A shot to remember or one to forget? It’s a 1990s thriller

ASHLAND, Ky. – David “Smooth” Greene found himself with the basketball in his hands with the 1990-94 Tomcats trailing 100-99 and only seconds remaining.

There wasn’t a defender near him, but it hadn’t been the best of nights for Greene, who was 1-for-9 shooting. Nothing would go in, not even layups. A tough night.

“I kind of, well, stunk,” he said bluntly.

Greene was open by design. The 1995-99 Tomcats had surrounded Marty Thomas with the game on the line. Somebody was going to be left without a defender. Coach Wayne Breeden chose Greene.

“It wasn’t his night,” Breeden said. “Marty had killed us all night. I couldn’t give him the opportunity to put the dagger in us. It seemed like a reasonable risk.”

The ball had got into Thomas when he was suddenly blocked from going anywhere with defenders on three sides. He quickly flashed it out to Greene, who was about 15 feet away.

“I held the ball for what seemed like an hour,” Greene said.

Everything was on the line for the 90-94 Tomcats, who were facing elimination with a loss.

Thomas had done his part, breaking loose for 43 points on remarkable 17-for-24 shooting from the field. He was, in a word, unstoppable. Thomas had “promised” a Game 3, which meant a Game 2 victory. He also had 15 rebounds.

And he was about to find out if Greene was going to give him his first assist of the night.

Like the first game, this one played out tight from start to finish. There were 15 lead changes and 13 ties. The 95-99 Tomcats led by 13 points at 53-40 late in the first half and looked on the way to clinching the series. But the 90-94 Tomcats weren’t going down easily.

Coach Jeff Hall used his 2-2-1 press to get back in the game. He also devised a counter-attack to Breeden’s box-and-one on Thomas. Chris Estep was chasing Thomas again, but Hall had Rusty Gray and Stuart Smith form a two-man wall screen. Estep crashed through it on several occasions but got himself into foul trouble.

He had three fouls midway through the third quarter when he tried to break through the screens again and was called for foul. He complained to the referee who was quick on a technical foul and he was out of the game since it also counted as a personal foul.

“Rusty and Stuart gave Marty a chance to do his thing,” Hall said. “And it did it well.”

Like in the opening game of the series, the 95-99 Tomcats showed great balance with its “bigs” and some instant offense from Michael Lynch, who led them with 25 points. Kyle Umberger collected 15 points and nine rebounds, Tony Barrow scored 14, Chris Lynch 13 and Darrell Arbaugh 11.

On the other side, Nathan Kirk’s 18 points and 12 rebounds complemented the huge game from Thomas. Jason Strader had 11 points and 10 rebounds and twice picked the pocket of little brother Brian to make amends for the steal in Game 1.

“I told him I was going to get him,” Strader said. “You know what they say about paybacks.”

Rob Lynch’s shooting was way off, going 3-for-13, but he did pull down eight rebounds for the 90-94 Tomcats.

“Except for Marty and Nathan, not a great scoring night for us but our defense was much better,” Hall said.

Austin Young hit the only 3-pointer for the 90-94 Tomcats but it was a big one. It pulled them within 100-99 with 20 seconds to play. Robinson came up with the game’s biggest defensive play, taking a charge to give his team one last chance to stay alive.

Both teams called timeout to set the last-second strategy and everybody knew it had to involve Thomas.

“We were going to Marty but figured they were coming,” Hall said. “We flashed Smooth out in the corner and I told him to be ready and take the shot if you get it. A lot of guys who had a game like he’d had wouldn’t want the ball. But I looked into his eyes and they looked back at me with confidence. I was almost hoping they’d triple team Marty. OK, not really, but I felt good about Smooth shooting.”

They managed to force it inside to Thomas, but there was no way for him to shoot it and he wasn’t going to leave it to the referees for a bail-out call.

“Smooth got open, just like Coach said he would,” Thomas said.

Greene caught the pass, rolled the ball in his hands and shot the jumper like he’d done a thousand times before. It was a high-arching shot that was either going to be a perfect swish or bounce off the rim it had such trajectory….


And that was it. The 90-94 Tomcats had won 101-100 to force Game 3 just as Thomas promised after Game 1.

“I told you there was going to be a Game 3!” Thomas yelled as teammates mobbed Greene in a dog pile at the foul line. “I told you!”

You might just call the celebration a Marty Party.

