Four months ago, George Rogers Clark boys basketball coach Scott Humphrey knew his team was a work in progress.
“We had talent, but we just didn’t have experience,” he said.
The Cardinals were coming off a state tournament appearance and replacing the core nucleus of a squad that went 30-6 and lost to Louisville Eastern in the quarterfinals of the Sweet Sixteen. Clark split its first four games before turning heads with a 17-game winning streak that included two tournament titles over Christmas break, one of which was a win over defending state runner-up Rowan County in the finals of the Ashland Invitational Tournament.
Although the odds were stacked against Clark before the season began, the overachieving Cards will take a 30-5 record into Wednesday’s contest against Owensboro Apollo.¿The appearance will be Clark’s second straight and the third in the past six years. Humphrey was aware of the noise before the season, but said his team refused to be part of the conversation.
“You can’t control what goes on around you,” he said. “In our locker room, they thought from¿Day 1 this is where they would be and it just didn’t happen. They put in the Work to get here. This started two or three years ago when some of these guys were freshmen and sophomores. Especially in the summer and then you add a piece with someone like Taylor Howard, who comes in and contributes. I think the Christmas holidays was really huge for us, playing in two tournaments and winning them both. We gained a lot of experience.”
Like Clark, Apollo overcame big odds to reach the big stage. The Eagles lost to Daviess County 68-54 in the finals of the 9th District Tournament, but caught fire during the 3rd Region Tournament to earn a spot in the state tournament.
Apollo escaped with a 52-51 triumph over Ohio County in the opening round, rolled past Meade County 82-55 in the regional semifinals, before concluding a successful run in the region with a 64-62 triumph over Muhlenberg County in the finale.
Clark won all three of its region contests by double digits, including a 61-39 rout of Mason County in the regional finals earlier this week at the MCHS¿Arena in Mount Sterling.
Prior to the three regional games, Clark defeated Bourbon¿County and Montgomery County to win its seventh consecutive 40th District title.
Humphrey said his team’s mental approach sets them apart than any other team he’s coached at¿Clark and previously at Simon Kenton.
“I’ve said it often,” the Clark coach said. “This is the mentally toughest team that I’ve had. We’ve played in four tournaments (this year) and we’ve won them all. That’s not an accident. They know how to prepare, know how to win and they definitely take care of it.”
In addition to the team’s mental toughness, Humphrey likes his team’s unselfish approach.
“Bopper (Stenzel) is the one who leads us and he’s the most experienced (player),” he said. “Our guys feed off that, but we don’t feel like any one person has to have a special night for us (to win).
“Their character what sets them apart (from other teams).”
G. Rogers Clark vs. Owensboro Apollo
When: Wednesday at Rupp Arena
Time: 8 p.m.
Records: Clark: 30-5. Apollo:17-14
Radio: 107.7 FM WKYN