By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
Four years ago, Madison Central won just 10 games and was handed a double-digit loss in the opening round of the 11th Region Tournament.
For a program with a well-established winning tradition, it was a somewhat disappointing season.
Still, even then, the future looked very bright for a team full of young, talented players.
“They were pretty good as freshmen,” Central coach Allen Feldhaus said of his eight seniors. “They took their lumps, but really even by the end of that year we weren’t too bad.”
They’ve continued to get even better.
And now they have a chance to do something that no other team in school history has been able to accomplish.
Madison Central will be considered one of the favorites to win a state championship when the KHSAA Sweet 16 gets underway today at Rupp Arena.
The Indians (28-5) will take on 12th Region champion Wayne County (27-7) at noon in the opening game of the tournament.
The winner advances to Friday’s quarterfinals to take on either Covington Holmes or Pleasure Ridge Park.
“I’m a little nervous,” Central senior point guard Dominique Hawkins said. “I’ve never played (at Rupp) before. Once I get going I’m pretty sure the nerves will go away.”
The Indians haven’t been to the state tournament since 2006, when they advanced to the quarterfinals before falling to Pleasure Ridge Park.
Central won the 11th Region title by hammering Lexington Catholic, 67-46, Saturday at McBrayer Arena.
This will be the school’s fourth-ever trip to the KHSAA Sweet 16 — 1987, 1999 and 2006.
“The worst part is the anticipation,” Feldhaus said. “Just waiting to get out there. I’ll be glad when we get done with all this other stuff, visiting the schools and all the stuff (we’ve done the past few days). We need to get back down to business.”
Wayne County will certainly pose a serious challenge to the Indians.
The Cardinals are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the state. They have hit 266 three-pointers this season and are connecting on 37 percent of their shots from long-range this season.
“We looked and their top eight players have all attempted more than 50 threes this year,” Feldhaus said of Wayne County. “They are very much a perimeter-oriented team. They are very skilled.”
Freshman guard Trey Blevins has hit a team-best 78 three pointers this season for Wayne County, while sophomore guard Peyton Woods has connected 71 times from long range.
The Cardinals have six other players who have hit at least 16 three-pointers this season.
“You’ve got honor all of (their shooters),” Feldhaus said. “They don’t have anyone you can back off of. That puts a little more pressure on your defense. But, I think we have people who are pretty versatile defensively and can go out there and guard perimeter players. We are going to have to.”
Woods averages a team-best 17 points a game, while freshman forward Corey Stearns is averaging 15.8 points a game.
With two freshmen and a sophomore in the lineup, Wayne County was not generally considered the favorite to win the 12th Region. The Cardinals lost to Southwestern in the 48th District Tournament title game.
They bounced back to pick up close wins over Pulaski County and West Jessamine in the 12th Region Tournament, then defeated Somerset, 61-48, in the championship game.
“If you’ve got two freshmen in your starting lineup and we win your region, they’ve got to be pretty good,” Feldhaus said.
Hawkins has once again been Central’s main offensive threat this season. The senior point guard is averaging 19.6 points and 5.24 rebounds a game and also has 98 assists and 59 steals.
He was recently named one of five finalists for this year’s Mr. Basketball award.
Senior guard Ken-Jah Bosley is averaging 19.1 points and 4.27 rebounds a game and also has 95 assists and a team-best 66 steals.
Senior forward Quan Taylor is Central’s main post presence. He is averaging 11.4 points a team-best 7.53 rebounds a game.
The Indians have limited their opponents to 28 percent shooting from three-point range. While other teams have tried slow down Wayne County’s outside shooting with zone defenses this season, Central will likely stick to a traditional man-to-man defense.
“Heck no,” Feldhaus said when asked if the Indians might play zone against Wayne County. “We won’t even think about it. With the way they shoot it? No. We are going to guard the heck out of them.”