1990-1994 ASHLAND (101) – Strader 4-7 3-4 11, Young 2-4 0-0 5, R.Lynch 3-13 1-2 7, Kirk 7-16 4-6 18, Thomas 17-24 9-16 43, Greene 2-10 0-0 4, Keeton 1-2 0-0 2, Gray 2-3 0-0 4, Smith 1-2 3-5 5, Robinson 1-3 0-0 2, Salyers 0-1 0-0 0. FG: 40-85. FT: 20-32. 3FG: 1-9 (Young 1-3, R.Lynch 0-1, Kirk 0-2, Salyers 0-1). Rebounds: 46 (Young 1, R.Lynch 8, Kirk 12, Thomas 15, Greene 1, Keeton 2, Gray 1, Robinson 4, Salyers 1). Assists: 22 (J.Strader 10, R.Lynch 3, Kirk 3, Thomas 1, Gray 2, Smith 2, Robinson 1). PF: 24. Turnovers: 11.

1995-99 ASHLAND (100) – Tolbert 2-6 2-2 7, Estep 2-6 0-0 5, M.Lynch 8-22 7-8 25, Umberger 6-9 3-3 15, Arbaugh 4-9 2-4 11, C.Lynch 4-7 3-4 13, Barrow 5-6 2-2 14, Cooksey 1-3 0-0 2, Stakely 1-3 0-0 3, B.Strader 1-3 0-0 2, Johnson 1-4 1-1 3. FG: 35-74. FT: 20-24. 3FG: 10-24 (Tolbert 1-4, Estep 1-3, M.ynch 2-6, Umberger 0-2, Arbaugh 1-1, C.Lynch 2-2, Barrow 2-2, Cooksey 0-1, Stakely 1-3). Rebounds: 42 (Tolbert 3, Estep 4, M.Lynch 3, Umberger 9, Arbaugh 3, C.Lynch 3, Barrow 5, Cooksey 2, Stakely 1, Strader 5, Johnson 4). Assists: 23 (Tolbert 7, Estep 2, M.Lynch 4, Umberger 2, Arbaugh 2, C.Lynch 5, Barrow 1). PF: 27. Turnovers: 10.

1990-94 ASHLAND    25         26         27         23      –          101

1995-99 ASHLAND    25         30         29         16       –         100


‘That ‘70’s Show’ starts with ejections, ends with bang

ASHLAND, Ky. – Elimination games always leave players on edge.

The 1970-74 and 1975-79 Ashland Tomcat All-Star teams, knowing the stakes were high in Game 3 of the best-of-3 series, were both determined to set the tone with a fast start.

But referee Foster “Sid” Meade did it for them when he tossed Donnie Allen and Jeff Cooksey two minutes into the game. They were scuffling under the basket after Allen had fought through two hard screens from Johnny Mullins and Dale Lynch.

Ronnie Griffith, left, was series MVP and Steve Gilmore the winning coach.

Nearly knocked off his feet by the double-punch from Mullins and Lynch, Allen fell backwards into Cooksey, who retaliated by pushing him the rest of the way to the floor.

Meade blew his whistle and gave each player an emphatic technical foul and proceeded to give them the ol heave-ho, too.

“We’re not tolerating any of this nonsense tonight,” said Meade, who made the call that 70-74 Tomcat Danny Evans’ toe was on the 3-point line in a last-second buzzer-beater the previous night.

The boos were coming down so hard that coaches Paul Patterson and Steve Gilmore had to settle their fans down.

The score was 4-4 when play was stopped but the 70-74 Tomcats scored seven in a row for an 11-4 advantage. They stretched it to 25-15 when Paul Hixson did a head fake and drove in for a basket.

The 10-point margin turned out to be decisive as the 1970-74 Tomcats defeated the 1975-79 Tomcats, 85-78.

Much like in the first game of the series, the 70-74 Tomcats built a huge lead in the first half. It swelled to 42-22 with 4:19 remaining in the half. They led 48-35 at intermission.

“Our guys were ready,” Gilmore said. “I think Sid made the right call there to settle things down even though we hated losing Jeff. He’s such a fierce rebounder and garbage man.”

David Smith took up the scoring slack with 16 points on 6-of-14 shooting. Series MVP Ronnie Griffith had 21 points, 11 rebounds and six assists in another solid game. Mullins had 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Smith, though, was the difference after being fairly quiet in the first two games.

“David isn’t afraid to shoot, that’s for sure,” Gilmore said. “When he got it going though, he became tough to defend.”

While Allen wasn’t much of an offensive threat, the 75-79 Tomcats missed him on defense. Patterson said ejecting Allen for getting banged around like a pinball was not right.

“They were targeting him and he’s the one who gets ejected,” Patterson said. “I know what Sid was trying to do, to defuse a situation before it happened, but Donnie didn’t do anything wrong. If anything he was fouled three times himself.”

It seemed to take the life out of the 75-79 Tomcats although they did get within 72-67 with 7:23 remaining in the third quarter when Dale Dummit hit from 15 feet. However, they never got any closer as Smith scored half of his 16 points the rest of the way.

