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SHEPHERDSVILLE - When things don’t go so well, high school basketball coaches often make changes in the starting line-up.
Bullitt Central head coach Joe Pat Lee took that one step further recently when he started adding names to the varsity roster.
One of those new names, freshman Caleb Craddock, has provided a stabilizing influence on the floor, giving the Cougars a new look and a new outlook on the season.
The revamped Cougars picked up win number one this season on Friday when the maroon and gray jumped on top early and then put together their best performance of the season as they beat North Bullitt 78-60 on Friday.
The contest was the only home game for the Cougars in the month of December and they made the most of it.
The first win of the season is always sweet.
“It sure was,” Lee said in his office later. “It was a great win for the kids. We played three tough teams right off the bat. Two of those are the top teams in the region and then Holy Cross had a lot of kids back.”
Bullitt Central doesn’t have a lot of returning experience and the first three games of the season were trying, to say the least. After a lopsided loss to Bullitt East a week earlier, Lee had said that the roster would change and he made good on that on Monday, adding freshmen Damon Shepherd and Craddock.
Both players had been working with the varsity at times this past summer and into the fall drills. Early Bullitt Central rosters had both players listed. But then Lee decided to go with the older players. That plan didn’t last long.
Craddock had played with the varsity over the second half of last season, becoming perhaps the first eighth-grade boy to ever score points for a Bullitt County varsity team.
It was just a matter of time before Craddock made the move. It was just a week in fact.
“It makes a huge deal having Caleb out there,” Lee said. “He is a unique players because he can have an effect on the game without scoring a point. He gets guys the ball where they can score.”
Craddock did not score a point in this win.
That spark seemed to carry over to the whole team. Bullitt Central didn’t have a chance in the loss to Bullitt East, but they had been competitive four days later against Fairdale. Then on Friday they were more than North Bullitt could handle.
One player change has seemingly made everyone on the team better.
“It was total,” Lee noted. “We played a good game against Fairdale and that carried over to tonight. “We took it to them. I was pleased with the effort the whole game.”
Bullitt Central scored eight of the first ten points of the game and led by at least five points the rest of the way. The Cougars were up 22-13 at the first break fueled by a pair of three-pointers from senior Jesse Vittitoe and the maroon and gray were up by 15 points in the second quarter before leading 40-30 at halftime.
North Bullitt could have been a lot closer but converted just five of 16 chances at the foul line in the first half.
The third quarter belonged to the Cougars. Bullitt Central opened the half with a 16-2 run that included baskets by five different players. By the end of the third quarter, the Cougars had pushed the lead to 58-39.
With the first four points of the fourth quarter, Bullitt Central didn’t have to look back.
It was a painful loss for North Bullitt head coach Lee Barger as he expected a much better performance from his team.
“I thought Bullitt Came out and were ready to play and played a better game than we played,” the Eagle coach said. “They out worked us and out executed us and they deserved the victory.
“We were very tentative and we just didn’t compete with them tonight,’ the coach added. “I was very disappointed with our effort on the boards. (Jeremy) Bennett and (Mike) Kean really hit the boards.”
Before the game, Bennett got an award as the Bullitt County Player of the Year for football and it seemed to energize the junior on the boards.
“We won the game on the glass and that was the difference,” Lee said. “Jeremy and Chris Taylor and Mike Kean were all strong on the glass.”
Bennett’s rebounding led to a lot of easy baskets in close and he led all scorers in the game with a career-high 24 points. Another junior, T.J. Flener, added 15 points and Kean, a junior, added 14 points.
North Bullitt, which has had its football players out for just two weeks, struggled in most aspects of the game. Travis Ridley, one of the football players who have really just been practicing for a few days after an ankle injury from football, did toss in 14 points in the loss. James Whitfill added 10 points for the Eagles.
Barger took the blame for the loss.
“I scouted them against Bullitt East and I thought Bullitt Central would turn it over,” the coach said. “So, we wanted to press them and force tempo and force turnovers. But what happened was the kids got lost in rotation and that killed the weakside rebounding.
“I drew up a game plan and the kids were not ready for it,” Barger added. “I put too much on them too fast. It was partly my fault in that I expected them to pick up more of it faster. I have to go back and make things simpler.”
The two rivals will meet again on Jan. 16 at North Bullitt.
At Bullitt Central
NORTH BULLITT 60 (13-17-9-21) Coty Dewitt 9, Matt Mudd 4, Kenton Aubrey 9, James Whitfill 10, Justin Higdon 5, Travis Ridley 14, Cody Purtilar 3, Tyler Shewmaker 2, Brandon Goeing 2, Cody Montgomery 2.
BULLITT CENTRAL 78 (22-18-18-20) T.J. Flener 15, Jeremy Bennett 24, Chris Taylor 4, Mike Kean 14, Jesse Vittitoe 8, Cory Brown 5, Travis Stepp 4, Dakota Masden 2, Miciah Ocasio 2, Damon Shepherd 2.