What a game

Great Crossing boys’ soccer players hoist the trophy and celebrate their 41st District championship win over Frankfort, which the News-Graphic selected as the top high school game of the season involving one of the county high schools.

How do you recap a year that altered the landscape of youth sports in Scott County with its most extreme makeover since 1975?

The addition of Great Crossing High School as a natural rival to established powerhouse Scott County High School has given us much to celebrate and consider.

Perhaps most significantly from the standpoint of a writer, photographer or spectator, it has  furnished twice as many games to enjoy.

With that in mind — and fully aware of the risks it entails, since we’re pulling from both the 2018-19 and 2019-2020 scholastic years — here’s a humble retrospective of what we consider the top 10 games of the calendar year just completed.

Historical significance and sheer excitement are the primary areas of consideration, and please keep in mind that the specific order is much less important than the lasting memories each of these contests and the home team(s) involved left in our minds.

And away we go!

Great Crossing 4, Frankfort 3, OT penalty kicks, boys’ soccer

History made. And the Great Crossing boys’ soccer team will never forget how it happened.

Tournament most valuable player Landon “Trey” Dice, playing with a dislocated left shoulder suffered earlier in the game, deposited the final tie-breaking penalty kick for the golden goal well after 11 p.m. Oct. 10 at Sower Soccer Complex.

It gave GC a 4-3 victory over Frankfort and the 41st District championship, the first team title in the new high school’s extremely brief history.

“He (coach Nick Maxwell) asked me if I could step up and do it, and I said of course,” Dice said.

Dice’s boot provided the final plot twist in an emotional, contentious game, one steeped in come-from-behind drama for the Warhawks (12-2-3).

All three Great Crossing goals in regulation erased a lead for upset-minded Frankfort (11-9).

“Each time they came back and challenged. They really showed their grit and determination. They knew they could win,” Maxwell said. “Even when we went down in the first half, we were still the better team.”

Zach Shelton was the unlikely savior with 37.1 seconds remaining in regulation.

A defensive stalwart who hadn’t scored a goal or registered an assist all season, Shelton crashed toward the goal in a frantic, finishing flurry and tipped in a service from Bradyn Johnson by way of C.J. Wittry.

“I was so scared,” Shelton said. “It dropped right in front of me. I got a small touch on it and hit it back again before it hit the ground. I don’t even remember what happened. I just know it went in, bottom left corner.”

“A lot of teams, 3-2 with a minute left, they’re done,” Maxwell added. “We sent Shelton up to striker just to give us an extra body, some height and aggressiveness, and that ball just happened to come perfectly for him.”

GC then dominated possession in each of two five-minute, sudden-death overtimes but couldn’t break through.

That left the title squarely on the shoulders of the two goalkeepers, Isaac Sullivan of Great Crossing and Sam Yocum of Frankfort, in a round of five penalty kicks for each team.

The Warhawks and Panthers both started 3-for-4 before Sullivan denied Ty Hancock, leaving the game on Dice’s foot.

Dice, who went to the hospital for further medical attention after the awards ceremony, beat Yocum with a rip to the lower right hand corner of the cage, touching off a wild celebration.

“Their crowd kept them in the game, energized them,” Dice said. “We kind of fed off that. Sometimes it was good, sometimes it was bad, but we found a way to get the W.”

Great Crossing wasn’t done there. It defeated Frederick Douglass and Paul Laurence Dunbar in the quarterfinals and semifinals of the 11th Region tournament before losing to eventual KHSAA state champion Henry Clay.

Scott County 46, Ballard 45, overtime, football

On a drizzly senior night, with all hope almost gone, Scott County football weaved a comeback win it will never forget.

SC rallied from a two-score deficit in the final 6:47 of regulation Oct, 25, including a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Cade McKee and tying two-point conversion from Bronson Brown with 13 seconds remaining. 

Then, after Jaxon Saylor’s touchdown run and Jacob Bange’s point-after kick in the Cardinals’ segment of overtime, given a reprieve by a holding penalty, SC stopped Ballard’s two-point try for a 46-45 win at Birds’ Nest Stadium.

“I’m super proud of our effort, and I’m super proud of how we fought back, getting tested like that,” SC coach Jim McKee said. 

Scott County overcame 373 yards and three touchdowns from relentless Ballard running back Jayden Farmer in its regular-season finale.

