It was an unusual sports season to say the least.
This weekend, with the Baseball and State Softball Tournaments coming to an end, marked the end of an unusual sports season.
COVID-19 flipped everything upside down and it took a while before the sports world started to look the same, but by the end of basketball season, it was starting to get back to being somewhat normal.
After the uncertainty of COVID-19 axed the 2020 spring sports schedule, once August hit, things started to get back on track.
Golf was the first high school sport to get back to playing then everything started coming back after that.
What a sports season.
Golf kicked everything off and Pikeville’s Cam Roberts solidified his name as one of the best golfers in the state as just an eighth-grader.
Roberts is currently playing on the junior amature circuit this summer and is still tearing up the greens and playing outstanding.
Once the fall season started back, things really got hectic.
Soccer, volleyball and football were all in full swing and having full seasons.
The Prestonsburg and Perry Central boys’ soccer teams won their region tournaments as well.
On the girls’ side, Prestonsburg won the 15th Region soccer tournament once again.
Some teams had to halt because of COVID-19 hitting their programs.
Others like Pikeville lost the last month before playoffs because nobody wanted to play them. COVID-19 related or not, it hurt the Panthers not getting the field time.
And once the playoffs started, Hazard found a way to upset the Panthers in the second round.
Dashing hopes of back-to-back state titles for the Panthers.
But that upset gave rise to the hopes of Paintsville’s championship dreams.
Without Pikeville standing in the way, Paintsville beat Hazard in a mud bowl and continued on to the Class A state title.
The first in the school’s 100 year history playing football at the school.
Johnson Central and Belfry both had championship dreams and both were knocked off in the state semifinals. Franklin County knocked off the Golden Eagles in the Class 4A state semifnals, while Belfry traveled to Ashland and were knocked off in a defensive classic in the Class 3A state finals.
Paintsville and Pikeville’s volleyball teams met in the 15th Region championship back in October and the Lady Tigers found a way to win that championship.
There was a break from the end of football season (early December) until the start of basketball season (January 4 was the start date for basketball).
In years past, basketball started at the end of November and there was a slight overlap of the two sports.
But once basketball started, there were seemingly games every night of the week.
Fewer and fewer schools were having COVID-19 related stoppages.
And a 12-week regular season was crammed into 10 weeks.
Basketball season was very competitive in boys’ and girls’ in both 14th and 15th Regions this season.
On the boys’ side, Martin County’s Trey James left high school to join Rick Pitino and his Iona squad a year early.
No doubt it hurt the defending champs.
But then Shelby Valley and new coach Rodney Rowe’s squad was a fun team to watch. Nobody in the starting lineup was over 6 foot tall, but their hectic style of play gave teams nightmares.
On the other end of the spectrum, Belfry returned Sal Dean, but also added Bol Kuir a 7 foot 3 center to the lineup. Kuir’s size alone was an advantage for the Pirates.
Then Pikeville was having a good season, but injuries riddled the Panthers.
Laithan Hall was coming off of an ACL tear. Then in the season, Lukas Manns and Zac Lockhart fought injuries. Then one of the top players in the region, Rylee Samons went down with a season ending ACL tear.
On the girls’ side, Pikeville, Shelby Valley, Johnson Central and Floyd Central were the standouts.
Belfry kept improving and improving.
Pike Central was young and new coach Denise Campbell was just getting used to her squad.
Once postseason play started, Belfry’s Kyera Thornsbury had established herself as one of the top players in the 15th Region just as a freshman. Trinity Rowe, a freshman, was a seasoned veteran in the region and one of the top players.
Cassidy Rowe had a late season injury were she broke one of her ribs. She came back and played in the postseason, but she re-broke the rib against Johnson Central in the 15th Region Tournament.
Pikeville ended up winning their third straight 15th Region title and had one of the best games at Rupp Arena in the Sweet 16 in a 56-52 loss to Marshall County.
Back to the boys’ side.
East Ridge and Johnson Central opened the 15th Region Tournament with a thrilling triple overtime game that saw Isaiah May hit a buzzer-beating three in the final OT to give Johnson Central the win.
After that Paintsville’s Colby Fugate started getting hot and on that hot streak, led the Tigers to the 15th Region title.
It was Paintsville’s first region title since 2008 when head coach Landon Slone was a senior for the Tigers.
Then on to the baseball and softball seasons.
Out of the gate in softball it looked like Pikeville and Johnson Central were on a collision course to meet each other in the region finals.
That’s what happened.
Johnson Central was loaded with depth and talent.
Pikeville was young and had Emily Ford who dominated in all the categories of pitching and hitting this season.
She had a season that not many on the softball or baseball field have had in the 15th Region.
Pike Central was improving. Belfry was really good. Paintsville was young and talented.
Shelby Valley was hurt by injuries, but bounced back and had a strong showing in postseason play once Lily Napier started getting healthy.
Ultimately, Johnson Central had too much talent on offense and won the region title.
On the baseball side, Pikeville and Paintsville looked strong early as the Panthers won the All “A” championship over Paintsville.
Belfry was having a good season and improving.
Pike Central was solid.
Lawrence County had some talent.
Over in the 14th Region, Hazard was young, but the Bulldogs were coached by one of the best in the state — John Meehan.
By the end of the season, Hazard won the 14th Region.
Back in the 15th Region, Pikeville and Paintsville faced off in the first round of the region tournament.
The winner (Paintsville) had to face Lawrence County in the region semifinals.
That set up Johnson Central.
The Golden Eagles found a way to get past Belfry in the region semifinals and then won a wild contest in a rainy and foggy night at East Ridge in the region championship game.
That set up Hazard and Johnson Central facing off in the Semi-State 8 with the winner advancing to Legends Field in Lexington in the Elite 8 round of the KHSAA State Baseball Tournament.
Johnson Central led the whole game until the seventh inning.
Two outs away from the season ending, Hazard rallied to score three runs and knock off Johnson Central 3-2.
The young Hazard team ran into the buzzsaw of Trinity at Lexington.
Mr. Baseball Daylen Lile and the Shamrocks were too much for the Bulldogs.
That wrapped up a wild and unusual 2021 high school sports season in the mountains.