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Great Crossing, Lexington Catholic impress in early going; Douglass making progress

Just a few games into this high school basketball season and it’s already apparent that Herald-Leader preseason No. 2 Great Crossing is as good as predicted — maybe better.

The Warhawks have started 5-0 with convincing wins over No. 10 Covington Catholic (66-51), No. 22 Manual (82-74), No. 5 Frederick Douglass (71-66) and No. 15 Ballard (88-60). The last two victories came in defense of their Billy Hicks Classic title last weekend.

“I think we’ve gotten a lot more physical … we’ve got more depth and we’re a little bit older and a little stronger,” said 7-foot junior center Malachi Moreno, a four-star recruit with a reported 23 college offers, including Kentucky. “Now we know we can play, and we can trust our teammates.”

The scorebook bears that out. On Friday at Scott County High School, Great Crossing had 14 assists on 28 made baskets against Douglass with junior shooting guard Vince Dawson, their leading scorer, dishing out nine. In Saturday’s rout of Ballard, the Warhawks notched 18 assists, again with Dawson leading the way with eight. Dawson scored 22 points against Douglass and 31 points versus Ballard.

Moreno went for 22 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks against the Broncos, and 18 points, 17 rebounds and nine blocks against Ballard.

The Warhawks’ other starters, Junius Burrell, Gage Richardson and Jeremiah Godfrey, have each made significant contributions in the early going. Burrell has averaged 16.8 points per game and leads the team in 3-pointers (8-for-14) and free throws (15-for-20).

While pleased with his team’s performance against Douglass, Great Crossing coach Steve Page would have liked the Warhawks to have put the game completely away when they first extended their lead to double digits in the first half.

“(Douglass) is a tough team. They’re not going to make it easy,” Page said of the defending 11th Region champions. “That’s why it ended up being a five-point game. … But I like my kids’ attitude this year.”

The rest of Great Crossing’s December schedule could solidify its place as one of the top teams in the state as they take part in next week’s King of the Bluegrass tournament at Fairdale in Louisville. The Warhawks open with No. 23 North Oldham on Dec. 19. The field includes No. 3 Trinity, No. 4 Male, No. 5 Douglass, No. 7 Bowling Green, No. 8 Newport and No. 18 Harlan County.

“We’re capable of playing with anybody,” Page said. “I’ve been saying all preseason that I don’t think we’ll go into any game where we think, ‘Oh, my goodness, tonight we have no chance.’ Now we’ve got to be a little bit more mature and close out games.”

Douglass getting reacquainted

Despite the loss to Great Crossing, Douglass had plenty of positives to take out of its performance, especially since the team hasn’t had a practice with its full roster yet.

Douglass (2-1) has eight players just joining the squad from football, including returning starters Aveion Chenault and Logan Busson. Busson is still recovering from a couple of football-related injuries and hasn’t taken the court. Nevertheless, Douglass edged No. 16 Woodford County 56-55 last Wednesday.

“Hopefully, they’ll be ready by King of the Bluegrass,” Douglass coach Stephon Harris said. “Right now, we’re surviving off experience. We really haven’t had a chance to really get them together and mesh as a team. Basically, the biggest thing is just to get our chemistry together.”

Douglass has been buoyed by the play of Lafayette transfer DeMarcus Surratt, who scored 17 against Great Crossing.

The Broncos also showed some of the heart that propelled them to last season’s Boys’ Sweet 16 semifinals, repeatedly making runs to get back into the game with the Warhawks after trailing by as many as 16 points in the second half. Armelo Boone scored 18 of his game-high 27 points in the final two periods.

“That’s the Douglass way,” Harris said. “We fight till the end. That’s the expectation and the culture that we’ve developed.”

Salsman milestone at Lexington Catholic

No. 13 Lexington Catholic (4-0) has also gotten off to an impressive start with wins that included a 79-50 blowout of No. 11 Elizabethtown at Bardstown’s showcase event on Saturday.

Senior guard John Reinhart knocked down six 3-pointers on his way to a game-high 25 points while Bellarmine signee Tyler Doyle scored 22 points with four assists.

“(Elizabethtown) played an overtime game on Friday night, and we were able to catch them in a dead spot,” Lexington Catholic coach Brandon Salsman said. “I’ve got a lot of good kids who work really hard, and they just kind of weren’t ready for us and we blew by them right from the get-go.”

Lexington Catholic recently recognized Salsman as its all-time coaching wins leader with a record of 424-144 over 19 seasons through Saturday’s game. He surpassed Knights legend Danny Haney, who led LexCath to a Boys’ Sweet 16 title in 2002.

Salsman’s overall record including his three seasons at Bourbon County is 470-186.

