FLEMINGSBURG — It’s not often Bluegrass United gets to play against KHSAA opponents.
So when Fleming County had to cancel their game earlier in the season against Bourbon County, the Bluehwaks came calling.
“This is the nicest gym they’ve played in this season, the kids were excited to play this one,” Bluehawks coach Gavin Duerson said.
Bluegrass United, a Lexington based homeschool team, got the clearance to play KHSAA teams this season and left Flemingsburg with a 67-59 victory, just their third win against a KHSAA opponent this season.
“We don’t really have a home gym to invite teams to come play. So we’re just saying yes to anyone that invites us. This has been a really good thing for us,” Duerson added.
The Bluehawks set the tone early against a Fleming County team that looked lethargic from the beginning, coming off a two-week swoon in which they lost five straight in holiday invitational tournaments at Rowan County and Gulf Breeze, Florida.
“The way that we played in Florida was definitely not the team that came back to Kentucky and played tonight. I don’t know if it was them thinking we’re playing a homeschool. Even though we lost, we played really well in Florida,” Panthers coach Chris Stapleton said. “We’re not a team where we can pick and choose of when to play hard. We’re a team where all five guys on the court have to work as a cohesive unit for us to be successful. But tonight we just got outworked in all aspects of the game.”
Bluegrass United built a 20-7 first quarter lead that got to as big as 31-13 before taking a 31-15 lead into halftime. The Panthers shooting 7-for-26 in the half and looking stagnant versus the lengthy Bluehawks zone.
“They played a 3-2 zone, we haven’t seen a zone since the Bath County game. I’ll take the blame for not having us prepared against a zone, but I thought we did a lot of standing around and not moving the basketball and letting them dictate the pace of the game and what they wanted to do in the halfcourt defensively,” Stapleton said. “We’re going to see zone, if anyone watches that film, they’re going to zone the crap out of us. We’ve got to get better at that, which we will.”
The Bluehawks continued to have things in control until a 10-0 Panthers run got them within 41-34 in the closing minutes of the third, mainly by forcing seven turnovers.
But Tyler Bradley came up big in the second half, scoring 13 third quarter points and helping give the Bluehawks a 49-37 lead into the fourth.
The lead remained in double-digits until a Kaleb Flanery 3-pointer got the Panthers within eight at 57-49 with 3:08 remaining, but the Bluehawks would remain poised from there, hitting 6-of-8 free throws down the stretch to close out the win, improving to 12-6 on the year when including other homeschool opponents in the conference they play in, the Ohio River Homeschool Conference, seven of the teams being in Kentucky, two in Indiana .
“We’ve been around as a program for 15 years. We don’t have a bus so these parents have to take these kids to games. A city like Lexington we’re able to gather enough to put together a team. We’re grateful for the opportunity,” Duerson said.
The Bluehawks had also knocked off Frankfort Christian and St. Patrick in KHSAA competition this season.
“This is the first year they’ve allowed us to play public schools. We struggle because we only get to practice like three times a week. We played together better tonight than we have all year,” Duerson said.
The Bluehawks had also played Berea, West Jessamine and Model, all losses.
Bluegrass United was led by Bradley’s 26-point, nine-rebound effort, followed by Dodge Hammond with 13 points. Ben McElfresh and Reece Mateyoke each tossed in nine as they return to action on Saturday at Asbury against Berea.
The Panthers have now dropped six straight after a 6-1 start to the season, currently sitting at 7-8.
“We’ve lost six streak. I hate losing more than I like winning. I know it’s cliche, but just the way I was built and the way that I am. I think these kids are starting to see where losing sucks and we want to get back to winning. The first quarter my assistant coaches were wanting to call a timeout and I wanted to see if we can handle the adversity. We’re not always going to have timeouts to use them, we’re not always going to be on the right side of the adversity. We’ve got to see if our kids are going to fight and keep playing hard. I’ll take the blame for that,” Stapleton said. “Coaches get the blame no matter if you win or lose, obviously the first quarter was not good for us, we’ve got to get better from start to finish.”
Cole Saunders led the way for Fleming with 20 points while Flanery added 14. Freshman Larkin McKee brought in nine points off the bench. The Panthers have a chance to erase this one quickly as they travel to Williamstown on Saturday to take on the Demons at 4 p.m.
BLUEHAWKS 67, PANTHERS 58
Bluegrass (67) — Bradley 26, Hammond 13, Mateyoke 9, McElfresh 9, Farley 8, Davenport 2
Fleming (58) — Saunders 20, Flanery 14, McKee 9, Christiansen 7, Lutz 4, Johnson 2, Hord 2
Field Goals: Bluegrass 27/48, Fleming 25/57
3-Pointers: Bluegrass 1/14, Fleming 4/15
Free Throws: Bluegrass 12/15, Fleming 4/9
Rebounds: Bluegrass 34 (Bradley 9), Fleming 26 (McKee 5)
Assists: Bluegrass 7 (McElfresh 3), 14 (Saunders 4)
Turnovers: Bluegrass 18, Fleming 13
Records: Bluegrass United 12-6, Fleming County 8-7