Jim Harkins scored 20 points with five rebounds, Jeff Kovach collected 18 points and seven rebounds and Jimmy Mann pulled down 14 rebounds.

“When didn’t get enough offensive production from our guards,” Patterson said. “Our defense was better but still bad.”

Mark Swift scored 11 and Mark Collins added 11.

Evans, still stunned from the loss in Game 2, was only 3-for-11 shooting for four points. “I kept looking down at the floor before shooting and it got in my head,” he said. “That shot just kept coming back to me.”

Gilmore said he was looking forward to taking the 70-74 Tomcats to the quarterfinal round.

“I think these guys have a shot to win it all,” he said. “We beat a good team in this series. There aren’t many duos better than Harkins and Kovach.”

1975-79 ASHLAND (78) – Harkins 9-19 2-4 20, Kovach 7-11 4-5 18, M.Swift 3-11 5-6 11, Mann 2-2 0-0 4 4, Collins 5-9 0-0 10, Welch 0-5 1-2 1, G.Swift 1-4 3-6 5, Dummit 3-3 1-2 7, Allen 1-1 0-0 2, Smith 0-4 0-2 0. FG: 31-70. FT: 16-27. 3FG: 0-4 (Harkins 0-2, Collins 0-1, Welch 0-1). Rebounds: 45 (Harkins 4, Kovach 7, M.Swift 4, Mann 14, Collins 8, Welch 1, G.Swift 2, Dummit 2, Allen 1). Assists: 13 (G.Swift 5, Kovach 2, M.Swift 1, Mann 1, Collins 1, Welch 2, Dummit 1). PF: 21. Turnovers: 24.

1970-74 ASHLAND (85) – Farrow 2-8 1-2 5, Evans 2-11 0-0 4, Smith 6-14 4-5 16, Griffith 9-20 3-5 21, Mullins 5-10 2-3 12, Lynch 4-6 0-0 8, Dodd 2-7 3-6 7, Cooksey 2-2 0-0 4, Williams 1-4 0-0 2, Hixson 3-4 0-0 6. FG: 36-86. FT: 13-21. 3FG: 0-3 (Evans 0-1, Smith 0-1, Lynch 0-1). Rebounds: 43 (Evans 4, Smith 4, Griffith 11, Mullins 10, Lynch 5, Dodd 3, Williams 5, Hixson 1). Assists: 21 (Farrow 4, Evans 2, Smith 1, Griffith 5, Mullins 3, Lynch 3, Dodd 4). PF: 19. Turnovers: 17.

1975-79 ASHLAND 15       20       21       22            –           78

1970-74 ASHLAND 25       23       19       18            –           85


Tomcats best days and Halley’s Comet

Tomcats soak up the moment with another regional title.

Embrace what just happened with Ashland’s basketball team because 33-0 is a Halley’s Comet moment. Take a lot of photos. Remember them. Maybe get an autograph.

How did Ashland’s remarkable team make it through to the Sweet Sixteen without a single blemish?

These players are as rare as their record, good boys who make the Ashland community – and their parents – proud. They all must have had “plays well together” on their elementary school report cards because that’s a trait that runs through them. I’ve never seen a better passing team.

They spent many Saturday mornings throughout the season not sleeping until noon but working with children who have disabilities. They are good students, leaders in the school, role models.

They like each other and they like to win more than anything.

Justin Bradley scrambles for a loose ball.

Most of them have been doing that together for a long time. Kimberly Phillips, the team photographer, shared a Facebook memory on Tuesday from seven years ago when the Ashland Wildcards were playing together in a tournament.

They have a history together, a background and are well-grounded when it comes to spiritual matters because good people of Ashland have been put in their path. I personally love that spiritual angle about them. It goes back to their parents and the inspirational coaches who had a part in making them great players and even better people.

“They were given an opportunity to play a game they all love and enjoy and were taught that if you put your faith in God … anything can be accomplished,” Phillips wrote in the 2013 post.

How fitting that it popped up on the day these Tomcats made more history and kept making a community button-popping proud. They’ve been the good story in Ashland among a lot of sad ones.

Jason Mays is 6-0 in two regional tournaments.

Ashland blistered Lewis County 84-60 in the 16th Region championship with a clinic of a shooting display that set a record for 3-pointers. They were splashing them in all around Ellis T. Johnson Arena. The score could have been much worse, maybe double that margin, but that’s not how Jason Mays coaches. He’s class too and Ashland is lucky to have him.

It has been a season of incredible performances from these Tomcats who are sure to be remembered forever. They have the potential to be remembered not only in Ashland, which is already secured, but in state lore as well. The last undefeated team in state tournament history was when Brewers went 36-0 in 1948.

The Tomcats are the eighth team to enter the state tournament undefeated since Brewers became only the third team to win it all with an unblemished record.