Adapting to the new foul rules

Perhaps unnoticed in the offseason, new high school rules have done away with the bonus free throw.

The National Federation of State High School Federations have set the team foul limit at five for each quarter and made every common foul after five worth two free throws. The five-foul limit resets each quarter. The previous rule gave a free throw and a bonus shot once a team reached seven fouls in a half and gave two shots at the 10 foul mark.

“I think it’s making the flow of the game a lot better,” Salsman said. “I’ve never seen a basketball fan who really enjoys watching a whole lot of free throws. … I think they’ve done a great thing for the game here.”

Holiday tournaments

Lexington Catholic plays host to two of the state’s most significant holiday tournaments over the winter school break.

The girls tournament begins Dec. 20 and features No. 2 George Rogers Clark, No. 6 Frederick Douglass, No. 9 Ryle, No. 13 Ashland Blazer, No. 16 Mercy and No. 19 Christian Academy-Louisville

The boys tournament begins Dec. 27 and includes No. 1 Lyon County and the state’s all-time leading scorer Travis Perry, a recent Kentucky signee.

Also among those trying for some December bragging rights will be No. 5 Douglass, No. 16 Woodford County and No. 17 DeSales and a Washington County team that features standout 6-6 sophomore forward Gabe Weis, who already has offers from nine Division I schools, including Louisville and West Virginia. He made an unofficial visit to Kentucky on Oct. 13.

“We’re loaded again,” Salsman said of the LexCath tournament. “We’ve got that UK flavor again. As much of a fan as I was of Reed (Sheppard), I’m just as big of a fan of Travis. … We’ll certainly put on a great show for everybody.”

Tournaments and showcases like these dot Lexington and the rest of the state throughout December. Complete boys and girls schedules can be found at KHSAA.org.

On the calendar

Below are a few of the notable December tournaments and showcases on the boys and girls high school basketball calendar.

BOYS EVENTS

Dec. 19-21: Central Bank Jim Rose Classic at Lexington Christian. Teams include Lexington Christian, North Laurel, Henderson County and Mercer County.

Dec. 19-23: King of the Bluegrass at Fairdale, Louisville. Teams include No. 2 Great Crossing, No. 3 Trinity, No. 4 Male, No. 5 Frederick Douglass, No. 7 Bowling Green, No. 8 Newport, No. 18 Harlan County and No.23 North Oldham.

Dec. 19-22: MAC’s Holiday Classic at Pleasure Ridge Park, Louisville. Teams include. No. 22 Manual, Madison Southern and Bardstown.

Dec. 20-21: WinCity Holiday Classic at George Rogers Clark, Winchester. Teams include No. 14 Clark, Lafayette, Somerset and Rowan County.

Dec. 20-23: Capital City Classic at various sites in Frankfort. Teams include Bryan Station, Western Hills, Frankfort and West Jessamine.

Dec. 20-22: Sayre School-Jim Lankster Classic at Sayre. Teams include Sayre, St. Henry, Green County and Bluegrass United.

Dec. 27-30: White, Greer & Maggard Holiday Classic at Lexington Catholic. Teams include. No. 1 Lyon County, No. 5 Frederick Douglass, No. 16 Woodford County, No. 17 DeSales, Harrison County, Lexington Christian, North Laurel and Madison Southern.

Dec. 27-29: Richmond Car and Truck Holiday Classic at Madison Central. Teams include No. 14 Clark, Madison Central, Lincoln County and Marshall County.

GIRLS EVENTS

Dec. 16-19: Jim Rose Classic at Lexington Christian. Teams include LCA, Mercer County, Letcher County Central.

Dec. 19-23: Queen of the Commonwealth at Bullitt East. Teams include No. 3 Bethlehem, No. 4 Cooper, No. 5 McCracken County, No. 8 Owensboro Catholic, No. 9 Ryle, No. 11 Franklin County, No. 12 Manual, No. 18 Meade County, No. 23 Corbin, No. 24 Covington Holy Cross.

Dec. 20-23: White, Greer & Maggard Holiday Classic at Lexington Catholic. Teams include No. 2 George Rogers Clark, No. 6 Frederick Douglass, No. 9 Ryle, No. 13 Ashland Blazer, No. 16 Mercy, No. 19 Christian Academy-Louisville.

Dec. 20-22: Sayre School-Jim Lankster Classic. Teams include East Carter, Eminence, Bluegrass United.

Jan. 6: Simpson’s Tree Service/H+W Sports Classic at Franklin County. Matchups include No. 10 Butler vs. No. 5 Douglass and No. 21 Pulaski County vs. No. 4 Cooper, No. 11 Franklin County vs. North Bullitt.