Tradition-rich Tomcats shooting for 50th victory in Sweet Sixteen

No surprises in the opening round of the Sweet Sixteen on Wednesday.

Bowling Green, Elizabethtown, Ballard and Clark County advanced to the quarterfinals. There were some impressive performances from a powerhouse upper bracket.

Ashland plays Knox Central Thursday night at 8 in its opening game. The Tomcats, dripping with basketball tradition, will be going for their 50th Sweet Sixteen victory – already more than anybody else in the state. This is Ashland’s 35th appearance in the Sweet Sixteen, second only to Owensboro’s 40 appearances.

Knox Central is a 3-point favorite over the Tomcats in Dave Cantrall’s Rating the State. Knox, like Ashland, has won three regional championships in a row.

Three may be a key word in this one.

Double-ring ceremony?

Ashland is one of four schools who won football championships playing in the Sweet Sixteen. Bowling Green, Boyle County and Paintsville are the others.

Hunter Gillum could become the first Tomcat since 1934 to play for a football and basketball state champion. Eleven players currently have that distinction in Ashland history. Those players were members of the 1928 (basketball) and 1928 (football) teams and the 1934 (basketball) and 1934 (football) teams. So it has been 87 years …

The football championships were “claimed” titles with undefeated seasons. Kentucky didn’t start football playoffs until 1959.

The journey for Hunter Gillum to become the 12th member of that elite club starts with defeating Knox Central.

Tomcat-Knox Central connection

Former Ashland Tomcat coaching great Harold Cole, who took four teams to the Sweet Sixteen, finished his coaching career at Knox Central. Cole died in April 2019 at the age of 87.

Ashland has a 3-1 all-time record against Knox Central.

How to watch the game                                                          

To watch the game Thursday go to nfhs.com. Cost is $10.99 for a one-month subscription. That will allow you to watch the entire boys and girls state tournaments. But don’t forget to cancel or you will be charged $10.99 in future months.

No. 21 for Tomcat ‘Voice’

Thursday’s broadcast by Dicky Martin on WBVB 97.1-FM will be the 21st TOMCAT game in the Sweet Sixteen that he has called. He has some great memories with semifinal team in 1977, Jeff Tipton’s 41-point game in 1980 quarterfinals, and the 1996 run to the finals among the highlights.

Triple-play

Three regional championships in succession is rare even for the Tomcats, who accomplished the feat for the first time since winning five in a row from 1976-1980 under Paul Patterson (four) and Ernie Simpson.

Other years of at least three in a row: 1969-1971 (Harold Cole), 1960-62 (Bob Wright), 1931-34 (Jim Anderson and Paul Jenkins), and 1924-29 (Jim Anderson). The six in a row is the longest in their storied history.

A prediction …

Swami says Tomcats will prevail 68-63 in the Sweet Sixteen opener.

Wednesday scores

Elizabethtown 87, Knott County Central 59

Bowling Green 85, University Heights 57

Ballard 70, Madison Central 61

Clark County 54, Oldham County 47

Thursday games

11 a.m., Muhlenberg County vs. Highlands

2 p.m.: Bullitt East vs. McCracken County

5 p.m.: Boyle County vs. Paintsville

8 p.m.: Knox Central vs. Ashland

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