MOUNT WASHINGTON - Not much went wrong for the Bullitt East Chargers over the final two months of the 2008-09 basketball season.
Well, at least nothing went wrong that didn’t involve the word ‘Fairdale.’
After losing to Fairdale on Jan. 9, Bullitt East would finish the season winning 12 of the next 14 games. Unfortunately, both of those losses were to the Bulldogs, 87-68 on Feb. 4 and then a 60-45 setback in the semi-finals of the 24th District Tournament.
That was that. Season over despite a 19-10 mark, the third most wins of any team in the Sixth Region this winter.
Bullitt East won six straight games in January and had a five-game winning streak in February. There was also a 6-2 run during one stretch in December.
“We had two phases where we played as well as anybody,” veteran Bullitt East head coach Troy Barr said last week. “In mid-December I told my assistants that I wished the regional tournament was right then.
“Then from mid-January on we played extremely well,” the coach added. “Honestly, when we won 12 of 13 it was some of the most fun I’ve had coaching. We just seemed to do everything right.”
Early in the season, Bullitt East lost close games, falling by two- and then three-points in two of the first three games of the campaign. Over the final two months of the season, the team won those type games. They beat North Hardin by two-points, North Oldham by three points and both Manual and Highlands (in OT) by four points each.
The Chargers had that success despite at times playing with one hand tied behind their backs. For all the things Bullitt East could do right, the red and gold never became a good rebounding team.
That was never more evident than the last game of the season when Fairdale had twice as many rebounds as the Chargers in the district tournament game.
“Rebounding was a weakness for us,” Barr repeated of something he harped on all season long. “As much as we worked on it and talked about it, if the kids don’t buy it, it won’t work. The kids didn’t buy into it and it cost us. The last game was our worst rebounding of the season and that magnified it.”
Bullitt East also put itself behind the eight-ball with a four-game losing streak around the first of the year. Two of the losses were to district rivals Southern and Fairdale.
“I’ll take full responsibility in the fact that we played eight games in 11 days around the holidays,” Barr said. “We didn’t practice and we got into some bad habits and we lost those games to Southern and Fairdale. The Fairdale game (a 47-43 loss) was a key because that game would have changed the look of the district.
“We made our bed and we had to sleep in it,” Barr said of facing Fairdale in the semi-final instead of Southern.
Next season, Bullitt East will only play Fairdale once in the regular season as the 24th District teams will use just one game for seeding purposes. The Chargers will still play Bullitt Central and North Bullitt home-and-away, but will face Southern and Fairdale just once.
Still, Bullitt East and Fairdale have quickly built a strong rivalry just four years of playing in the same district.
“Absolutely,” Barr said of the relationship with Fairdale. “It’s a good rivalry and healthy rivalry. Things get heated every so often, but that happens. Gregg (Fairdale head coach Gregg Longarce) and I are good friends and have great respect for each other. I respect him, but I want to beat him.
“Our kids have a healthy respect for each other,” the coach added. “We know it will take a good effort to beat them and they know it will take the same to beat us. It brought out the best in Fairdale this year more than us.”
Fairdale went on to lose in the semi-finals of the Sixth Region Tournament by two points to eventual champion Central.
The highlight of the season for Barr was the 71-69 victory over North Hardin in the Outback Steakhouse Challenge. Bullitt East senior Adam Kelty hit a three-pointer just before the buzzer for the winning points.
“North Hardin was the most athletic team we played all year,” Barr noted. “We had to have a special effort that night and we did. The coaches did a great job and the kids did a great job executing it.
“I felt like when we won that game that the kids were telling us that they wanted to make a run in the region,” the coach added. “Nobody in our region was as athletic as them.”
Bullitt East had a large senior class this season with seven players. That group included Adam Kelty, Willie Moore, Grant Polson, Tyler Payne, Tyler Downs, Kodey Kearney and Michael Bozarth.
The 6-foot-6 Moore led Bullitt East with 16.4 points and 6.6 rebounds a game while Kelty scored 16.2 points a game and handed out four assists a contest. College is in the future of both players.
“They both want to play,” Barr said of the next level. “We’re waiting to see who we hear from. Both are going to visit Northern Greenville in South Carolina. There are a lot of factors with both of them that will come into play. We’ll take all of that into consideration and see what happens.”
Polson, who has a high ACT score and was a Governor’s Scholar last summer, might try to walk on at Transylvania or Centre College.
“You build toward the years where you have a senior group like that,” Barr said of this year’s team. “We have some rebuilding to do. We feel like we have some good tools to build with.”
Barr did use a lot of players this season, so there will be six players returning with varsity experience next season. The returning juniors are Adam Edge, Brandon Alphin and Chase Troutman while sophomores Corey Washburn, Hayden Sweat and Justin Smith also got varsity minutes.
Bullitt East’s junior-varsity team posted a 17-4 mark while winning the district title.
The Bullitt East freshman team got off to a slow start, but then finished with a 15-8 mark. Along the way, the team won the title of the six-team Freshman League and won the district tournament title.
The reason for the slow start was that eight eighth-graders had to finish their season before joining seven freshmen around the holidays.
“That might be the strongest freshman class we’ve had,” Barr said. “Some of them might be able to help us.”
Because of the weakness in rebounding this season, Barr plans to have his team hit the weight room hard this spring and summer to prepare for next season. Bullitt East will be hosting a league in June and the Chargers will play in some summer tournaments, both the Jeffersontown Shoot-out and the Derek Smith Shoot-out.
Barr also said that fans will see some major changes in the schedule next year. First off, Bullitt East is under the assumption that it will be included in the Boys’ Louisville Invitational Tournament next year just like the other Jefferson County schools (North Bullitt and Bullitt Central have opted out of the format).
The coach has also already added a game against Butler and Nelson County will make a return to the Charger schedule. Some of the Oldham County schools might not be on the schedule.