It took Sam Daniel dragging Farmer out of bounds at the Cardinal 18, ending a 51-yard ramble with one second left in regulation, to prevent his fourth score and what would have been a heartbreaking finish for the Cards.

“He’s the best running back we’ve seen in a long time, maybe ever,” Daniel said. “I’m always working on angles in practice, and all I knew is I had to stop him.”

Silas Emongo also knocked down a last-second throw into the end zone by Ballard quarterback Larry Cummings.

That preserved overtime, where in high school both teams get matching possessions of four downs from the 10-yard line.

Saylor, one of three Cardinal running backs to hurdle the century mark on the evening, scored from eight yards out on the second play.

Then it was Ballard’s turn. After Farmer’s first rush reached the 4, Daniel raced up to pop him for consecutive one-yard gains.

“We switched to a five-man front there, and we don’t even have a five-man front that we normally use,” McKee said. “Monty (McIntyre, defensive coordinator) basically said they’re going to have to throw it into the end zone, because 29 (Farmer) isn’t going to just run over us to win the game.”

Cummings lunged forward on fourth down for his third touchdown keeper of the night, then threw a pass to Chaunte Marrero that briefly left both teams thinking they were winners.

SC jarred the ball loose and through the end zone. The official at the pylon signaled touchdown, but a holding penalty back at the line of scrimmage negated everything.

“I wasn’t sure what happened,” McKee admitted. “I thought the ball popped out and the game was over.”

Set back 10 yards to the 13, Cummings rolled right and looked for Marrero once again, but the throw sailed long to touch off a raucous home celebration.

“It means everything,” Daniel said. “The way we came back and won, I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.”

Scott County offset Farmer with gigantic nights from seniors Brown (20 carries, 174 yards) and Philip Garner (32 carries, 171 yards, two touchdowns) and the sophomore Saylor (10 carries, 147 yards).

SC defeated Montgomery County in the playoffs for its 12th consecutive 10-win season, the longest current streak in the state, before falling 24-14 to Frederick Douglass in the second round of the playoffs.

Great Crossing 28, Grant Co. 20, football

After eight challenging, often one-sided loess to more established programs with older players, Great Crossing football had a reason to jump, shout and shed tears of joy Oct. 25.

Though it gave away an early 20-0 lead, GC got late touchdown and two-point conversion rushes from quarterback Kalib Perry, followed by a defensive stand in the red zone, to seal a 28-20 victory at Grant County.

A police and fire escort from the city limits back to the new high school greeted Great Crossing after its breakthrough victory, one that clinched a playoff berth.

“I came out to the huddle and said we have to dig deep,” Perry said. 

Bryce Hearn highlighted the touchdown drive with a 21-yard catch to convert second-and-15 after dropping the ball on the same play earlier in the evening.

“I had to catch it. I couldn’t choke twice,” Hearn said.

A holding penalty and a third-down tackle by Alex Stapleton set up the game-ending stop, with senior Trenton Allen at the center of a triumphant pile of Warhawk defenders.

“Grit. It came down to grit,” Allen said. “It came down to fight and who wanted it the most. That was a tough Grant County team.”

Allen, Perry and Kaspen Colbert each ran for first-half scores to give Great Crossing its large lead before a relentless rushing effort by Nate Kaiser nearly led Grant County back from the brink.

“They could have just rolled over when (Grant) tied it up,” GC coach Paul Rains said. 

“We (were) 0-8, and it would be easy to have just rolled up. But they didn’t. I am so proud of what they did tonight.”

Scott County 10, Douglass 9, baseball

Scott County baseball stunningly rallied from a nine-run deficit, climbing the final four steps of that mountain after two were out with the bases empty in the bottom of the seventh inning, to foil Frederick Douglass, 10-9, at Sutton Field on April 16.

“We somehow found a way to win,” SC coach Scott Willard said. “I don’t know how. We did a lot of not smart things out there.”

Trace Willhoite’s single to the gap in right center field off Douglass relief pitcher Thomas Howard, an eighth-grader, plated Preston Rankin with the winning run.

His heroics followed a two-run infield single by Kyle Harbison, perfectly placed in the hole between third base and shortstop, to chase home Seth Benner and Rylan Reed for the tie.

“(Howard) wasn’t beating me. I wasn’t giving up for my team,” Harbison said. “I was putting it in play hard somewhere. And then Trace came up and delivered like I knew he would.”

