ASHLAND, Ky. – The well-rested 1960-64 Ashland Tomcat All-Stars threw an early haymaker at the 1970-74 Cats in the semifinals of the Tomcat Shootout simulation tournament Wednesday night.
They hit them right between the eyes by scoring 34 points in the opening quarter. Larry Conley scored a dozen himself and the 60-64 Cats led by 20 points with 1:23 to play in the first quarter.
It was a knockdown, but not a knockout.
The 70-74 Tomcats, displaying the grit that brought them to victories over the 75-79 Tomcats and the 90-94 Tomcats just to reach the semifinals, got up off the deck and began fighting back.
They played dead even in the second quarter but still trailed by 16 at intermission. The 70-74 Cats had cut the deficit under double figures once at 39-30 when Dwayne Farrow drilled a 15-footer but the lead grew back to 16.
“We were on the verge of getting blown out of this old gym,” said 70-74 Tomcats coach Steve Gilmore. “When they made it 32-12, I was worried. But we got it together a little bit, outscored them 6-2 the rest of the quarter, and kind of righted the ship. Looking in their eyes after a timeout when they went up 20, I saw the fire still burning.”
They began chipping away but it was tough against Larry and the Legends, the tournament favorite. Their balanced attack was hard to beat. Conley cooled off but still ended up just shy of a triple-double with 27 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.
“Larry is the best, there’s no two ways about it,” Gilmore said. “But Ronnie (Griffith) did a good job on him after they stunned us early. We had a hard time finding him on the box out. He killed us on the offensive boards.”
Johnny Mullins was taxed with slowing down Harold Sergent and he limited him to 11 points. He got up in Sergent enough to frustrate the ’61 great guard.
“Mullins is tough,” Sergent said. “Tough as I’ve seen.”
When the second half started, something changed. The 70-74 Tomcats showed a new life and some of the toughness that had carried them in the first two series. They also regained some confidence.
“They wouldn’t go away,” said 60-64 Tomcat coach Bob Wright. “We were a couple of buckets from putting them away in that first quarter and then we gave them some breathing room with a lazy second quarter.”
Halfway through the third quarter the 70-74 Tomcats had pulled within 69-64 when Chuck Williams scored on a putback. Conley came back and was fouled, making one of two free throws, to bring the score to 70-64. That would be the biggest lead for either team the rest of the game, matched again at 78-72 on Parkie Beam’s driving layup with 10:54 to play in the fourth quarter (remember, we play 12-minute quarters).
The 70-74 Tomcats were matching the 60-64 Tomcats basket for basket and it was going to be a photo-finish. Griffith finished with a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds and Mullins scored 15. Dale Lynch had 12 points and four assists and Williams, Steve Dodd and Danny Evans added 10 points apiece.
“That’s how we’ve advanced in this tournament,” Gilmore said. “We have toughness, defense and balance.”
Farrow made two free throws to complete a 7-1 run that tied the game at 79 with 8:01 remaining and David Smith followed with a long jumper that put the 70-74 Tomcats in front 81-79. It was their first lead since early in the first quarter.
The fans at the old Ashland High School gym started getting nervous about that time. The roof was about to blow off the place with the screaming 70s fans going absolutely bonkers.
Wright was coming unhinged on the bench. He called a timeout and got into the faces of the 60-64 Tomcats, holding nothing back. Parents sitting behind the bench held their hands over the ears of their children. This was no longer a PG-rated event.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Coach so mad,” Conley said. “I thought we were going to start running these steps right then. He challenged us, told us to wake up and a lot worse. I’m sure everybody in the gym could hear him.”
The battle was on. When the 60-64 Tomcats broke the huddle, they immediately turned the ball over on the baseline. They complained that one of the cheerleaders from the 70-74 team had stepped onto the floor and tripped Steve Cram (accidentally) during a cheer. Wright came storming off the bench to complain but was quickly grabbed by Conley, who pulled him back to the bench as the referees gave them an icy stare.
“He was so hot, I’m not sure what was going to happen,” Conley said. “I knew we didn’t want a technical foul there. It was going to be tough enough.
