ASHLAND, Ky. – Mark Surgalski and Arliss Beach are among the best tandems in Ashland basketball history. The Tomcat won consecutive 16th Region championships with those two as the centerpiece.
The 2001 Tomcats, which was the first of those championship seasons, turned the clock back 31 years to meet the 1970 Tomcats for a simulation battle that looked like a dandy on paper.
But after a tightly played first quarter, the 2001 Tomcats began making it look like the rout was on. Consecutive baskets from Zack Davis, Beach and Surgalski grew a 43-34 advantage to 49-34 at intermission.
“We did this in our last simulation game and couldn’t hold on,” remembered 2001 (and 2002) coach Mike Flynn of the 2002 Tomcats lost to the 1980 Tomcats. “I reminded the ones that played in the 2002 season of that game. Some of them looked at me kind of funny.”
The atmosphere in Anderson gymnasium was a little different, too. The guys had hair down to their shoulders and the girls were wearing mini-skirts. The band warmed up to “The H-O-R-S-E” and everybody was talking about how good the Cincinnati Reds would be and wondered if they would bring up Don Gullett to pitch?
They overheard some of the 1970 players talking about cruising the ‘Grass and finally figured out they meant the Bluegrass Grill. (Sure they did).
“I love the Twinburger and onion rings,” Surgalski said.
“Ham sandwich and strawberry pie for me,” Beach said.
Uh, let’s get back to basketball. The 1970 Tomcats were the second of three consecutive regional championships under Harold Cole. His teams were good, fundamentally some of the best in the state every year. They also played a brand of basketball that the fans enjoyed.
Cole knew his basketball and he came along at a time when Ashland was a gold mine of talent.
There was a lot to like about this team, including Johnny Mullins, who is generally regarded as one of the best athletes in Tomcat history. He was a star in basketball and baseball and would have been in football as well if he played.
“We were well aware of how good Johnny Mullins was,” Flynn said. “But that doesn’t mean we could stop him.”
Mullins was on his game for the 70 Tomcats, but he was going to need a few more teammates to get involved if they were going to mount a comeback against the 2001 Tomcats.
He had some help in that department but it wasn’t from any of the coaches or players. It came from a current and future super fan. Donna Childers was a senior in 1970 and she was starting a lifelong love affair with the Ashland Tomcats.
The 1970 Tomcats were her favorites, but she wasn’t going to cut them any slack when it came to how they were playing on this night.
“You better get your heads out of your you-know-where before they embarrass you!” she yelled at them as they came back out of the locker room after halftime. “Surgalski and Beach are making every one of you look bad. I’ll cheer for these boys later but not tonight. COME ON!! START PLAYING LIKE YOU CAN!!! What am I going to tell my 70’s class girls at our future reunions lunches if you fool around and lose this game? GET WITH IT!”
Even Cole was taken aback by her spirited halftime speech. “Best I’ve heard,” he said. “Most of those guys were more afraid of her than me. And she scared me to death.”
With that “encouragement” to build on, the 70 Tomcats came out firing and started scratching away at the 15-point deficit. They had it down to seven, then four, then one after Dale Bowling was fouled on a 3-pointer and swished all three free throws to make it 57-56 late in the third quarter.
“We fought back,” Cole said. “It took a lot out of us to get there, but we made it.”
Back-to-back baskets from Surgalski and Adam Howard put the 2001 Tomcats in front 63-58 entering the fourth quarter. That’s when the game began to get extremely physical, with bodies being knocked to the floor on almost every trip.
Fans were getting rowdy in the stands, too, with dueling cheers from one side of the gym to the other. Guess who was leading them for the 1970 Tomcats?
“Well, I was going to do what I needed to do to get them going,” Donna Childers said. “Come on Johnny! Get on the floor after those loose balls!”
Surgalski, who led all scorers with 27 points, picked up his fourth foul and was relegated to the bench at the six-minute mark of the fourth quarter. When Beach, who scored 22, rolled his ankle a minute later, it looked like another collapse was coming.
“It’s next man up for us but, I’ve gotta admit, that was a scary time,” Flynn said.
