Campbell County upsets John Hardin’s Dreams for a perfect Season
One of the hardest things is achieving perfection in an imperfect world and to that end John Hardin had done something that no one had seen in our area since –well I can’t really say! There have been several high school basketball teams which have run the table during the regular season, but to do it in five playoff and four state tournament games has proved to be quite a task. Almost like the Holy Grail. Like a Bigfoot sighting.
So with that being said, the Bulldogs first KHSAA State Tournament game against Campbell County on a cold Wednesday Night drew quite a crowd and plenty of local and National media as the circus came to town. Many of them left disappointed and a lot of them left SHOCKED as John Hardin stumbled in the opening round on their way to perfection and dropped a heartbreaker to the Camels, 61-60.
It was a game in which the Bulldogs struggled at times coming out a little slow against a team which came out of a tough Region, fell behind early before finally rallying and when they had two chances to sink the game winner were unable to. Thus a disappointing loss after such a magnificent beginning.
It was a game in which the Bulldogs got off fast with a Trevon Harris layup and recaptured the lead on a Alex Matthews jumper, but then were blitzed by Campbell County in general and senior Reid Jolly in particular, who scored 14 of the Camels 20-first quarter points as they pulled out to a 20-17 lead.
Although the Camels kept up the pressure going, the Bulldogs hadn’t won 35-straight games this season without overcoming a little adversity. Matthews scored five-points, Aaron Scott got three, Preston Murrell added four more and Jachai Walker hit a three and the Bulldogs stayed close at the half trailing 35-34.
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The biggest problem for the Bulldogs was trying to control Jolly who had 21-points by halftime and kept finding ways to drive through the John Hardin complex zone. Meanwhile, teammate Tanner Lawrence was right behind him with 10-points and the Camels had outrebounded the taller and more athletic Bulldogs 14-9 in the first half. That would have to change if coach Jared McCurry’s team were to keep their date with history. They did.
The Bulldogs came out with more urgency in the third quarter outscoring the Camels by one and hitting the boards harder (7-6), but all it got them was a tie going into the final quarter 53-53. John Hardin came out taking the lead with a Matthews jumper (36-35) and actually took a six point lead with 4:26 left in the quarter after a free throw from Walker, but Campbell County was undaunted going on a 14-8 run to close out the quarter to tie things as the third quarter ended. The spurt was once again jumpstarted by Jolly who scored six points, Tanner Lawrence’s two and made three’s by Noah Wirth and Andrew Helton.
In a fourth quarter that was played tighter than a high stakes poker game, there were three ties and four lead changes as neither team wanted to give in or go home. A steal by Scott to open the quarter ended in a turnover by Matthews and a layup by Tanner Lawrence. Murrell tied things up again with two free throws at 55. Harris’ layup put John Hardin back up 57-55, but a layup at 4:33 by Jordan Gross tied it again. Finally, Walker fired a three and the Bulldogs were back up 60-57. Then, the Camels would first tie the game and eventually take the lead on three free throws by Jolly and a free throw by Lawrence at 61-60. Jolly’s last two, came at 00:25 after being fouled by Harris. It was here that the Bulldogs went stone cold going scoreless the last after 2:33 and were 0-2 from the free throw line and 0-2 from the field. Still, John Hardin did have two chances with seconds remaining , but missed jumpers by Murrell and Walker with 00:03 left ended the game.
Last Wednesday’s disappointing loss was in many ways very similar to last season’s triple overtime thriller against Pikeville in which the Bulldogs appeared to seize control, but were unable to seals the deal in the end.
To say which hurts the most would be difficult. Campbell County was truly a different matchup and a team which they might not see because of their 10th Region roots.
Afterwards, coach McCurry lamented the missed opportunities late and the inability to execute late. He also blamed the slow start for some of their problems as they had to dig themselves out of an early hole much like last season’s Pikeville game. Also, the Bulldogs, which were the top rebounding team in the state (and at the top in the nation as well) lost that war 28-26 as well.
So John Hardin’s attempt at immortality fell a bit short and for the young men in white there is plenty of hurt. Even the achievement of going 35-0 may take time to finally sink in after the initial sadness subsides.
But, let’s not forget that this was a team which many disregarded at season’s start because of a slightly new cast of characters and as perfection continued so did the pressure, the traveling media circus, who simply couldn’t get enough of this team, their attitude and swagger.
Let’s not forget as the wins mounted and the expectations with it, everyone was waiting to see when the O might come (if it ever did).
One thing did come out of this and that’s NEVER discount the John Hardin Bulldogs. After winning 35-straight, they will return a lot of great players along with several waiting to move up.
Matthews and Harris will be back for another shot next season. As will Preston Murrell as the Bulldog machine will continue to roll on.
In the end, maybe their driving force will be the last several seconds of a game in which everything that could have went wrong did in a season in which everything that could have went wrong went right at least until Wednesday Night.