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Cougars shoot the holiday lights out in Russellville

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First Southern National Bank/WRUS Christmas Classic

By Mike Farner

 SHEPHERDSVILLE - Bombs Away! Connecting on 26 three-pointers in three games, the Bullitt Central Cougars put together their best holiday tournament performance in many years last week as they captured the crown in the First Southern National Bank/WRUS Christmas Classic in Russellville, Kentucky.

In the final, the Cougars nailed 10 three-pointers and beat Russellville on its home floor 64-50 on Thursday.

In fact, Bullitt Central had the toughest route through the tournament, but they managed to win each of the three games by at least nine points. The road to the title started with a very impressive 57-42 win over Muhlenberg County, the 13th ranked team in the state in the pre-season coaches’ poll.

With both a boys’ and girls’ tournament running consecutively at both Logan County High School and Russellville High School, games were split between the two schools. As it turned out, Bullitt Central then had to face Logan County on that team’s home floor in the semi-finals and they rolled to a 68-59 victory on Wednesday.

The next day, all the boys’ games shifted to Russellville High School and this time Bullitt Central had to play that team on its home floor.

“We had a very tough road this week,” veteran Bullitt Central head coach Joe Pat Lee said after the team received the first-place trophy. “I can’t be more proud of the guys. They are awesome kids and are playing great basketball right now.”

Riding a five-game winning streak, Bullitt Central moves into 2012 with a 10-3 record.

“We are only playing six or seven guys right now and they are all contributing,” Lee said. “I’m proud of all the guys.”

While the hot shooting from the outside is obvious, the reason that the Cougars are converting so much is that they are passing the ball extremely well and thus getting open looks, even against teams that know who the outside shooters are for Bullitt Central.

“That is what we are so proud about,” Lee noted of the passing. “Our assist totals are up. That’s just experienced players knowing how to play. It’s fun to watch them.

“Ryan is shooting it extremely well,” the coach added. “But he doesn’t get those shots if Caleb is not out there. Caleb is finding the other guys.”

Bullitt Central senior Ryan Schnellenberger connected on 16 three-pointers in the three games.

“It starts with good passes,” the senior said after the victory in the final. “We are playing inside-out and we are attacking the basket. Caleb (Craddock) can drive to the basket for the lay-up or kick it out for the threes.”

For Schnellenberger, the confidence for the week started with the 57-42 victory over Muhlenberg County and 6-10 senior center Gregory Lemon, one of the top-10 players in the state.

“We faced one of the top-10 players and they are a top 15 team,” the senior said. “We knew that if we beat them that we could handle any team in the tournament.”

Schnellenberger had five three-pointers in the win over Muhlenberg County and led all scorers with 27 points. Damon Shepherd posted 13 points while Craddock finished with nine.

Bullitt Central, with no starter over 6-4, held Lemon to 14 points.

Against Logan County on Wednesday, the Cougars had a 20-10 advantage in the second quarter and then played even in the second half for the 68-59 victory. This time Schnellenberger had six threes as he had 24 points. Craddock tossed in 22 points while Shepherd had 16.

In the championship game against Russellville, the Cougars had to shake off foul trouble by Craddock to get the win. The senior point guard sat out the final five minutes of the first half after getting three fouls. The fourth foul came with 7:40 remaining in the game, but this time Craddock stayed on the floor and did not foul out.

Bullitt Central was up by six points when Craddock went out in the second quarter and the lead was still six points at halftime as Aaron Duckett came off the bench to score the last five points of the frame for the Cougars.

Lee opted not to substitute anyone in the third quarter and Bullitt Central pushed the lead to double-digits, topping out at 47-33 late in the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter, Russellville scored five straight points to pull within 47-41, but the Panthers could get no closer. Shepherd nailed a three-pointer to stem the tide and after another three pointer by Shepherd, the Cougars started running time off the clock with great success. During one 40-second stretch in the final two minutes of the game, Bullitt Central made five of eight free throws to seal the win.

Schnellenberger, with five three-pointers, finished with 20 points while Craddock tossed in 17 points. Shepherd scored all 12 of his points on three-pointers.

Bullitt Central didn’t get much time to enjoy the tournament title. The team was back in action on Tuesday of this week at Pleasure Ridge Park, the 7th-ranked team in the state. The Cougars will not play on Friday, but will take the court on Saturday against Fairdale. The boys’ game is slated for 6:30 p.m. with the girls’ game set to start at 4 p.m.

 

First Southern National Bank/WRUS Christmas Classic at Logan County/Russellville HS

 

First Round

BULLITT CENTRAL 57 (18-8-9-22) Caleb Craddock 9, Ryan Schnellenberger 27, Damon Shepherd 13, Corey Smith 6, Luke Whitmore 2.

MUHLENBERG COUNTY 42 (12-9-8-13) Noffsinger 5, Diedrich 3, Warford 8, Griffin 8, Carver 2, Lemon 14, Carlton 2.

 

Semi-Finals

BULLITT CENTRAL 68 (18-20-12-18) Caleb Craddock 22, Ryan Schnellenberger 24, Damon Shepherd 16, Corey Smith 2, Luke Whitmore 2, John Sullivan 2.

LOGAN COUNTY 59 (15-10-16-18) Watkins 18, Lancaster 14, Collier 2, Graham 22, Morrow 1, Steenbergen 2.

 

Championship Game

BULLITT CENTRAL 64 (18-15-14-17) Caleb Craddock 17, Ryan Schnellenberger 20, Damon Shepherd 12, Corey Smith 4, Luke Whitmore 2, Randy Hurst 1, John Sullivan 2, Aaron Duckett 6.

RUSSELLVILLE 50 (16-11-9-14) Hines 9, Craslin 3, Pardue 10, Naylor 3, Calloway 7, Harris 5, Kennedy 7, Hampton 6.