Scott County’s last five hitters — Benner, Reed, Rankin, Harbison and Willhoite — all reached base with a two-strike count after Philip Garner fueled the finishing kick with a double.

“I can’t get up to bat if Kyle doesn’t get a hit, Preston and Rylan don’t get walks and Philip doesn’t hit a double,” said Willhoite.

The miracle ending made it 30 consecutive wins over 42nd District opponents for Scott County, a streak dating back to the start of the 2016 season. 

Scott County 46, Franklin Co. 45, girls’ basketball

Scott County’s Juliette Smith sank a free throw with one second remaining in a donnybrook to rescue the Lady Cards.

Never have the stakes been higher. 

This one sent SC to the 11th Region championship game for the second consecutive March and ousted the rival that was — on paper, anyway — its toughest challenge this side of the Sweet 16.

In a battle of the programs that have won the past four regional titles, SC overcame an eight-point deficit early in the third quarter March 3 and survived Franklin County, 46-45, at McBrayer Arena.

“I definitely wanted to make the first one and give everybody a breather,” Smith said.

There weren’t many such chances to slow the pulse for Scott County, which went on to defeat Henry Clay in the district championship and reached the KHSAA Sweet 16 quarterfinals.

Malea Williams led SC with 16 points and 10 rebounds, and in a chess match characterized by defensive stops, the 6-foot-3 junior delivered the last one.

She deflected an in-bounds pass from Nevaeh Carter, then recovered to deny Brooklynn Miles with her sixth blocked shot of the day. Williams tipped the loose ball to herself for the all-important defensive rebound and relayed it to Maaliya Owens, who found Smith.

“Second half, at least defensively, we made a few more plays,” SC coach Steve Helton said. “Tonight every shot counted, every possession counted, every rebound counted. The loose ball there at the end counted.”

Owens recovered from an 0-for-11 start and finished with 14 points. Scott County shot 33.3 percent (18-for-54) from the field and made only four of its 21 3-point tries. But the Lady Cards stifled FC star Miles to 4-for-19 shooting on her way to a game-high 17 points.

It was a nail-biter for a team that saw few close games during the regular season.

“We had to calm down. It was a region game at EKU, hyped,” Owens said. “We knew that this was the second-best team in our region, so we needed to come out and play strong.” 

Scott County 6, Douglass 5, softball

It was a more challenging journey than in years past, thanks to heavy graduation losses and a fearless, new challenger named Frederick Douglass, but Scott County softball still controlled the 42nd District.

When go-ahead home runs by Madison Scott and Carly Oliver weren’t enough to scare away Douglass, the Lady Cards used heads-up base running and lights-out defense May 22 to seal a 6-5 win at the Bryan Station athletic complex.

After her double to lead off the bottom of the sixth, Madison Scott swiped third between pitches to Alyssa Woolums by reading the catcher and pitcher’s body language.

Scott then scored on Woolums’ groundout to the right side of the infield.

“She had a heck of a game,” sophomore Nani Valencia, who threw a perfect game in the semifinals against Henry Clay, said of Scott. “We were talking about that in the dugout, how she always steps up when we need her, and she’s really clutch.”

Scott County (20-10) extended its remarkable district win streak to 60 games.  The Lady Cards have captured the district title every year — 14 of them — since moving from the 32nd to the 42nd for the 2006 season.

The new-look Lady Cards, who graduated 10 seniors to college programs from a state championship team, trailed in all three of their wins over the Lady Broncos this season, and never took the lead for good until the fifth inning or later.

“It doesn’t matter how many wins and losses you have going into postseason,” SC senior infielder Oliver said. “You’ve got to show up and win today.”

Scott’s three-run home run erased a 1-0 Douglass advantage in the bottom of the third.

“There were girls on base, and we were down, so I knew I had to step up to get something done,” Scott said.

Douglass battled back to tie it in the fourth on a home run by Kasia Parks, but Oliver hit a matching two-run bomb in SC’s half of the inning.

Scott County 64, Cov Cath 61, boys’ basketball

Covington Catholic’s five-year foothold over Scott County at the KHSAA Sweet 16 wasn’t over until the Colonels said so.

In what nearly was the most epic comeback/collapse in the 102-year history of the storied tournament, foul-troubled SC spent all but one digit of a 19-point lead in the final 94 seconds March 7 before surviving, 64-61.

