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Work left to do

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By Brandon Mattingly

It’s hard to believe it’s already that time, but the high school basketball regular season will be coming to a close in 10 days with the 19th District tournament getting underway just two days later.

As the Commanders and Commanderettes hit the final stretch and enter their final regular season district game on Friday at home against Thomas Nelson, one Washington County team knows exactly where they stand heading into the tournament, while the other will have plenty to play for this weekend.

Bernard Smalley’s Commanderettes are 10-10 on the season and have posted a 5-2 record in district play with both losses coming to top-seeded Nelson County.

WC has been locked in the two seed for weeks and that won’t change between now and Feb. 18, regardless of what happens on Friday night. That, however, doesn’t mean the Commanderettes should be careless with the 3-18 (2-5) Lady Generals coming to town on Friday, as a win would mean season sweeps over Thomas Nelson, Bethlehem and Bardstown.

That 6-0 showing would send a strong message to the rest of the district that if any of them are going to unseat Nelson County as district champs, they’ll likely have to go through the Commanderettes first.

Russell Burkhead’s squad, however, won’t just be looking at Friday’s  game as a tune-up thanks to a result from two weeks ago.

Thomas Nelson, Nelson County and Washington County have each had their eye on the third seed to avoid a four-five-seed first-round game. The winner of that game will take on top-seeded Bardstown, while the three seed gets a first-round bye and a second-round matchup with two-seeded Bethlehem.

The Commanders lost their hold on the 19th District’s third spot with a 58-44 loss at Nelson County on Jan. 8, and they were banking on some help down the stretch to get a shot to reclaim that spot.

On Jan. 26, they got that help from Thomas Nelson, who stunned Nelson County 46-45 at NCHS for the school’s first district win in their inaugural season.

Now the task before the Commanders is simply: win and that precious third seed is theirs. It sounds easy enough, but it will be no walk-through on Friday.

WC and Thomas Nelson have locked horns twice this season, Dec. 7 at TNHS (a 75-74 Commander win in overtime) and Dec. 28 in the National Guard Holiday Classic at LaRue County High School (a 61-57 Washington County victory), with the latter not counting toward district win-loss record.

Obviously, neither of those meetings were a cake walk, so Burkhead’s bunch will be hoping homecourt proves to be an advantage, so they can breathe a little easier come this weekend.
Beating any team three times in a season is always extremely difficult, but beating a team three times in a season when every game (potentially) goes down to the wire? That takes the challenge to a whole other level.

Washington County could make it simple on everybody and send Thomas Nelson packing on Friday with a loss, but if they don’t, the seeding picture needs a little clarity.

A Thomas Nelson win would mean that all three teams vying for the third seed will have a 2-6 district record, with the tiebreaker being determined by fewest district points allowed.

In that scenario, Nelson County (467 points allowed) would top Washington County (483) and Thomas Nelson (499) and hang on to the three spot.

With Nelson County’s district slate over, that means it’s all or nothing for the Commanders this weekend, making Friday’s showdown the most important game of their season to this point.

The pressure will be on, but if any team has been through the fire with close game after close game this season, it’s the Commanders.

That experience will be infinitely valuable as the clock winds down in the fourth quarter on Friday, and we’ll see if all of those tight matchups have paid off in WC’s search for that first-round bye.