(This is a computer simulation matching great Ashland Tomcat teams of the past against each other. All game results are computer-generated but the quotes and enhanced play-by-play are on me.)
ASHLAND, Ky. – Ashland’s 1957 team isn’t remembered in Tomcat history like they could have been.
The 57 Tomcats won 21 games and were the first “official” winners of the Ashland Invitational Tournament by defeating Flat Gap and the remarkable Charlie Osborne, 67-64, in the finals at the Ashland Armory. The tournament started the previous year as the Greenbo Invitational Tournament but became the AIT in 1957.
However, Ashland’s promising season was derailed when two players, Bob Wright and Don Church, were dismissed from school with six games remaining in the regular season. They enrolled at Russell but were ineligible to play. The Tomcats were not the same and lost by six points to Russell – a team they hammered 78-50 earlier in the season with Wright and Church in the lineup – in the first round of the district tournament. Just like that, the season was over.
The 57 Tomcats were smack dab in the middle of two of the greatest teams in Ashland history – four years after 1953 and four years before 1961 – so it was tough to gain respect in that era.
Howard Humphreys, a senior on the team and leading scorer, often wondered what might have happened with a full roster. He asked for a virtual matchup of the 57 Tomcats – with Church and Wright – against the famed 61 Tomcats.
Will it be a day of redemption or one of be careful what you wish for because it might come true?
In a high-scoring affair the 61 Tomcats outlasted the 57 Tomcats, 88-80, in an entertaining game that was physical from start to finish. The teams combined for 84 free throws and 58 fouls, with both officials having to replace the pea in their whistles.
Both teams had players take elbows to the mouth with blood spilling on the Ashland Armory floor.
The 57 Tomcats proved more than capable of playing against the team that most consider Ashland’s best ever, taking them down to the final minutes before falling in a game that had fans on both sides screaming.
Larry Conley scored 20 and Harold Sergent 19 as the 61 Tomcats used a 35-point second quarter to take control and then hold on down the stretch after a furious comeback.
The 61 Tomcats built their biggest lead at 49-35 when Steve Cram drilled a 15-footer to start the second half. But the 57 Tomcats, led by Humphreys, rallied by going on a 24-10 rampage in the third quarter. Humphreys scored 11 of his 18 points during the stretch.
However, the 57 Tomcats could never take the lead despite staying within striking distance. It was 77-73 with three minutes remaining when the 61 Tomcats scored six consecutive points to make it 83-73 and essentially put it away.
The teams spent a lot of time at the foul line with the 61 Tomcats making 29 of 44 free throws and the 57 Tomcats hitting 28 of 40.
The difference came from the 3-point line where the 61 Tomcats adapted quickly to the new rule, making 7 of 17 with Sergent nailing 4 of 8. The 57 Tomcats attempted only one from behind the arc.
“We instructed our players to take it inside,” said 57 coach Bob Lavoy. “When you have players like Humphreys and (Dale) Griffith, you take it inside. I’m old school. I don’t know about this 3-point thing.”
But the 21-0 difference from the 3-point line was a determining factor.
“We didn’t shoot the 3 and we sure didn’t defend it well either,” Humphreys said. “I’m proud of these guys. It was good to be out there playing with them again, especially Don and Bob.”
Meeks scored 18 and Griffith collected 11 points and seven rebounds while Wright and Church were solid with nine points and eight points, respectively, for the 57 Tomcats.
“I tell you what, these 57 Tomcats were good,” said 61 coach Bob Wright. “Humphreys and Griffith are a handful and those guys never back down. I’d liked to have coached those players. Wright and Church made a difference for them too. Wright is a real banger and so athletic. Our guys were saying he was like a brick wall.
“We found the range from that 3-point line, which I’m starting to like,” Wright said. “I don’t think we win this one without it.”
Cram scored 12 points and Gene Smith 11. Sergent had eight assists and Bob Hilton led with seven rebounds.
1957 Ashland was 21-6, AIT champions and ranked as high as 16th in the Litkenhaus rankings, but bowed out in the opening round of the district tournament to Russell.
1961 Ashland finished as state champions with a sparkling 36-1. These Tomcats are regarded as one of the best in Sweet 16 history.
Humphreys and Griffith joined back up with Wright and Church the following year at Louisiana Lafayette. Humphreys’ roommate, Tim Thompson, played on a Lexington Lafayette team that was in the Sweet 16 in 1957.
Sophomores step up
Larry Castle, David Patton and Herb Conley were sophomores in 1957 and stepped up to help the varsity when Wright and Church were dismissed from Ashland High School. Lavoy was replaced by Fred Anson after the season was over.
1961 ASHLAND (88) – Sergent 6-12 3-4 19, Cram 3-8 5-6 12, Conley 6-19 7-9 20, Hilton 3-7 0-1 6, Smith 3-8 5-6 11, Fairchild 4-7 0-3 8, Sexton 0-1 5-8 5, Daniel 0-2 3-4 3, Johnson 1-2 0-0 3, Gray 0-0 1-3 1. FG: 26-66. FT: 29-44. 3-point FG: 7-17 (Sergent 4-8, Cram 1-2, Conley 1-6, Johnson 1-1). Rebounds: 35 (Sergent 4, Cram 5, Conley 6, Hilton 7, Smith 3, Fairchild 5, Sexton 4, Johnson 1). PF: 27. Turnovers: 11.
1957 ASHLAND (80) – Wellman 2-7 0-0 4, Church 3-9 3-4 9, Humphreys 6-12 6-8 18, Griffith 4-10 3-6 11, Meek 5-5 8-13 18, Sexton 1-2 1-1 3, Wright 4-5 0-0 8, Hart 1-1 7-8 9, Everman 1-1 0-0 2, Castle 0-0 0-0 0, Conley 0-1 0-0 0, Fillmore 0-1 0-0 0. FGs: 26-53. FT: 28-40. 3-point FGs: 0-1 (Church 0-1). FT: 28-40. Rebounds: 32 (Wellman 3, Church 4, Humphreys 9, Griffith 7, Meek 1, Conley 1, Hart 3, Wright 2, Sexton 1, Everman 1). Assists: 10 (Wellman 2, Church 2, Humphreys 1, Griffith 1, Meeks 2, Fillmore 1, Wright 1). PF: 31. Turnovers: 16.
1961 ASHLAND 14 35 10 29 – 88
1957 ASHLAND 23 12 24 21 – 80