ASHLAND, Ky. – It was back to the Ashland High School gym for the deciding game between the 1950-54 and 1955-59 Ashland Tomcat All-Stars.
The teams had split two previous games in the best-of-3 series and the winner will advance in the Tomcat Shootout featuring the best of the best Tomcats from the 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s.
The game was supposed to be at the Ashland Armory again, but 1950-54s coach George Conley balked at the venue. He said George Carroll had an unfair advantage playing in the gym with the fan-shaped backboards.
“That boy must sneak in there and play all the time,” Conley said after Carroll scorched his team for 37 points in a Game 2 victory. “No way we’re playing that game where he has such an advantage. We’re moving it back to the high school.”
They agreed to the switch but it seemed as if the 1955-59 Tomcats, who were decided underdogs when the series began, had at least gotten in the heads of the 1950-54 Tomcats.
Earl “Brother” Adkins, one of the stars on the 1950-54 team, wasn’t completely healthy after spraining his ankle in the Game 2 loss. But he was going to play.
“We weren’t sure we could play with them when this series started,” said Larry Castle, who is the second-leading scorer for the 55-59 All-Stars. “Now we know we can.”
It was bold talk.
The game was all the buzz in Ashland with a big buildup. The lines were long at the ticket booth even before the teams arrived for a pre-game shootaround. Nobody had seen this kind of crowd in years. The radio talk shows couldn’t get enough of it either. Dick Martin, who had called the first two games, said the third game would be epic and “I like those young kids from 1955-59.”
That statement started a fight in the barber shot on Greenup Avenue.
“They shouldn’t have won that second game,” one fan said.
“That’s bullcrap, what do you mean? Carroll lit them up,” came the answer.
After some pushing and shoving, they rolled out the door and into the street before it was broken up. Emotions were running high, to say the least.
Both coaches said the team that plays the best defense will come out on top.
“I’ve never had a team give up 100 points and we’ve done it twice in a row now,” said an agitated Conley. “I know we’re playing more minutes but giving up 100 points is something that I’ll ever get used to happening. And its not happening tonight.”
This was different with both teams loaded with great shooters. The 1950s era championship was going to be decided most likely with offense.
For the first time in the series, the 1955-59 Tomcats were the aggressors, jumping ahead 22-21 in the first quarter and 49-41 at the half. The lead was 13 points at one time with Castle’s 15 points leading the surge before intermission.
“We had a lot different feeling going in ahead at halftime,” said 55-59 coach Bob Lavoy. “We may have started celebrating a little too soon.”
The message on the other side of the court was loud and with some fury as the fiery Conley let his players have it for the first 10 minutes. He did settle down and made some changes that worked almost immediately.
Adkins was struggling on the bad ankle, but he remained in the game. He gutted out a 22-point performance, practically playing on one foot, but was only 8-for-23 shooting. He also committed an uncharacteristic seven turnovers.
The third quarter was dominated by Jerry Henderson and Bob Emrick. They not only erased the eight-point deficit but went ahead 54-53 on Bill Gray’s 18-footer from the corner. Henderson and Darryle Kouns seemed to bring down every rebound in sight. Henderson’s two free throws pushed the lead to 58-54 with five minutes to play in the third quarter and took momentum into the last quarter with a 70-64 lead.
“We needed something to happen for us,” Lavoy said. “And then it did.”
The 1955-59 Tomcats had been outscored 29-15 with nobody able to find the range in the third quarter. Carroll’s shots weren’t falling and Castle was off the mark too. Humphreys’ shooting and Dale Griffith’s rebounding kept it close.
They were still trailing 72-68 when Adkins drove to the basket and collided with Griffith, who was standing his ground. The officials called a charge and Conley went into a rage. He ran onto the floor contesting the call and was given a technical foul. Conley returned to the bench, still angry, and then turned around, going after the referee again. The second technical foul meant he was tossed from the game with the help of a police escort.
Conley was able to give some quick instructions to his manager, Jim Host, who had to take over the coaching duties. Host was no ordinary manager. He was more like an assistant coach who knew the game well. The 1950-54 Tomcats huddled around him and his instructions were clear: “We’re going to win this for Coach Conley,” Host said. “He fought for you guys now it’s time to fight for him.”
When the game resumed, though, momentum had clearly shifted.
It took another three minutes, but the 1955-59 Tomcats regained the lead when Humphreys banked in a 12-footer for a 79-78 lead. Humphreys played a key role with 18 points. Bill Kazee followed that basket with a steal and breakaway layup for an 81-78 advantage.
