Casey holds off Somerset for third district win

LIBERTY — The Casey County boys basketball sure didn’t take it easy with its schedule this year. Already the Rebels have faced some of the state’s top teams, like Mercer County, Pulaski County, Southwestern and Powell County.

When it came down the stretch in Friday’s 47th District matchup with Somerset, experience playing in those types of games showed up as the Rebels held on for a 67-62 win, turning away the Briar Jumpers on their final possession while making 4-of-4 free throws in the final minute.

That’s exactly what Casey coach Jason Price hopes to see continue.

It’s also why Casey’s 5-10 record might be a bit misleading.

“Any district win and a home win is big for us,” Price said. “… We’ve had a tough schedule. We’ve had zero easy games. We have to come out to play every night. There’s really no day off.”

On a team loaded with upperclassmen — there are eight juniors and seniors on the roster, to be exact — three of them showed the potential of what could become habit.

Breece Hayes, better known as the Rebels record-setting quarterback, displayed his talents on the hardcourt, leading all scorers with 21 points, including 11 in the first quarter. His favorite target on the football field, Collin Miller scored 13 points while being responsible for most of the ball handling duties.

And Jake Smith, who came into the game averaging around 20 points, lit up the Briar Jumpers for 19 despite being constantly harassed by the defense.

“Breece really stepped up tonight,” Price said. “He was that post presence we needed, and it freed up Jake and Collin up to work some when Breece was a factor.”

Sophomore Max Reyes added 11 points for Casey, which improved to 3-1 in the district. Price said the Rebels have solidified either second or third seed in the tournament, and depending upon the rest of the regular season they still have a shot at the top spot.

The Rebels had to rally multiple times in the first three quarters, getting down by as many as six points in the first before briefly taking leads in the second and eventually going into halftime trailing 38-36.

The Jumpers (4-11) scored the first basket of the second half, but Casey responded with a 5-0 run to take the lead for good at 41-40. Somerset tied the game at 49-49 entering the fourth, but Smith and Miller led the Rebels to a 57-52 lead two minutes into the fourth.

With just under two minutes remaining, the Jumpers tied the game at 61-61, but Hayes and Reyes each made a pair of free throws down the stretch and the Rebels defense prevented Somerset from getting any good looks.

“We’re growing,” Price said. “There were a couple of calls which went against us, and our guys went and played the next play. That’s what we always talk about, playing the next play. We can’t control every aspect of the game, we can only control the moment. They went up there and kept their composure.

“Sometimes when we are focused, we can be a really good defensive team. … We’re starting to learn we’ve got to play defense all the time, not just when we’re hitting shots.”

The road doesn’t get easy for the Rebels, with games against Madison Central, Anderson County, Rockcastle County and West Jessamine coming next week. No matter what their record is after those games, Price knows reputations aren’t made and memories aren’t formed during a random week in January.

“Hopefully we’ll be tournament-tested,” Price said. “I feel like we’re improving. We want to be playing our best in February, not in early January. We’re getting better. Because we have the seniors who have been there and experienced it, I feel like we’re poised to make a good run.”

Follow Jeremy Schneider on Twitter @jschneideramn