By Blain Click
CV&T Sports Reporter
Joe Benton, Dyllon Long and Cobbe Click display their all-tournament trophies after the district tournament in Booneville last week. Photo courtesy of Sue Townsend
The Estill County Engineers were trying to continue their trend of “firsts” by winning the district three straight times but came up just short losing to Powell County in the finals 63-58. The Engineers made their first ever trip to the sweet 16 last spring by winning the 14th region for the first time in school history. In that same year, they also won their second consecutive district tournament for the first time in school history and were attempting to three-peat this year. Since Estill joined the 56th district in 2006, no other team has won back-to-back districts much less three consecutive districts. In the history of the 56th district since 1960, only three times before had teams won three districts in a row. Lee County did so in 1966 through 1968 with UK signee Larry Stamper. Powell County then followed up with three straight of their own in Dave Fraley’s early tenure winning in 1970, 71, and 72. Powell was a heavy favorite to win in 1973 but was upset by Lee County in triple overtime and the Bobcats went on to win the 14th region that same year. Finally, in 1994, 95 and 96, Powell County once again completed the three-peat but it has not been done since then. Estill County is also making their ninth consecutive trip to the regional tournament which is by far a record for them. The most consecutive regional tournament appearances they have had before the current streak was two. Since 2012, Estill County or Powell County has won the district every year and has advanced to the region.
The Engineers reached the final game with a victory over the host school Owsley County, who was the three seed. Estill County entered the tournament as the two seed despite having the same district record as Powell but lost the tiebreaker for the one seed based on point spread against the Pirates. Owsley County was hoping for the upset playing at home, having played the Neers fairly close in each of their two regular season games. The Owls came out fired up in front of the home folks and stayed close early on five first quarter points from their leading scorer Andrew Noe. The Owls were also chasing Estill County leading scorer Joe Benton with a box and one defense not allowing him to touch the ball if at all possible. Freshman Landon Napier and sophomore Dyllon Long picked up the slack and kept the Engineers ahead while some solid team defense limited Noe and the Owls other leading scorer, Trent Sebastian, to a combined total of seven points in the first half. Estill County lead 23-15 at the half. The Owls did turn up the heat in the third quarter and outscored Estill County 11-7 cutting the eight point lead to four points after three quarters. Joe Benton found a way to shake the sticky Owsley County defense in the second half and scored all 14 of his points in that half including going 10 of 10 from the free throw line. Owsley County started fouling late in order to catch up, and the Engineers put up 20 points in the fourth quarter to pull away with a 50-38 victory, completing the sweep of the Owls on the season and advancing to the district final for the ninth straight year. Estill was a led in scoring by sophomore Dyllon Long who had a fine game with 17 points. Joe Benton also scored 14 points all in the second half followed by Landon Napier who tossed in 10. Will Isfort came off the bench with some great minutes and was a real spark plug scoring six points and junior Micah Adams chipped in with one.
On Thursday February 21st , Estill County faced off against their district rival Powell County once again for the ninth straight year in the district finals. Until last year, the two teams had alternated every district championships since 2012 but the Engineers finally broke through and won back to back titles. The Owsley County gym only seats around 1200 people and without question was exceeding its capacity. Estill jumped to an early lead scoring 18 points in the first quarter on some balanced scoring as all five starters got into the scoring column in the first quarter and Estill led 18-14. The Engineers also held the Pirates leading score Deshawn Williams to only five points at halftime despite his 20 points per game average on the season. Sophomore Cobbe Click knocked down a couple of threes in the second quarter as the Engineers maintained their four point lead 29-25 at the half. The third quarter saw Estill county push their lead out to 46-37 after three quarters. Freshman Landon Napier continued to provide the Engineers with some much needed scoring by driving the ball effectively, scoring six of his 13 points in the second half and keeping the Pirates at bay. The game stayed fairly close and consistent with the Engineers taking a five point lead down to the two minute mark before the tide started to change. Several Engineer turnovers for layups and forced shots allowed the Pirates to score quickly and also allowed Dashawn Williams to heat up as he scored 17 points in the fourth quarter alone, including a huge three point shot with under a minute remaining and two free throws with less than 10 seconds remaining. Powell County scored 26 points in the quarter and that was enough to surge ahead of the Engineers for good as they pulled out the 63-58 victory. Williams ended up with a game high 24 points and the tournament MVP. For Estill County, Joe Benton and Dyllon Long each had 15 points followed by Landon Napier who scored 13. Cobbe Click added 10 while Micah Adams chipped in with three. Will Isfort closed out the scoring with a deuce.