championship, but they hope to change that by the end of the week.
The Bruins are back in the Boys’ 5th Region Tournament for the third time in the last four years. In the two previous trips, they lost in the region semifinals.
“We have to play hard,” Central Hardin senior Jacob Hobbs said. “We can beat anyone when we come ready to play and play as a team. We have to play our game.”
Central Hardin has appeared in only one region championship game, losing to Bardstown in 2008. This might be their best opportunity to end the drought.
“I think we have to be more consistent on offense,” Central Hardin junior Gavin George said. “Against John Hardin (in the 17th District final), we settled early. We didn’t attack the paint and we didn’t penetrate. We have to play the whole game. We need to have that consistency.”
The Bruins were held to their lowest point total in a 63-48 loss in the district championship. They average 65.6 points per game.
Hobbs leads the team in scoring at 18.8 points per game. Junior Deonco Wilkerson averages 12.4 points, while George scores 12 points a game. Junior Chase Elmore and senior Jack Kisselbaugh each score six or more points.
Central Hardin is shooting 45.6 percent from the field, including 167-of-489 from behind the 3-point arc.
“The key is ball movement,” Central Hardin coach Matt Nickell said. “I felt like we’ve done a good job this season of moving the ball and getting good shots. We didn’t do that against John Hardin. That’s on me. We have to get the ball to Jacob in certain spots. We have to get the kids to understand that we’re at our best when we’re moving the ball.”
Hobbs said the Bruins have to share the ball in the region tournament to get good shots.
“It looks like we’re moving the ball,” Hobbs said when the Bruins look the best. “We’re not settling for early shots. We’re moving the ball and passing up shots for good shots.”
The Bruins (19-9) meet Taylor County (21-7) at 8:30 tonight in the second game. LaRue County plays Washington County in the first game at 6.
While getting back offensively will be paramount, Nickell said defense shouldn’t fluctuate from one game to the next.
“I think the first thing is they focus on the game play and what we ask them to do,” Nickell said. “The execution of the game plan has been really good. We move around on defense. We can switch on the fly because they focus and listen so well.”
The Bruins have held 14 opponents to less than 60 points. They are giving up 56.6 points per game.
“They key has been using our length,” George said. “We have four guys that are 6-foot-3 or taller. I know Deonco isn’t tall, but he has long arms. We make it difficult for people to shoot over us. We can recover well. We have to play good defense.”
There are two trains of thoughts after a tough loss like the Bruins had Friday night.
“We can’t focus on it,” Hobbs said. “It was a bad game and we just have to put it behind us.”
“We can’t forget it,” Kisselbaugh said. “We need to learn from it. We are going to have to beat them to win the region so we have to focus on the things we need to fix. We have to play better, so there are things we can improve on.”
The Bruins don’t have the lengthy history of other teams in the region tournament, but they don’t lack confidence despite losing three of their last seven games.
“This is the real tournament,” George said. “Sure we wanted to win the district, but this is the one that matters. We have our sights set on bigger things and we still have goals that we want to accomplish.”