LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - There was no doubt in Shelby Valley coach
Jason Booher's mind that his team would be shell-shocked as they
played their first-ever state championship game.
Preparing for that, Booher told his team before the game that it
would be OK to lose.
"I said this was a heavyweight fight," Booher said. "We knew
we would hit them and they would hit us right back. The import
thing is that we keep our composure through it."
The Wildcats fended off Ballard 73-61 Saturday to take their
first title in the Kentucky Boys' Sweet 16 at Rupp Arena. Forward
Ashley Hatfield scored 21 points for Shelby Valley, and guard
Elisha Justice - who distinguished himself as the star of the
tournament - added 17.
A win looked in doubt at times as a 14-point Wildcat lead before
halftime was cut to as little as three during a furious Bruins
comeback in the second half.
Still, Shelby Valley countered everything the Bruins threw at
them. Ballard failed to gain the advantage, even as the Wildcats
went on a scoring drought that saw them hit just one field goal in
"These guys didn't back down and took it to them," Booher
Shelby Valley (32-4) had two separate double-digit runs that
kept Ballard to just one field goal. Both teams shot 41 percent
from the floor.
The core of the Shelby Valley team had played together since
their freshman year, appearing in three state tournaments.
"This one is the greatest," Justice said. "We've been best
friends our whole lives and this is what we've always dreamed
Justice led the tournament in scoring, averaging 24.3 points.
The point guard has already accepted an offer from University of
Louisville coach Rick Pitino to walk on to the Cardinals' team in
Justice helped orchestrate Shelby Valley's initial offensive
storm. Back-to-back 3-pointers by the Wildcats opened up a four
point lead late in the first quarter. Shelby Valley would stretch
that lead to as many as 14 after a 16-2 run, but Ballard would
shoot out to a 12-2 run of their own, to be down just four at the
The Wildcats scored just two field goals in a 9 minute span in
the second half, allowing Ballard to cut the deficit to three. The
Bruins wouldn't get any closer.
"We just had key moments where we had an opportunity to knock
on their lead, but didn't," Ballard coach Chris Renner said.
"They were able to respond and bounce back from everything we gave
Ballard (32-5) was led by Ian Chiles' 23 points.
Chiles keyed the comeback for Ballard by hitting consecutive
layups and making two steals in the third quarter.
"They got that lead on us and we fought back but they hit a lot
of big shots down the stretch," Chiles said.
Chiles was second to Justice in scoring in the tournament,
averaging 21.3 points.
Ballard has been to the title round six times, winning three,
including in 1988 with former NBA star Allan Houston. Ballard was
the runner-up in 2007.
Shelby Valley proved a fan favorite throughout the tournament.
Playing against the Louisville's Ballard only heightened favoritism
for the Wildcats in the University of Kentucky's home arena.
Despite a four-hour drive from Lexington, nearly two thirds of the
15,048 in attendance supported Shelby Valley.