High School Basketball Kicks off March Madness

The Fern Creek Tigers hoisted the 2017 6th region championship trophy, the school’s first regional championship. (Photo by Damon Atherton.)

The Fern Creek Tigers hoisted the 2017 6th region championship trophy, the school’s first regional championship. (Photo by Damon Atherton.)

The brackets are set, but the question still remains: how long will it take before its busted? Every year around this time, college basketball fans are in a frenzy as they sit at home, at work, in a bar, or in their car waiting on nail-biting finishes to the NCAA Basketball Tournament.

Some of us will become overwhelmed with the amount of sports notifications we will receive on our cell phones and tablets that will read ‘Upset Alert’, as the seconds tick down to a high seed being upset by an underdog in the greatest tourney of them all.

The probability percentage of having the correct final four will dwindle as the week’s progress, and trash cans and recycling bins will be filled with broken brackets. It all culminates into the thrilling experience that is March Madness.

And while the 2017 NCAA Tournament is officially underway, the high school ranks gave us a preview of coming attractions.

Hmm. Where do we begin?! Of course, ladies first. The defending state champs, Butler, came into the 2016-17 season with the hopes of becoming a dynasty by winning three state championships in four seasons.

They opened the season with a loss to Male. After that, they won 25 straight games before falling to Sacred Heart (we’ll come back to this school in just a second) on February 8.

March 1 then arrived, and at this point, Butler was in full surge as they prepared for back-to-back titles. They beat Moore and Mercy in the first couple of games of the sixth region tournament, and battled Bullitt East led by Lindsey Duvall, in the regional championship.

This is where the madness begins. Duvall, who became the all-time leading scorer in Bullitt East basketball history, looked to cap off her senior season by punching a ticket to the state tournament. But she ran into a brick wall in Butler, who held her to only nine points in the contest – shocking for a young lady who went the season averaging 23.6 points in her sleep.

So as Bullitt East fans stood in disarray and eye popping facial expressions of disbelief, Butler would be on their way to Northern Kentucky University to defend their title.

In their first game of the state tournament, they would play Sacred Heart. That’s right, the Valkyries. While many anticipated Butler and Male advancing to the state tourney, Sacred Heart had other plans in the seventh region.

All season, Male relaxed in the limelight, ranked with Butler as a Top 20 team in the nation, until they faced their hated rivals in Manual in the seventh region tourney. The madness continued, as Manual slipped by Male 65-64 in what some would call an upset, but others would call ‘anything can happen in a rivalry game’.

Manual then met Sacred Heart in the regional finals and the Valkyries would win, 59-52, advancing to the state tournament for the first time since the 2013-14 season.

Butler would defeat Sacred Heart, and play Murray in the quarterfinal round of the St. Elizabeth Healthcare/KHSAA Girls Sweet 16 Basketball Tournament. The last time these two teams played was December 10 in the Independence Bank Classic at Owensboro Catholic, where Butler demolished Murray 68-50.

But three months later, on March 10, Murray would pull one of greatest upsets in Girls Sweet 16 history. They brought Butler’s season to a close, shocking them with a 65-56 win, and robbing them of potentially winning a state-record, sixth championship. Butler ended its season with a 33-3 record.

If that isn’t enough, the madness continued. On the boys’ side, Ballard High School endured a season filled with many obstacles. Plagued with injuries to star players, the Bruins became resilient and still found a way to Rupp Arena. They went in as the underdog versus Trinity on March 2, but walked out as the winner versus a team that many thought would be the favorite to win state.

In Coach Chris Renner’s 19th season, he captured his eighth regional title after Ballard pulled the upset over Trinity, and then went on to beat Christian Academy-Louisville 60-37 in the seventh region championship.

And lastly, one of the craziest moments for high school’s March Madness wasn’t the Thrilla in Manila between Ali and Frazier, but it was the Alley-brawl at Valley, when Doss and Fern Creek took the court as heavyweights in the sixth region championship at Valley High School.

It was a game that had a lot riding on it. Doss was looking to win the sixth region for the third consecutive year, and Fern Creek was trying to end their run and go to the state tournament for the first time in school history.

And historic it was.

Since Fern Creek opened in 1923, they never won a regional championship. But on March 7, 2017, that would change. They ended Doss’ reign in the sixth region after beating them 49-45, in what would be the final game coached by Doss’ Tony Williams (Williams went 79-24 overall at Doss, including back-to-back appearances in the state tournament) and punched their first ticket to Rupp Arena for the 2017 Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys Sweet 16 Basketball Tournament.

March is crammed with madness, and high school basketball was the opening act to what should be a dramatic and exciting month. VT