HAZARD — Since 2003, only once has the 14th Region All “A” Classic not included a team from Hazard or Perry County in the finals. That was in 2006, when the Hazard Bulldogs lost to a 4-12 Wolfe County team on the road, after the Wolves received help from some newly eligible players. The Bulldogs would have the last laugh that year, however, after winning the 14th Region and a trip to Rupp Arena in the post season.
It was a pair of newly eligible players that caused problems for the Bulldogs this year in the All “A” as Cordia came into Memorial Gym on Wednesday and handed Hazard its first loss to the Lions in two decades.
Emmanuel Owootoah and Marlon King scored 19 and 13 points respectively in the Canadian transfers’ second game with the Lions this season. But perhaps the biggest points came at the hands of 8th grader Austin Combs, who sank two clutch free throws with less than a minute remaining on the clock to give Cordia the 3-point advantage.
Cordia coach Rodrick Rhodes said Wednesday’s win was huge for his team as they now advance to the semifinals of the regional All “A” tournament.
“A great team like Hazard with such great tradition, with a big time coach in the area, I think it did wonders for our confidence,” Rhodes said about the win. “I think the kids are just in the process of learning how to finish games, and we're becoming better at it.”
Cordia’s win means that for the third time this season the Lions will take on the Knott Central Patriots, who defeated Perry County’s only other team in the All “A” Classic on Wednesday with an 86-63 win over Buckhorn. Cordia hasn’t won a victory over the Patriots since the 53rd District tournament in February 2008, when the Lions, led by then coach Jeff Honeycutt (who now coaches KCC girls’ team), defeated the Patriots 50-39.
Knott Central boasts several offensive threats, including one of the 14th Region’s best players in sophomore guard Camron Justice, who dropped 37 points on 10-for-13 shooting from the field during their win over Buckhorn. That performance made Justice the state's top scorer so far this season, averaging 26.9 points per game, according to the KHSAA.
Cordia lost its first match-up with Knott Central in December by 12 points, and their second by 11 points at home on Jan. 5. And though Justice did not lead the Patriots in scoring in either of those games, Rhodes said the sophomore is certainly a key in his preparations for Friday’s match-up.
“I’m focused on Knott, just trying to prepare on how to beat them and scheme and figure out different ways on how to stop Justice, and just try to get over the hump on how to beat this great program they have,” said Rhodes, who now in his second season is 0-4 against the Patriots.
Knott County Schools dismissed classes early on Thursday, and coach B.B. King was in practice with his team in the afternoon and not immediately available for comment. Now in his third season, King has yet to lose a game to Cordia.
Cordia and Knott Central will hook up at Breathitt County High School Friday at 8 p.m. The game’s winner will take on the winner of the evening’s first game, pitting Wolfe County against Jackson City. And though Cordia will meet the Patriots for the third time this season on Friday, it may not be the last time. The teams could conceivably play again in the postseason in the 53rd District tournament.