Medical Leader | Photo by TEDDY PAYNTER
15TH REGION CHAMPIONS: The Pikeville Panthers pose with the boys’ 15th Region tournament championship trophy following the team’s come-from-behind 95-84 win over Johnson Central at the Eastern Kentucky Exposition Center on March 6. See today’s sports page for game coverage.

Hail Pikeville! Unrattled Panthers bounce back to stun Golden Eagles

Teddy Paynter

PIKEVILLE — Pikeville first-year coach Elisha Justice never felt his team was out of the game despite facing an 18-point deficit with just over five minutes remaining before halftime.


The Panthers cut the deficit to eight at the break and took control in the third period to rally for an improbable 95-84 win over 15th Region perennial power Johnson Central at the Eastern Kentucky Exposition Center on March 6. It’s their first title since 1999.


“We never concerned ourselves with anyone else,” Justice, who led Shelby Valley High School as a player to two All “A” Classic championships and a Sweet Sixteen title in 2010, said. “We just wanted to continue to work hard and get better and make a run.”


Make a run they did.


Cade Byers, who was playing his first year of varsity basketball, hit all 11 of his shots from the floor and finished with a team-high 28 points.


“It’s just an amazing feeling that is hard to put into words,” he said. “We came together as a team and that more than anything made this possible.”


Johnson Central head coach Tommy McKenzie said Pikeville was able to do something that other teams couldn’t.


“We hadn’t had a team break our press like that all season,” he said. They [Pikeville] played with confidence, and we got in an unfamiliar spot and had to play with desperation.”


Junior Wyatt Battaile was outstanding all night long, finishing with 25 points while grabbing 15 rebounds, including 10 defensive.


“Wow....we just worked so hard all night long,” he said. “Even when they [Johnson Central] had that big lead on us we just continued to battle. I can’t say enough about the guys on our team.”


Evan Rhodes added 22 points, including a pair of clutch three-pointers late in the game to seal the win.


“This is a dream come true for us,” Rhodes said. “As a young boy you dream of playing at Rupp and here we come.”


Pikeville, now 23-8, will play Perry County Central (27-7) at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 15.