Estill County edged out Powell in a thrilling Boys 56th District Championship game. After sleepwalking past Owsley County in their opening game, the Engineers turned in an impressive performance to bring the district title back to Estill County High School.
In the semi-final game, Estill seemed to exert as little as possible as they tried to save their energy for the championship. This made for a sloppy game with that was hard to watch for long stretches. The Engineers were in control but never pulled away for good.
The game came just a week after Estill had destroyed the Owls, 77-22, so it’s hard to blame the Engineers for not getting up for this game. Coach Bentley’s squad would win this game by just 13 points.
Caleb Bonny and Joe Benton played limited minutes in the second half, but Bonny still managed to lead the Engineers in scoring with 17 points. Lane Doty turned in 10 points, while Benton and Andrew Doty each finished with nine.
Estill would then faceoff against Powell, who had overpowered Lee in their semifinal, 100-61. The Pirates won convincingly but played their starters for big minutes. Powell seemed more interested in putting up big numbers than resting their starters for the championship.
In the title game, Estill would get off to a great start, beginning the game with a 12-3 run. The Engineers would lead 21-12 after the first quarter, thanks to 11 points from Caleb Bonny and a couple of threes from Joe Benton.
A solid second quarter would increase Estill’s lead to 39-25 heading into halftime. Bonny led all scorers at the half with 21 points. The Engineers were strong defensively and were able to do as they pleased at the offensive end through the first half.
Things did shift in the third quarter when the officials came out calling soft fouls early and often. Powell seemed to live at the foul line in the second half, with fouls being 8-3 in the Pirate’s favor.
Estill struggled with officials calling as many as three fouls on a single trip to the defensive end. In just minutes, Andrew Doty, Lane Doty and Luke Barnett each had four fouls. With each of their big men in trouble, Estill was forced to go to a small-ball lineup that saw Hunter Osborne play the five. This allowed Powell to get their big man, Max Hernandez going offensively.
The Pirates other strategy was basically to chase Caleb Bonny around for the second half and double-team him any time he did get the ball. While this did slow down Bonny’s scoring pace for the third quarter, it opened up the door for Estill’s x-factor.
Freshman Joe Benton was the difference in the game. Benton had been great all game long; getting steals, making beautiful passes, knocking down shots and playing all around great basketball.
But it was Benton’s second half play that made the biggest impact for the Engineers. With Bonny being blanketed by defenders and the Doty’s in foul trouble, Estill’s usual go-to’s at on offense weren’t an option. This is where the freshman guard stepped up.
Benton showed his potential this game, giving us a taste of what he is capable of despite still being so young. He has shown flashes throughout the season, but this was his best four quarter performance. With 15 points in the second half, Benton kept Estill’s offense running where it would have become stagnate in the past.
Powell had shoved all their chips to the middle of the table and expected Estill to crack under the pressure, but Benton was the river card the Pirates didn’t see coming that turned things in favor of the Engineers.
As he continues to grow and develop, Benton and Bonny could become one of the best backcourts this Engineer program has ever seen over the next year.
Despite not seeing big offensive numbers from any of their other players, Estill would not have won without some of the contributions and plays made by the rest of their lineup.
Hampered by foul trouble, Barnett and the Doty’s still made a major impact on the game, especially through rebounding. In Powell’s most desperate moments, Estill came down with crucial boards to eliminate any second chance opportunities for the Pirates and seal the victory.
Hunter Osborne, Kevin Richardson and Trey Richardson made their presence felt at the defensive end, but were also key in breaking the Pirate’s full-court press with Powell hugging onto Bonny.
The Pirates were hoping to force mistakes out of Estill with the hope of creating some easy offense to cut into the Engineer’s lead. The ability of Trey, Kevin and Hunter to keep their composure and take care of the ball prevented Powell from getting turnovers and easy buckets. This was crucial during perhaps the most important stretch of the game.
With Bonny and Benton combining for 17 points in the fourth quarter, Estill were able to seal the victory. Bonny finished with 31 points, shooting 14 of 19 from the free throw line. Benton would finish with 23 points of his own, shooting a perfect 8 of 8 from the charity stripe.
Bonny would be named Most Valuable Player of the tournament and Benton would receive the Best Defensive Player honors. Hunter Osborne joined the duo in being named to the 56th District All-Tournament team.
This district title was Estill’s second in three years, as well as Coach Jon Bentley’s third in his seven years with the program. Over the past six years, Estill and Powell have split the championship with three titles each.
The Engineers’ next game comes on Thursday, Feb. 24, against Buckhorn in their opening game of the 14th Region Tournament. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. Estill defeated the Wildcats by a score of 67-50 back on Jan. 31.
If the Engineers advance they will take on the winner of Wolfe County and Knott County Central. The Boys 14th Region Tournament is being played at Breathitt County High School.