The surging Letcher County Central Cougars posted a trio of key victories last week — first over district rival Jenkins then followed by victories over two very respectable teams, South Laurel and Estill County, to raise the Cougars’ record to 13-8 overall. More importantly, however, these wins give the Cougars a six-game winning streak and establish their claim to being a serious regional dark horse in these final weeks of the regular season.
The Cougars’ next three games are at home beginning with backto back games this weekend: Friday night the Cougars host Cordia in the nightcap of the girl/boy Senior Night doubleheader. The Cougars will host highly regarded Powell County on Saturday night and regional favorite Hazard next Tuesday, Feb. 8.
In this week’s state rankings, Perry County Central is the region’s top-ranked team. The 13-4 Commodores are ranked 19th in the Dave Cantrall state poll. Hazard is ranked second in the 14th Region this week, followed by Buckhorn, Knott County Central and Breathitt County. The Cougars are ranked sixth, followed by Powell County, Estill County, Wolfe County and Lee County.
The Cougars still have makeup games to play at Breathitt County and at home against Perry County Central.
Cordia will host this year’s 53rd District tournament at Knott County Central the last week of February. Hazard will host the regional tournament.
The boys’ Sweet Sixteen follows the girls’ this year and begins on March 16 in Rupp Arena, with the 14th Region champion meeting the 12th Region champion at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 20.
Letcher County Central 40
Estill County 37
The visiting Cougars avoided a huge letdown at Estill County Jan. 29 by edging the taller Engineers.
LCCHS, led by the outside/inside duo of Brian Roark and Koree Stewart, battled hard on both ends of the floor and just refused to lose down the stretch in this nip-andtuck matchup.
The score was tied at 12-12 after the first quarter with LCCHS edging in front 20-18 by the intermission. The Cougars were still in front, 29-26, after three quarters and managed to hang on down the stretch for their sixth straight victory.
Roark and Stewart led the 13-8 Cougars with a game-high 12 points each. Logan Johnson chipped in with six points and Kendall Ballou finished four points. Matt Neace and Sam Robinson added two points each.
Senior 6- 4 forward Kenton Roberts’s 11 points led the 11-7 Engineers. Devan Doty, a 6-9 senior, added eight points.
Letcher County Central 70
South Laurel 65
The host Cougars led early but had to hit critical free throws down the stretch to hold off highly respected 13th Region contender South Laurel on Jan. 28 for the Cougars’ fifth straight victory.
LCCHS, in gaining revenge on an earlier loss to the 9-12 Cardinals in the mid-December Hoopin’ It Up Classic at North Laurel, managed a 17-13 lead in this upand down-the-court first quarter.
Koree Stewart’s free throws with 1:23 left in the first half gave the Cougars a 28-25 lead, but South Laurel closed the first half with five unanswered points — including sophomore guard Blake Sanders’s half court heave at the buzzer — to give the Cardinals a 30-28 lead at the break.
Kendall Ballou’s jumper in the paint tied the game at 30-30 and began the Cougars’ run of 12 unanswered points to open the third quarter. Stewart’s stickback ended the run and extended LCCHS’s lead to 40-30 with 4:10 left in the third quarter.
Freshman forward Sam Robinson, who came off the bench to score six first-half points, came up big in the last two minutes of the third quarter and in the last quarter. Robinson, who finished with 13 points, nailed a trey inside the final minute of the third quarter to extend the Cougars’ lead back out to 49-40.
Early in the final quarter, Sanders’s pair of free throws cut LCCHS’s lead to 53-50, but Stewart’s short jumper steadied the Cougars. Robinson’s layup and pair of free throws with 4:12 left to play gave the Cougars’ some breathing room at 61-56.
Sanders finished with 13 points for South Laurel and Jeff Hale with a game-high 21.
Brian Roark, who led LCCHS with 17 points, hit a short jumper to keep the Cougars’ lead at 65-60 with 1:15 left to play.
Inside the final minute, Cody Gregory made three of six from the charity line and Stewart’s layup, at the end, preserved LCCHS’s victory. Gregory finished with five points and Stewart wound up with 14 points, four blocked shots and a team-high eight rebounds. Logan Johnson added 12 points and six rebounds. Ballou added seven points and Matt Boggs chipped in with two points.
LCCHS connected on 27-of-51 field goal attempts for 53 percent. South Laurel made 25-of-54 for 46 percent. LCCHS outrebounded the Cardinals 30-29 and came up with six steals and dished out a dozen assists. LCCHS had just 11 turnovers and South Laurel 10.
Letcher County Central 54
The host Cougars, using very deliberate half-court offensive sets and very effective defensive half-court pressure, took control of their district rematch with Jenkins on Jan. 26 early — leading 12-4 after the first quarter and 25-10 at the half. The Cougars’ defense limited the Cavaliers to just two points in the third quarter in expanding their lead to 40-12 heading into the final quarter.
Ryan Bentley led 4-10 Jenkins with nine points. Cody Sexton scored seven points. Hall and Lewis finished with four points each. J. Bentley, Collins and Chris Ramey added two points each.
Logan Johnson’s game-high 12 points led 11-8 LCCHS. Brian Roark added 10 points and Cody Gregory seven. Kendall Ballou finished with six points, Sam Robinson with five and Dalton Sizemore with four. Matt Boggs, Matt Neace, Keaston Hall, Max Hall and Josh Boggs wound up with two points each.