The Letcher County Central High School Cougars completed their regular season with three straight victories — including two last week on the road, at Breathitt County and at Pike County Central.
The Cougars have closed the last two months of their season with a rush — winning 13 of their last 15 games. The Cougars are now 18-10 heading into last night’s opening round matchup against Jenkins in the 53rd District tournament at Knott County Central High School.
The winner of this opening round game will take on the Cordia/Knott County Central winner in the district championship on Saturday night at 7 p.m.
The boys’ 14th Regional tournament is hosted by Hazard this year and begins next week.
The boys’ Sweet Sixteen begins the March 16 in Rupp Arena with the 14th Region champion matched up against the 12th Region champion at 1:30 p.m. on March 17.
Letcher County Central 56
Pike County Central 54
The visiting Cougars overcame both turnovers (15) and shaky free throw shooting in the final minute with some excellent field goal shooting and defense on the state’s leading scorer to win their third straight game last Friday night at 15th Region contender, the Pike County Central Hawks.
The Hawks, just off an impressive upset of the host 2011 All A state champion, Betsy Layne, on Feb. 11, fell to 12-10 overall.
The big plus for the Cougars was junior guard Logan Johnson’s defense on Hobo McCoy, who entered the game with the state’s best scoring average of 30 points per game. Johnson went head-to-head defensively against McCoy and limited the 6” 0” senior guard to just 22 points on seven-of-23 shooting from the floor — including zerofor eight from behind the arc.
Johnson, who led the Cougars with a team-high 21 points, missed the front end of two bonus situations in the final minute, but the Cougars survived a final Pike County Central shot that could have forced overtime.
LCCHS took command early and led 19-8 at the end of the first quarter. Pike County Central rallied to trail just 28-25 at the half and 42-40 after three quarters. Pike County Central took its first and only lead of the game early in the fourth quarter, 44-43, before LCCHS reclaimed the lead.
For the game, Letcher County Central converted 25-of-52 field goal attempts for 48 percent and limited the Hawks to 19-of-53 for 36 percent.
LCCHS, with Brian Roark and Koree Stewart claiming a game-high eight rebounds each, outrebounded the Hawks 36-29. Stewart added 17 points and Roark contributed 10 points and a game-high seven assists.
Johnson and Kendall Ballou pulled down six rebounds each and Ballou finished with six points. Cody Gregory chipped in with two points.
The Cougars closed their regular season with a three-game winning streak that raised their overall record to 18-10.
Letcher County Central 68
Breathitt County 67
In the final minutes, the visiting Cougars made six straight free throws — including a pair by sophomore guard Cody Gregory with just nine seconds left — and then withstood a last second shot that bounced off the rim in edging the Bobcats Feb. 16 in Jackson.
Before his pair of pressurepacked free throws, Gregory scored five of his seven total points in the first quarter to help the Cougars to a 17-15 lead.
In a game that featured different players stepping up offensively at different times, the duo of juniors Logan Johnson and Koree Stewart picked up the slack in the second quarter. Johnson, who tied senior guard Brian Roark for team scoring honors with 18, scored 11 in the second quarter. Stewart scored all 12 of his points in the first half as LCCHS led 38-32.
In the third quarter, Roark scored nine points but the Cougars fell behind 55-53, largely due to the inside work on both ends of the floor by 6-5 sophomore center Bobby Fraley, who finished with 23 points and 15 rebounds — both game-high.
Down the stretch, Johnson and Roark combined for 11 points and freshman Sam Robinson nailed a pair of big free throws to keep the Cougars close, setting up Gregory’s gamewinning free throws at the end.
For the game, LCCHS converted 13-of-15 from the charity line.
Robinson finished with two points and junior Kendall Ballou added eight points.