Estill Engineers prevail over long-time region champs Knott County to advance to state tournament
Photo courtesy of Brendon Miller/Bluegrass Sports Nation
By LISA BICKNELL
CV&T News Editor
Coaches reflect on historic win; Bentley credits community for whole-hearted support
Last Friday morning, Estill County Head Coach Jon Bentley acknowledged he was a bit exhausted after his Engineers won the 14th Regional Tournament for the first time in history, but he said, “it’s a good exhaustion.”
Since early in the season, he’s been telling his players, “This is our year.”
“We had all the ingredients…the point guard and the inside-out combo of Andrew Doty and Caleb Bonny.”
Most importantly, he said, is the team’s mental toughness.
However, at the beginning of the season, players and coaches seemed to have good reason to doubt, as the Engineers lost most of their first few games. Part of that, said Coach Bentley, was that “the team was still searching for our identity.”
From that unimpressive beginning, though, it became just a matter of getting better, game by game.
“We had our down times, but we stayed together.”
Coach Bentley described the culture the team has established as a family bond, and said that is one of their strongest traits.
“You’ve gotta know that you have each other’s backs.”
He says that since the exciting wins against Cordia and Knott County???, the support of the community has been “off the charts,” from the parade around the courthouse the night of the regional win, followed by a midnight pep rally at the high school, to long lines to buy t-shirts, to calling off school so as many students and staff as possible could attend the game.
The Estill Engineers play Corbin at noon on Wednesday, March 14 at Rupp Arena.
“It is incredibly wonderful that people are so elated that we finally get to go to the KHSEAA tournament.
“This is exactly what I wanted. We have the best people here, and I love them.”
Coach Bonny credits Bentley for casting a vision
Assistant Coach Jimmy Bonny helped coach his son and the team co-captain Caleb Bonny, along with most of the current high school team, when they were all in middle school.
When Caleb moved on up to the next level, Coach Bonny also stepped up to help coach at the high school level.
He says he could see the potential in the team to win a region championship even when they were middle schoolers. The eighth grade team never lost to a 14th region feeder school.
Although the team got off to a slow start early in the season, they didn’t lose at all in January, an accomplishment Coach Bonny said he doesn’t recall happening in all his years of coaching.
He gives a lot of credit to Coach Bentley, who he says has done an “amazing job of laying out a game plan, and motivating the players.”
“He cast a vision for the team [to win regions].”
After last year’s disappointing loss, he says, Caleb was eager to go back to work too.
Coach Bonny is hopeful the team will make a good showing in the state tournament.
“I think we’ve got some more wins in us,” he said. “I really do like our possibilities in this game [against Corbin].”
He says he’d take his team’s gritty defense over a flashy offense any time.
Coach Benton says the team always believed
Rick Benton has several good reasons to be invested in the Estill County Engineers boys’ basketball team.
He’s been the assistant coach for the team for eleven years, three of which he coached with Coach Tiller, and now hes been with Coach Jon Bentley for the past eight years.
Two of the team’s players are his sons, Joe, a junior, who scored 17 points in the narrow win over Cordia in Region semifinals, and a seventh grader, Cade, who will be making his first appearance on the Rupp Arena floor along with his brother Joe.
“This team is very special,” said Coach Benton. “Not one person carried this team…we couldn’t have done it without the Doty twins…Kevin Richardson, and the others.”
“This is the best group, from the last one on the bench, to Caleb Bonny. Their grades are good, and they don’t get into trouble.”
And they aren’t quitters.
Despite the Engineers struggles in the Cordia game, Benton says he had a good feeling about his team.
“We’ve sort of trended that way, to be more of a second half team,” he said.
When a Cordia player’s free throw attempt rolled around the rim and out, that sealed the Engineer’s
“it was meant to be” win.
Most of the starters for the current team have been playing together since at least middle school, some as far back as the primary league.
To Benton, it’s the team’s selflessness that makes them truly special.
He said that senior Kevin Richardson basically gave up his starting role as a starter to make room for J.T. O’Hare, who moved to Estill County from Breathitt County.
Benton also can’t say enough about the support of the community and how that has played a role in the team’s success.
He’s sure it made a huge difference in the Cordia game.
“Being behind by 15 points, a lot of teams would have just quit,” Benton said. But when the crowd got loud, “it gave us so much energy,” he said.
“It was just an unbelievable feeling, and I really feel that it propelled us to the win.”
“Without our fans, there’s no way we could have overcome.”
Leaving the legacy of being the first team in school history to make it to the state tournament is something that’s always been in the forefront of their minds, Benton said.
“We always believed.”