With the 2001 Tomcat tandem sidelined, the game tightened up even more. Jeremy Howell, who had picked up his game with Surgalski and Beach out, scored to make it 67-64 with four minutes to play. However, the 1970 Tomcats scored five in a row with Mullins muscling one in for a 69-67 lead. It was the first time they had been ahead since the first quarter.
“We climbed the mountain,” said Mullins, who scored 24.
With only 35 seconds remaining in regulation, Beach came back into the game with a heavily taped ankle. Surgalski had returned at about the three-minute mark. Flynn set up last-second strategy. A simple give-and-go sprung Beach, who drove to the basket and scored at the buzzer to tie it at 69 and force overtime.
It was like the roof was coming off Anderson gym when Beach scored. The momentum had clearly swung to the 2001 Tomcats.
The drama quickly disappeared from the game when the extra period started. The 1970 Tomcats were exhausted and the 2001 Tomcats outscored them 11-0 with Beach and Howell combining for all the points to finish off the 80-69 overtime victory.
Howell had 13 points and six assists to complement Surgalski and Beach, who had combined for 49.
“Give Doc (A.J.) Stadhlmeyer credit for this one,” Flynn said. “He got Arliss in good enough shape to get back in the game. We don’t win this one with Arliss, and Doc. This was a great win over a very good team. We’re proud to take this one.”
“We were out of gas,” Cole said of the overtime. “We made a great comeback but the shots wouldn’t fall in the extra period. Hey, what happened to that young lady? You think she’s going to be OK? We hated letting her down.”
Donna Childers and her brother Doug were the last 1970 fans to leave the gym. They walked out with Dicky Martin and Dirk Payne, broadcasters for the 2001 Tomcats. Everybody was laughing and smiling. Even Donna, who said she still loves her 70 Tomcats but she loves the others, too.
“Once a Tomcat, always a Tomcat,” she said. “It’s good to have the four D’s together again.”
And with that, as they walked arm in arm out of Anderson gym, another special simulation moment had happened.
Ashland’s 1970 team finished 21-8 and captured the 16th Region championship with a win over Olive Hill. Allen County eliminated the Tomcats 46-43 in the Sweet 16.
Ashland’s 2001 team snapped a five-year Sweet 16 skid by defeating Rowan County in the 16th Region final. The Tomcats reached the Sweet 16 quarterfinals where they fell to North Hardin 50-45.
2001 ASHLAND (80) – Davis 3-4 0-0 6, Howell 4-9 5019 13, Johnson 1-1 0-0 2, Surgalski 11-18 5-6 27, Beach 9-15 4-5 22, Hendrickson 1-3 0-0 2, Cook 2-2 0-1 4, Howard 1-2 0-0 2, Salyer 0-0 2-2 2. FG: 32-54. FT: 16-24. 3FG: 0-6 (Beach 0-3, Howell 0-3). Rebounds: 28 (Davis 2, Howell 4, Johnson 3, Surgalski 10, Beach 5, Cook 2, Howard 3). Assists: 19 (Davis 3, Howell 6, Surgalski 3, Beach 5, Hendrickson 1, Cook 1). PF: 15. Turnovers: 12.
1970 ASHLAND (69) – Cooksey 4-5 4-7 12, Lynch 4-10 0-0 8, Mullins 11-16 2-3 24, Bowling 3-6 3-4 9, Addington 3-8 1-2 7, Clark 0-3 0-0 0, Whitlow 1-3 0-1 2, Hixson 3-4 1-1 7. FG: 29-55. FT: 11-17. 3FG: 2-5 (Hixson 1-2, Mullins 1-2, Clark 0-1). Rebounds 23 (Cooksey 4, Mullins 4, Bowling 5, Addington 4, Clark 2, Whitlow 1, Lynch 3). Assists: 14 (Cooksey 4, Lynch 3, Bowling 2, Addington 1, Clark 3, Whitlow 1). PF: 20. Turnovers: 14.
2001 ASHLAND 23 26 14 6 11 – 80
1970 ASHLAND 21 13 24 11 0 – 69