by Andrew Hatton
CVT Sports Writer
After opening the season up with two strong wins, the Engineers extended that run with back-to-back thrilling victories. A come from behind, 73-65, win over a strong East Jessamine team, followed by electrifying finish to knock off Breathitt County, 63-61. A loss to Madison Southern puts Estill at 4-1 to start the season.
Perhaps the most interesting storyline coming out of last week was Estill’s trip to East Jessamine. After winning their opening game, the Jaguars were on a stretch of tight losses to tough opponents and welcomed the Engineers to town, looking for blood.
The Jaguars made life difficult on Estill in the early-goings, applying the full-court press to disrupt the Engineer offense. It worked, causing Estill to trail by as many as 18 in the first half, ultimately taking a 16 point deficit into halftime, 39-23.
After being saddled with three early fouls, Caleb Bonny came out in the second half playing like a man possessed, scoring 30 second-half points to lead the Engineer comeback.
The comeback began in the third quarter with Estill cutting the lead to just nine, but the fourth-quarter fireworks would be the deciding factor in the game. A barrage of three-pointers from Bonny and Kevin Richardson would push the Engineers ahead.
Then the basketball being played would take a backseat to a more ugly string of events.
In the final minutes of the fourth quarter, the Estill players were headed to the bench during a timeout. A player for East Jessamine bumped into Estill’s Robert Tipton. Tipton then turned to face the player and the opposing player swung at Tipton, striking him in the head and knocking him to the floor.
The opposing player was then ejected as Tipton was taken to the locker room to be medically evaluated. He was unable to return to the game but has since made his return for the Engineers.
The East Jessamine fans were also cause for controversy, with their behavior reaching the point to which the officiating crew removed their student section as well as some other fans from the gymnasium. The game would finish in front of a very limited crowd.
From there, Bonny would knock down free throws from the technical fouls and Estill would seal the victory. Bonny would finish the game with, what was at that point a season-high, 38 points.
Estill’s talisman would produce what was possibly an even better performance just days later. While we can say each of the 38 points were important against East Jessamine, the Engineers would need every point Bonny could muster to take down the Bobcats of Breathitt County.
The Engineers took their 3-0 record into the Fairce O. Woods Coliseum on Saturday in Jackson, where they would face the 3-1 Bobcats in the nightcap of the Peggy Moore Memorial Classic.
Estill would claim an early lead and steadily grow it to a 23-15 advantage at halftime. The first half would be marked by solid perimeter shooting by Estill and tough team defense led by the Engineer big men.
The four-some of Luke Barnett, Robert Tipton, along with Andrew and Lane Doty, is beginning to emerge as a force to be reckoned with for Engineer opponents. This frontcourt unit has shown the ability to change games, and not always by scoring, but by making game changing stops at the defensive end and grabbing crucial rebounds.
But the third quarter would see the Bobcats come out with improved offensive play and cut the lead to three, 38-35. The hot hand of Caleb Bonny would help the Engineers build a lead once again, but late turnovers and missed free throws would open the door for the streaky Bobcats.
Breathitt would pull even with Estill in the game’s closing moments, drawing the score level at 61 with just 4.3 seconds remaining. Following a timeout, the Engineers would execute Coach Bentley’s full-court out-of-bounds play with absolute precision.
Trey Richardson would inbound the ball to a streaking Caleb Bonny who would drive the length of the floor being chased by two Bobcats. Bonny would heave a running 20-foot shot as the buzzer was sounding.
The shot banked off the board and seemingly danced on the rim for what felt like an eternity to spectators, before falling through the hoop as the buzzer sounded.
Those two points were the most important of the 39-point total that Bonny would finish with that night, a new season-high. The mark of 77 points in a two game span is as impressive as anything from someone in an Engineer jersey in recent years.
Monday night’s home game against Madison Southern was a competitive battle, but perhaps this Estill squad had drained their luck for the week. The Engineers were unable to match the Eagles shot for shot and fell, 47-39.
But these victories were about more than just Bonny’s ability to rack up points; they were about a team beginning to find its way. A squad that is made up of players that know their role and can execute the game plan put forth by their head coach.
Yes, Bonny’s scoring is crucial to their success, but one could argue that the rim protecting strength of Barnett, Tipton and the Doty’s is as well. So too, is the ability of Trey Richardson, Joe Benton and Kevin Richardson to stretch the floor with their outside shooting.
What Engineers fans are seeing here is the growth and development of a team that could potentially add to the trophy case in the near future. Their head coach would probably be the first to tell you that they aren’t there yet, but I think even he would admit that he likes their progress to this point.
Just last season the Engineers opened their campaign with a dismal 0-8 record. Flash-forward to almost a year later, and I think that everyone around the program would tell you, the train is coming.