By Bob Flynn
Register Sports Writer
When the Patriots take the floor of the Frankfort Civic Center today in the Touchstone Energy All “A” Classic it will mark the first time in the history of the school that a Model basketball team has ever played in a state tournament game.
The Patriots earned the history-making matchup with University Heights Academy with a thrilling come-from-behind 62-55 victory Saturday over Lexington Christian Academy — the team that knocked them out of the tournament in overtime last year.
A.J. Hammons and Jon Ballard, two of the six seniors on the Patriots squad, said beating LCA to advance to the tournament was icing on the cake.
“Beating LCA was very sweet. From last year losing so close to getting there, to this year to now do it, it means a lot,” Hammons said.
“Losing to LCA in overtime last year made it much sweeter to beat them this year. Being a senior and to beat LCA to win the All “A”, it couldn’t have worked out any better,” Ballard added.
The team’s accomplishment has the entire community excited, Model coach Wes Scarberry said the school’s allotment of 350 tickets sold out in hours.
“The support we’ve had from the community has been a little overwhelming, to be honest with you, “Scarberry said. “The administration has been wonderful. All the kids got T-shirts, the parents put together goodie bags for the players and Mrs. Kipp’s second-grade class made cards for the players wishing them luck. The atmosphere has been outstanding.”
Even though they are happy to make the tournament, the Patriots say they want to do more than just make an appearance.
“We talked a lot during a team meeting yesterday about our goal wasn’t just to win the 11th Region All “A” Tournament, it’s to win the All “A” state. We’re wearing T-shirts tomorrow that represents the 11th Region and next week we want to wear shirts that represent the state of Kentucky as their champions,” Scarberry said. “Out of 132 teams in the state, we are one of 16 still playing for a title and we are going to give it everything we have.”
Title six years in the making
Scarberry has been coaching at Model for six years. When he took the job people told him he was crazy to leave his assistant coaching job at East Jessamine.
“People questioned why I would leave a successful program like East to come to Model. I think Model was coming off a five-win season and a lot of people told me, ‘You can’t win there,’” Scarberry said. “That was the first thing I thought of after the LCA game to win the regional championship. What do those people think now?”
The current senior class was in the seventh grade when Scarberry arrived and he said he felt even then that it could develop into a very good group.
“This senior class was 15-1 as seventh graders, so we kind of knew that it was going to be a class that could be pretty special for us. We’ve had a few kids transfer in since then and just their camaraderie over the years has kept developing to get to where we are now.”
Last year’s overtime loss to LCA made his team, which was already a hard-working group, work even harder, Scarberry said.
“After the LCA game last year, they have put in extra time in the weight room, open gym and practicing and it was all for this moment,” Scarberry said. “We talked from the end of last year to this very moment about the All “A” Tournament and for it to culminate the way it did was just a special moment for all of us. I couldn’t be prouder of this group of young men. They have worked very hard for this moment.”
Scarberry and his players know they have a very tough challenge in front of them. UHA is making its 18th appearance in the All “A” Classic and has won eight titles. The Blazers enter the game with an 8-9 record, but after losing their first seven games, they are on a six-game winning streak.
But, Scarberry said his team feels like it is up to the challenge.
“We’ve got some scouting reports and watched a couple of films on UHA and they are pretty athletic, but I think we can deal with that athleticism and win,” Ballard said.
“Our guys know that we’re not finished,” Scarberry said. “We know they are a good team, but that we are very capable of beating University Heights. We feel like we can win the first game and go from there. Beyond that, we’ll work on that later.”
Many teams making their first appearances in state tournaments are awe-struck playing in the larger arenas in front of the big crowds, but Scarberry said he didn’t think that would be a problem for his senior laden team.
“These guys have played varsity for so long and they have so much experience playing AAU and in the Final Four tournament in Florida. We’ve played district games at EKU and in a preseason scrimmage at UK, so they’ve played in those types of venues before,” Scarberry said. “So they kind of know what the expectations are as we go into the All “A” and I don’t think this will overwhelm them too much. I told them everybody in the tournament has worked as hard as they have and everybody wants the title as much as they do. So it’s going to come down to whoever plays the best that day, and I like our chances.”
Although they have put in a lot of work preparing for today’s game, Scarberry said he has tried to make sure both his team and his coaching staff enjoy this experience because they might not ever get another chance to do it.
“We want the players to enjoy this without a doubt,” Scarberry said. “I was telling my coaching staff that this is an opportunity that we may never get again as coaches to go to a state tournament. So we want to make the most out of the opportunity and enjoy it at the same time.”
Tip-off for today’s game is 10 a.m. Tickets are still available and can be purchased at the door of the Frankfort Civic Center for $10.
The winner of the game will take on the winner of the Bardstown-Carlisle County game on Friday at 5 p.m.