Fans may well get behind Ashland when they play Elizabethtown in Rupp Arena to try and extend that undefeated streak and, if they shoot like they did in the regional tournament, anything is possible. It would be a mistake to count them out.

We’ve been witness to something special with this team and losing doesn’t seem to be an option, even if a 60-foot heave at the end of the game is needed.

Enjoy the moment because Halley’s Comets only come around about every 70-75 years.

Let’s see, Brewers undefeated championship season was, uh, 72 years ago?


A title rematch 67 years in the making?

The 1952-53 Ashland Tomcats defeated Vanceburg for the 16th Region title. Front row: Coach George Conley, Chris Kitchen, Darrye Kouns, Mike Jones, Bill Gray, Bill Jenkins and Melvin Kouns (manager). Back row: Jerry Henderson, Earl Adkins, Bob Emrick, Lee Marshall, John Woods and Jim Bailey.

Lewis County will be playing for the 16th Region championship for the second time in school history against undefeated Ashland.

But, really, it’s the third time and the second one against the Tomcats.

Back in 1953, when Lewis County High School was called Vanceburg High School, they met the mighty No. 1 ranked Ashland Tomcats in the championship game.

It didn’t go well for Vanceburg as the Tomcats proceeded to record a 112-49 victory that is the most points ever scored in a regional championship game and most lopsided win in the final game.

A lot of teams lost to those Tomcats, who went to the State Tournament with a sparkling 28-3 record and designs on bringing the state championship back to Ashland. Paducah had other ideas, slowing the game down and stunning the Tomcats 46-44 in the first round at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington.

Nobody saw that one coming but that’s the beauty of the Sweet Sixteen.

Nobody ever knows for sure.

The Tomcats were led by their demanding coach, George Conley, who made sure he got every ounce of effort out of every player. It was a well-conditioned and extremely talented team. He’d assembled a roster the likes of which Ashland hadn’t seen in a long time. There was talent at every starting position and scoring power off the bench too.

They were even strong at manager – Jim Host filled that role and he was one of the best athletes in the school. Host, a baseball star pitcher for the Tomcats who signed a professional minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox, made his own way in life as one of the top sports communication executives ever in the field.

Host loves his Kentucky home here in Ashland and has often said the 1953 team was the best in Tomcat history – and makes no apologies about it. Others argue the undefeated 1928 state and national champions and the 1961 champions trump ’53 because of how those seasons finished.

Maybe those are arguments for another day and maybe this undefeated Tomcat team gets put in the conversation by the end of next week if they run the table.

Unlikely you say? How likely was 32-0?

This much is true. Ashland’s 1953 team is regarded as one of the most talented in school history with the likes of Earl “Brother” Adkins, who led the All-State voting and considered the Mr. Basketball of his day. He is one of the most decorated players in Tomcat history – playing in the Kentucky-West Virginia, North-South and Kentucky-Indiana all-star games once the season finished – and Adolph Rupp put him on his must-have list. He went to UK but was in Rupp’s doghouse because Brother brought his wife with him. The Baron wanted his players married to basketball.

Brother scored 35 against Vanceburg in that championship game. But there was more, much more. Bob Emrick and Jerry Henderson, Billy Ray “Squirt” Jennings, Lee Marshall, Bill Gray and John Woods were part of a team that didn’t lack for star power.

Ashland’s other losses that season came to Louisville Flaget 59-58 in the finals of the Louisville Invitational Tournament – the preeminent tournament of the day, and surprising home losses to Inez 77-71 and Hindman 57-54.

Back in the 1950s, the Tomcats, Clark County and Olive Hill were the usual suspects when it came to being 16th Region powerhouses and top contenders. The Tomcats had to dispatch 10th-ranked Clark County 51-45 in overtime during the opening round of the regional tournament on the Cardinals home floor in Winchester. Then they clobbered Olive Hill 74-47 in the semifinals before dismantling Vanceburg in the championship.

It was no mercy and no running clock as Ashland flexed its considerable muscle, defeating Vanceburg and then cutting down the nets on rival Clark County’s court, which had to be satisfying. The Cardinals were ranked No. 1 the previous season and edged the Tomcats 59-58 in the regional championship game played at the Ashland Armory. So revenge was in mind during that semifinal matchup.

The Vanceburg-Ashland game had another twist. The coach for Vanceburg that season was Bob Wright, who eight years later would guide the Tomcats to the ’61 state championship and a 36-1 season.

Brother Adkins played for Kentucky and Emrick and Henderson went to Florida.

Vanceburg was part of the 16th Region between 1943 and 1959 before being moved to the 10th Region. Vanceburg became Lewis County in 1962 and moved back to the 16th Region in 1972.

So the Lewis County-Ashland matchup for the regional championship has a little more history and a few links to it than some may have realized.