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All “A” Classic semifinals set for Friday in Richmond; St. Henry boys seek to repeat as tourney champions

By Chad Hensley
NKyTribune contributor

Four boys and four girls teams are making their way to Richmond for the All “A” Classic semifinals and the right to be considered the small school state champions in the Bluegrass State.

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association only sponsors one state championship, and many see the All “A” Classic as a means for smaller schools to have a better chance at showing their talents on a statewide basis.

This season, however, there are two teams that have a chance to pull off the double title win by taking home the All “A” Classic and KHSAA titles.

St. Henry senior guard Wyatt Vieth goes to the basket against NewCath earlier this season. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

The St. Henry boys team and the Bardstown Bethlehem girls team are the defending champions in the All “A” Classic and are among the contenders to make it to Rupp Arena for the KHSAA title.

St. Henry (13-2) already has a signature win under its belt this season when the Crusaders took down Covington Catholic, which is the three-time defending 9th Region champion, 61-60 on Feb. 23. Wyatt Vieth collected a double-double with 25 points and 10 rebounds in the win for the Crusaders.

Since Jan. 30, Bethlehem has played one of the toughest schedules in the state on the girls basketball side. The Banshees may only be 8-4 during that time, but those four loses are by seven points or fewer and to teams that are region and state contenders including crosstown rival Bardstown.

Below is a preview of each of the four games to be played Friday at Eastern Kentucky University’s McBrayer Arena with start times and information about each team. The finals are set for Saturday morning with the girls starting at 9 a.m. and the boys at 11:30 a.m.

Girls Semifinals

Crittenden County (13-3) vs. Bethlehem (18-4) at Noon
The Crittenden County Lady Rockets punched their ticket to Richmond with a 58-48 victory over Hancock County for the program’s first time in the All “A” Classic semifinals in seven trips to the tournament.

Head coach Stephanie Hodge’s team is lead by sophomore guard Taylor Guess, who eclipsed the 1,000-point club earlier this season. Guess is averaging 18.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per contest.

Bethlehem won last season’s All “A” Classic title with a 51-47 victory of Walton-Verona and finished the season with a 31-4 record. The Banshees are back in the semifinals after dismantling Whitefield Academy 72-25 on Feb. 28.

Bethlehem has six players averaging at least 6.9 points per game and are led by Ella Thompson and Amelia Hodges, who are the only two seniors on the team. Thompson has amassed an average of 18.5 points and 9.9 rebounds while Hodges has added 15.3 points per game.

Walton-Verona (14-6) vs. Berea (9-7) at 2:30 p.m.
Walton-Verona punched its ticket to the All “A” semifinals with a 62-32 throttling of West Carter on Feb. 28 and will be looking to win their first title since 2012.

Haylee Neeley averages 12.2 points per game this season for Walton-Verona. (Photo by Carla Martin)

The Bearcats only have one player in double figures in the scoring column in Haylee Neeley’s 12.2 points per game, but what they may be lacking in scoring has been made up with a strong defensive effort allowing their opponents just 45.9 points per game.

Berea will make the short jaunt to Richmond for the semifinals after having defeated Owsley County 63-52 on Tuesday. The matchup against Walton-Verona will mark the Lady Pirates’ first semifinal appearance.

The Lady Pirates are led by a trio of juniors that are averaging double digits. Madison Howell (15.5 ppg) leads the way in scoring and is followed closely by Alexis Newman (10.4 ppg) and Mati Stepp (10.1 ppg)

Boys Semifinals

Clinton County (17-2) vs. Evangel Christian (7-9) at 5 p.m.
Only one All “A” Classic winner in the boys field has come from the 4th Region when Glasgow won the title in 2001, but Clinton County will be looking to end that streak. The Bulldogs are in the semifinals for the first time after downing Murray 70-56 in overtime on Feb. 27.

Head coach Todd Messer’s Bulldogs are led in scoring by Nick Delk’s 17.2 points per contest. Chase Stines (11.1 ppg) and Nick Brown (11 ppg) are also averaging double figures.

Evangel Christian is back in the All “A” Classic for the first time since 1996 and had never won a game in the tournament before defeating Kentucky Country Day 68-63 in overtime in the opening round and then surprising Somerset 59-57 in the quarterfinals.

The Eagles are led by Dawson Black’s 19.5 points per game. Cyr Malonga, a 6-foot-11 sophomore and native of the Republic of the Congo, has added 14 points per game in three games after recently becoming eligible to play this season.

St. Henry (13-2) vs. Lexington Christian (11-8) at 7:30 p.m.
Head coach Dave Faust’s St. Henry Crusaders are looking to take the school’s third All “A” title back to Elsmere. The Crusaders first won the small-school tournament in 2003 and then again last season.

Vieth, a Thomas More University commit, leads the senior-dominated team in scoring (20 ppg) for the fourth consecutive season as well as rebounds (6.1 rpg). Vieth has totaled more than 1,700 points in his career.

Jude Bessler has chipped in 14.4 points per contest and broke into the 1,000-point club earlier this season.

Lexington Christian plays in not only one of the toughest regions in the state, but arguably the best district alongside Lexington Catholic, Lafayette, Tates Creek and Dunbar. The Eagles may have never made it to the KHSAA Sweet 16, but they have had a stranglehold on the 11th Region in All “A” action.

LCA defeated Sayre 54-36 on Jan. 16 for the program’s 16th trip to the tournament in 18 seasons. The Eagles are led in scoring by Tanner Walton, a junior guard, with 20.4 points per game, including a 19-point performance in the team’s 53-42 quarterfinal victory over Pikeville on Tuesday.

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