The 1950-54 Tomcats had another empty possession and Castle came down and scored on a slick drive to the basket and, just like that, the margin had swelled to 83-78.
“When we got the lead to five, we started feeling like this could really happen,” Castle said. “But we knew they were coming after us.”
Playing with urgency and some good bench strategy from Host, who employed a 1-3-1 press, they pulled within 85-84 on John Eggleston’s score from 5 feet. The 1950-54 Tomcats had three chances to regain the lead, but Emrick had a jumper spin out, and two point-blank putbacks fell off the rim, too.
Adkins scored on a 15-footer to get them within 87-86 but Carroll was fouled on a 3-pointer and made all three attempts for a 90-86 lead with only 22 seconds remaining. Gray scored from outside to make it 90-88, but Carroll hit another free throw and the 1950-54 Tomcats missed a pressured 20-footer at the buzzer.
The improbable had happened. The 1955-59 Tomcats had won the game 91-88 in a shocking upset that clinched the series.
“I can’t believe it,” said Carroll, who scored 25 but was only 8-for-19 shooting. Castle scored 24 and Griffith pulled down 10 rebounds. David Patton had four points and six rebounds in a key reserve role.
“I’m so proud of these guys,” Lavoy said. “Nobody gave them much of a chance against these guys and maybe for good reason. We were fortunate. Defense won this game. These guys played their (butts) off in all three games.”
Adkins scored 22 with seven assists to lead five in double figures. Gray scored 17, Emrick 14 and Henderson and Darryle Kouns 12 apiece. Henderson and Kouns also collected a combined 38 rebounds – 20 for Henderson and 18 for Kouns.
However, the 1950-54 Tomcats were forced into 27 turnovers and shot only 38 percent from the field.
“It wasn’t our best effort,” Adkins said, his ankle wrapped in ice. “Those 55-59 guys came at us hard. This was the toughest game of the three as far as being physical. We wish them the best.”
Castle said Adkins wasn’t himself because of the sprained ankle. “He didn’t have that extra gear, like he normally does, because of the ankle. That was a break for us.”
Host was given kudos from both teams for filling when Conley was thrown out.
“I tell you what,” Humphreys said, “when he had them go to that 1-3-1 trap it really bothered us. That was a good move that almost won it for them. They didn’t lose because Coach Conley got tossed.”
Conley agreed, giving the 55-59 Tomcats their due. “What a great team,” he said. “Castle and Carroll can shoot with anybody. They can win this thing.”
Carroll was named the Most Outstanding Player. The 1955-59 Tomcats advance to the quarterfinal round of the Tomcat Shootout.
1955-59 ASHLAND (91) – Humphreys 8-17 1-1 18, Kazee 4-8 0-0 8, Castle 10-18 3-4 24, Griffith 3-7 0-0 6, Carroll 8-19 9-12 25, Meeks 0-2 2-2 2, Wright 0-3 2-2 2, Church 0-1 0-0 0, Campbell 0-2 0-0 0, Patton 2-2 2-3 4. FG: 35-80. FT: 19-24. 3FG: 2-7 (Castle 1-5, Humphrey 1-1, Carroll 0-1). Rebounds: 38 (Humphreys 3, Kazee 1, Castle 7, Griffith 10, Carroll 4, Meeks 2, Wright 1, Patton 6). Assists: 18 (Humphreys 3, Kazee 3, Castle 2, Griffith 2, Carroll 4, Meeks 1, Wright 2, Campbell 1). PF: 22. Turnovers: 22.
1950-54 ASHLAND (88) – Adkins 8-23 4-6 22, Gray 7-16 1-1 17, Emrick 5-17 3-4 14, Henderson 4-12 4-6 12, Kouns 6-10 0-4 12, Lowe 0-1 0-0 0, Rice 1-2 0-0 3, Jennings 2-7 0-0 4, Eggleston 1-2 0-0 2, Jones 1-2 0-0 2. FG: 35-92. FT: 12-21. 3FG: 6-18 (Adkins 2-7, Gray 2-4, Emrick 1-4, Rice 1-1). Rebounds: 61 (Adkins 6, Gray 4, Emrick 6, Henderson 20, Kouns 18, Lowe 1, Rice 1, Jennings 3, Eggleston 2). Assists: 16 (Adkins 7, Gray 2, Emrick 2, Henderson 1, Kouns 1, Jennings 2, Eggleston 1).
1955-59 ASHLAND 22 27 15 27 – 91
1950-54 ASHLAND 21 20 29 18 – 88