Glenn Covington led the Cardinals with 15 points. Those who remained out of 12,205 spectators at Rupp Arena — many Scott County fans left the auditorium early to stand in line for next-game tickets — saw the senior guard sink two free throws to stop the bleeding with 3.9 seconds left.

Joey Moser’s desperation heave from just inside half-court fell shy at the horn.

“Just very disappointed in how our guys off the bench handled the ball,” SC coach Billy Hicks said. “We threw it away and threw it away and threw it away. Cov Cath did a good job of pressing, battling, right to the end.”

Scott County narrowly avenged losses to Covington Catholic in the 2014 and 2018 state championship games to advance. 

The Cards beat Butler and Warren Central before losing to Trinity in Hicks’ seventh and final KHSAA state championship game as SC coach. 

Great Crossing 3, Western Hills 2, OT penalty kicks, girls’ soccer

Five minutes before the fateful penalty kicks that would decide whether or not the Great Crossing girls’ soccer team met its goal of a regional playoff berth in year one, the Lady Warhawks lost the goalkeeper whose hands, feet and reflexes stopped more than 400 shots this season.

The only viable replacement: A midfielder, scratched from the lineup due to nagging injuries, who hadn’t played goalie since a spot start or two at Scott County last season.

You wouldn’t script that passing of the torch from Shelby Smith to Hannah Washburn with a happy conclusion. Hollywood would reject it for being too sappy.

But there was Washburn on Oct. 9, standing tall as three of Western Hills’ four bids missed the mark. Brooke Dennard then slammed the door, matching prior makes by Madisyn Dodge and Elisabeth Keenan to seal the Lady Warhawks’ 3-2 victory in the 41st District semifinals.

“Being that I took a year off from playing goalie, I was excited to get out there and try again,” Washburn said. “I’m glad I got the chance to go out and prove myself.”

Great Crossing’s dream sequence took a detourwhen it fell 8-2 to Franklin County in the title game. By virtue of reaching the final, however, the Lady Warhawks earned a trip to the 11th Region tournament in its first year.

“We have improved so much,” Dennard said. “We always kept our heads up. We never stopped. I’m just really proud of our team.”

Great Crossing 64, Scott Co. 52, boys’ basketball

Great Crossing blocked out the noise, mostly suppressed the whirlwind of emotions, stuck to the game plan, rode its week-long wave of momentum and walked away with a boys’ basketball win for the ages Dec. 19.

Led by sophomore Tye Schureman’s four timely 3-pointers, all five Warhawks scored in double digits as GC went into Scott County High School’s tradition-rich gymnasium and clipped the Cardinals, 64-52, in the inaugural Battle of the Birds before a bipartisan crowd of 2,000-plus.

“I just wanted to beat Scott County. That was the only thing I wanted to do,” said Schureman, the lone non-senior in Great Crossing’s starting lineup. “We came out here and played our hearts out. That’s all that matters now. We tried as hard as we could. We shared the ball. We played team ball, and it was really good.”

Schureman shot 4-for-5 from 3-point range and finished with 15 points to pick up Bluegrass Orthopaedics player of the game honors from the Birds’ Nest Broadcasting Network.

Jaylen Barber, GC’s 6-foot-8 senior, posed problems for his former SC teammates at both ends of the court with 14 points, 11 rebounds and five blocked shots. Point guard Neil Baker furnished 13 points and four assists.



Scott County boys’ track and field,

second at Class 3A state meet

SC boys’ track and field saw its best-ever bid for a Class 3A state title fall nine points (88-79) and one spot shy of its ultimate goal.

St. Xavier won the title June 1 at UK.

Bryan Hudson, who was still recovering from preseason knee surgery, dominated the shot put for a four-year sweep of the event and the discus for his third consecutive title in that discipline.

The Cardinals smashed school records in the 4x100 with Ashton Miller, Adam Greiving, Silas Emongo and Bryce Chisley (fourth place, 42.15) and the 4x200 of Miller, Jeremy Hamilton, Greiving and Chisley (third, 1:28.31). Chisley, a sophomore, also finished fourth in what was the fastest 100-meter dash in state history, won by Henry Clay’s Langston Jackson.

Kal Oakes can be reached via email at sports@news-graphic.com.

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