Meanwhile, from the Ashland stands, out came Cathy Goble to defend her cheerleaders and she may have been screaming louder than Wright, and about as much PG-13. “Stay away from my girls!” she screamed. There was a lot of confusion but, when order was restored, they gave the ball to the 70-74 Tomcats who rushed it down the floor, missed a rushed jumper, but Jeff Cooksey was there for the garbage basket to make it 83-79.
Cooksey, the ultimate garbage man, had eight points and 12 rebounds. “He is always around the ball, always scrapping,” said Evans.
The 60-64 Tomcats began to recover behind Gene Smith, who ignited an 8-2 run that put them ahead 87-85 before Williams tied it on an offensive rebound.
“We gave up way too many offensive rebounds,” Wright said afterward. “My teams don’t do that.”
Conley drove down the middle and finger-rolled in a basket to put the 60-64 Tomcats ahead 89-87 and then the lead grew to 97-93 with a pair of Conley free throws with 29 seconds remaining. Griffith was fouled on a drive, making an acrobatic shot and then sank the free throw to bring it to 97-96 with 17 seconds to play.
Lynch went for a steal against Ditto Sparks and fouled him. Sparks made two free throws at the 14-second mark to bring the lead to 99-96.
Gilmore called timeout and set up a play to free either Evans or Griffith for a 3-point shot that could have forced overtime. The 60-64 Tomcats were ready with Conley smothering Griffith and Sergent switched to Evans. The ball ended up in Mullins’ hands and he took two dribbles back to get behind the 3-point line, looked down to make sure his feet were OK, and fired it up. It was on target but rattled around the rim three times before kicking out and Sparks rebounded. He was immediately fouled with four seconds to play.
Sparks, who finished with 16 points, made both free throws to set the final score at 101-96.
“Shew! That was a battle,” Wright said. “Our guys showed some toughness. They responded to a good ‘ol butt-chewing. I apologized to those parents who were sitting behind the bench. I went out of my mind after that poor playing.”
The 60-64 Tomcats showed balance with Steve Cram scoring 18, Gene Smith 12 points and 14 rebounds, and Conley’s 27 points.
“I tell you what,” Conley said, “those 70s guys can play. They never gave up.”
1970-74 TOMCATS (96) – Lynch 4-12 2-2 12, Mullins 7-19 1-1 15, Williams 4-10 2-2 10, Cooksey 4-8 0-0 8, Griffith 6-10 6-7 18, Dodd 4-5 2-2 10, Farrow 1-3 2-2 4, Evans 4-7 2-3 10, Smith 1-4 0-1 2, Hixson 3-7 1-4 7. FG: 38-85. FT: 18-24. 3FG: 2-8 (Lynch 2-5, Mullins 0-3). Rebounds: 51 (Lynch 4, Mullins 4, Williams 5, Cooksey 12, Griffith 10, Dodd 8, Farrow 2, Evans 1, Smith 4, Hixson 1). Assists: 22 (Lynch 4, Mullins 2, Williams 3, Cooksey 4, Griffith 3, Farrow 4, Hixson 1, Smith 1). PF: 26. Turnovers: 24.
1960-64 TOMCATS (101) – Sergent 3-8 5-6 11, Sparks 5-17 5-6 16, Cram 9-21 0-0 18, Conley 10-16 7-9 27, Smith 4-8 4=8 12, Beam 1-3 2-2 4, Hilton 2-4 0-0 4, Sexton 2-6 1-2 5, McKenzie 1-1 0-0 2, Wright 1-2 0-0 2. FG: 38-85. FT: 24-33. 3FG: 1-8 (Sergent0-2, Sparks 1-4, Cram 0-2). Rebounds: 49 (Sergent 5, Sparks 2, Cram 7, Conley 10, Smith 14, Beam 2, Hilton 7, Sexton 1, Wright 1). Assists: 18 (Sergent 2, Sparks 2, Cram 2, Conley 9, Smith 1, Hilton 1, Sexton 1). PF: 27. Turnovers: 19.
1970-74 TOMCATS 18 21 31 26 – 96
1960-64 TOMCATS 34 21 19 27 – 101