Caleb Bonny was named Player of the Game against Buckhorn.
The Estill County Engineers basketball team defeated Buckhorn last Thursday in the opening round of the 14th Region Tournament. That victory matched them up against Knott County Central in the semifinal, where the Patriots would top the Engineers in the second half.
This marked the fourth time under Coach Jon Bentley that the Engineers have reached the second round of the tournament. The last time being two years ago when Estill was eliminated by these very same Patriots, who went on to be named 14th Region Champions.
Estill’s opening round performance against the Wildcats of Buckhorn was almost as good of a game that saw them take down Powell County the week before. The Engineers started strong and Buckhorn could do little to get in their way.
Caleb Bonny was seemingly able to get whatever he wanted offensively against the Wildcats. Whether it was finishing at the rim or knocking down jump shots, Bonny had everything working for him early.
The Engineers took a 29-13 lead into halftime. Estill beat Buckhorn in every category, including effort, through the first half. The defense made stops at a rate that made the frustration of the Wildcats grow.
Adding to the frustration for Buckhorn, anytime they thought they had Bonny stopped, Joe Benton was there to create an easy shot by feeding the big men down low.
Buckhorn would make a run on the Engineers to begin the second half. The Wildcat coaching staff looked to exploit mismatches in the third quarter and it helped to get their offense going. Estill held a 33-25 with two minutes left in the third.
There were a lot more whistles to be heard in the second half, with both teams making regular visits to the free throw line, the game slowed down quite a bit from the pace seen in the first half.
Bonny salvaged the final minutes of the third quarter for Estill with a couple of baskets, helping to keep the Wildcats at a safe distance.
Odd string of events in the fourth. With the score at 41-34, Buckhorn drew a weak foul and went to the line for the 1-and-1. First shot was missed, but Estill were called for a lane violation. Second shot missed but once again the Engineers were called for a lane violation.
The Buckhorn shooter then knocked down the next two shots. On the following possession, Estill turned the ball over and it led to a Wildcat bucket to bring the score to 41-38.
On the next possession, after two offensive rebounds and a blocked shot, Bonny recovered to get the basket and the foul. After he hit the free throw the Engineers were up six with 3:33 remaining.
As the clocked ticked down to the two-minute mark, Estill burned their last timeout, up 46-42. Buckhorn came out of the timeout trying to turn up the heat with their defensive pressure.
Engineers beat the press and get the ball in the hands of Joe Benton who drives then turns to draw the defender out before making a no look pass to Lane Doty for the lay in. Buckhorn comes down and matches it and then immediately gets back into their full-court press.
The pressure is tough, but Estill beats it once again and it again ends up in the hands of Benton. As if it was a replay of the previous possession, Benton pulls of the no-look pass to create an easy bucket for Estill.
Buckhorn missed on their next possession and fouls Bonny. After the free throws the score was 52-44 with 40 seconds remaining. The Wildcats then come down but the ball is stolen by Osborne; Buckhorn is forced to foul.
Free throw is missed and Buckhorn comes down in desperation mode. Pass made to the corner for the three-point shot. Bonny closed out on the shooter and made body contact. The shot went in as the whistle blew, chance for a four-point play.
Foul shot was missed and the ball came off for the offensive rebound and put back, drawing Buckhorn to within three. Wildcats foul Benton to put him at the line where he hits both to go up five.
Buckhorn’s last chance was missed and Andrew Doty was at the line with just 10 seconds left. Doty hits 1-of-2 to put Estill of 55-49, and seal the victory for the Engineers.
Bonny would be named player of the game, leading all scorers with 29 points. Lane Doty was the only other Engineer in double-digits with 10 points.
With that win, the Engineers advanced to take on the Knott County Central Patriots who had just defeated Wolfe County in the opening round.
The Engineers came out of the gate strong against Knott. Estill looked like the most well coached and disciplined team in the region. Coach Bentley and his staff had the guys ready from the opening tip and seemed to be pulling all the right strings.
Estill did a great job of slowing the game down at the offensive end and ran an efficient game through the first half. Bonny seemed able to get his, but Estill were also able to create easy shots by using Knott’s focus on Bonny against them.
Their ability to limit Knott’s possessions frustrated the Patriots, adding to that frustration was the Engineer defense that gave up nothing easy at the other end. Estill held a 20-12 lead with two minutes left in the first half. A three pointer would bring the Patriots to within five going into halftime, 20-15.
As good as things went for Estill in the first half is how bad things went in the second. Knott comes out knocking down shots from beyond the arc. The problem for Estill was when they tried to match them from three.
The Engineers kept settling for three’s but were unable to knock them down consistently. When they did try to finish inside they were unable to get clear attempts or foul calls.
The game went from a slow strategic pacing game that favored the Engineers, to a shootout that then favored the Patriots. Knott was able to take the lead minutes into the third, leading 31-23 with 2:24 left in the period.
Turnovers and cheap fouls hurt the Engineers. Knott is able to get to the line too often, and Estill was unable to counter. The Engineers trailed 34-27 heading into the fourth.
Estill tries to counter the full-court press by taking Benton out, but it turned into more turnovers due to their inability to pass the ball. Coach Bentley’s squad trail by six with six minutes remaining.
Side note: Games like this make you wish for a shot clock in high school basketball. Long stretches throughout different parts of this game where it looked more like two teams playing keep away rather than basketball. Very hard to watch, and even more difficult for the fans to stay involved.
Patriots kill the game from that point on. Engineers are forced to foul and from that point the result is sealed. Knott defeats Estill, 45-30. The Engineers are held to just 10 points in the second half. Contrast that with a 30-point half from Knott and you have the game summed up.
Bonny would lead the Engineers with 11-points followed by Lane Doty with six. No other Engineer player would finish with more than three.
While Estill was disappointed with their second half performance, they performed at a level they could be very proud of over the entire season, not just these last few games.
The careers of seniors Hunter Osborne, Trey Richard and Luke Barnett was capped off in proper fashion. These seniors and their teammates deserved to reach this level and earn the notoriety from around the region.
Coach Bentley and staff have to be pleased with their showing, especially considering how much they return heading into next season. Estill has to expect to be as good if not better next year, when they return five key contributors to this season’s team.
All in all, a fantastic season that was capped off with a district title and a trip to the regional semifinal, Estill County should be very proud of what they got from these Engineers.