Bulldogs get win No. 20 in final regular season game

Published 9:03 pm Friday, February 15, 2019

BURGIN – Twenty is just a number, really, like any other. But when Burgin’s boys basketball teams count up their victories, it’s a number they don’t often get to use.

The Bulldogs have made it to 20 wins this season, however, reaching that milestone for only the third time in 75 years by winning their final regular-season game.

Their 79-72 victory over Jackson City on Thursday at Jack Coleman Sr. Gymnasium allowed them to achieve something that some schools take for granted and others achieve at least every few years but that very small schools like Burgin – enrollment 129 in grades 9-12 – cannot accomplish on a consistent basis.

Email newsletter signup

“It’s real hard to string together a good basketball team here because there’s not a lot of students to pick from, so when you actually manage to do it and get guys to play for all for years, it means a lot to win, for example, 20 games,” senior forward Cameron Hurst said. “Yeah, a lot of people might look down on it because we’re such a small school, but I think to us and our community it does mean a lot.”

Burgin hadn’t won as many as 20 games in a season since 2011-12, when the Bulldogs finished 22-9 for their highest win total since 1940-41 at 22-9, and Irvine said the school has had only three 20-win seasons since 1944.

Players on the bench were chanting “20, 20, 20” as time expired Thursday. It wasn’t very loud, mind you, but then they really cut loose in the locker room as they celebrated with coach Don Irvine, who announced his retirement last month after 18 seasons at Burgin.

Twenty wins is reason enough to whoop it up, but the fact that the Bulldogs have doubled their win total from a season ago with what is essentially the same team also is cause for celebration. There were no seniors on the team that went 10-17 last year, so Irvine sold his players on a two-year plan.

“We knew were going to struggle a lot … and we felt very fortunate to win 10 games. It was just because of hard work that we won 10,” Irvine said.

Hurst said the Bulldogs worked even harder this season, which was the biggest difference between 10 and 20 wins.

“(It was) definitely work ethic and the desire to win more,” he said. “Last year we weren’t as hungry, but then after going through that season – it was long, it was grueling – this year we changed some things in the summertime.”

Irvine said he had no magic number in mind for this season; his primary goal was to see the team get better with each game.

“We didn’t really set any goals; we just said, ‘We’re going to try to win every night,’” he said. “It’s amazing how hard these kids have worked. We’re not the most talented bunch, we’re not very tall, but they’ve played the people we’ve scheduled them against and they’ve done their best.”

According to KHSAA enrollment figures, Burgin is the eighth-smallest public school in Kentucky and the 29th-smallest overall of 280 KHSAA member schools. It has played many of the same similarly sized schools it usually plays, but with better results than a year ago. The Bulldogs opened with wins in 10 of their first 11 games, and they have won eight of their last 10.

“We had a lot of away games last year, and we really struggled quite a few times. We won 10 games, and we won some games I didn’t think we could last year. This year we’ve had a lot of home games, we’ve got three seniors and we’ve got young guys who have played a lot of varsity ball.”

The Bulldogs were 4-11 in road games last year; they are 11-4 at home this season with at least one home game left Monday against Mercer County in the first round of the 46th District Tournament, which Burgin will host for the first time since Jack Coleman Sr. Gymnasium opened in 1973.

The experience, the more favorable schedule, the opportunity to host the district tournament for the first time in decades all figured into Irvine’s goal of making this season as good as it could be.

“We used everything this year as a positive. We said, ‘Let’s make one big run at it and see what we do,’” he said.

The Bulldogs have been winning with defense for much of the season. They are allowing a 12th Region-low 50.7 points allowed per game and have held nine opponents to 40 points or less.

But they got their 20th win by outgunning a Jackson City team that came out hot and led 19-9 after the first quarter. The Bulldogs took their first lead at 33-30 on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Seth Martin just before halftime, then shot 67 percent from the field in the second half to keep the Tigers at bay and post their second-highest point total of the season.

Four players scored in double figures, led by Hurst, who had a double-double with 24 points and 10 rebounds. Wesley Tyler scored eight points each in the second and fourth quarters and had 18 points and eight rebounds, Ethan Kestler had 11 first-half points and finished with 16 and Matthew Kirkpatrick hit four 3-pointers in the third period for his 12 points.

Hurst, one of three seniors, has emerged as one of the region’s top scorers and rebounders in his final season, averaging 19.2 points and 10.1 rebounds. Tyler, a junior, also is scoring in double figures at 10.6 points per game.

“Our physicality and our size have still been a disadvantage, but they’ve learned to play hard, they’ve learned to play together, they’ve learned their roles, and I’m just real pleased at how they’ve come around,” Irvine said.

They have also made their coach’s final season one to remember, and Hurst said that’s important, too.

“I feel like he’s been waiting on something like this to just ride out his last year on a good one, so I’m happy for him too,” Hurst said. “It feels good to know, especially for me as a senior, that I can make my last year good for him as well as for me.”