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THE TEAM THAT WENT TO STATE: Coach looks back at Hornets’ historic run

Photos by Jim Arnett

In high school, Scott Castle was on one of the Magoffin County High School teams that came close to winning the regional tournament, but last week he stood on the floor of the legendary Rupp Arena, coaching the first Hornet team to win the region and go to state.

Coach Castle is no stranger to winning teams, though, having coached the MCHS Girls’ team as an assistant coach when they went to state in 2006 and 2012, was head coach in 2013 when the girls’ won the district and went to the All A State Tournament, and when they won in 2014, but at the end of the 2016/2017 season he resigned with no intentions of coaching, again.

“My daughter was playing basketball at the college level, and that made it challenging to make it to her games and practices,” Castle said.

That year the Lady Hornets made it to the regional championship, losing by one point to Shelby Valley in the last second of the game, with a score of 23 – 22, with Castle remembering it was a defensive battle.

“I was actually in Des Moines, Iowa, working catastrophe duty for Nationwide when I started getting calls from people wanting me to apply for the boys’ coaching position,” Castle remembered. “And here we are, seven years later.”

Having coached the team for seven years, Castle has worked with the 2024 class for their entire middle school and high school basketball career.

“They probably had 20 offensive plays we ran, that’s how long they’ve been with me,” Castle said. “It makes a difference. I can call any of those plays and they all immediately know it.”

Castle said he started seeing the team really come into their own in the postseason this year, though.

“They’ve always been a good group, but in the postseason they really started trusting each other and playing for each other,” Castle said. “In the district tournament game, they faced being down nine points to Johnson Central at the half, and they came together and realized rebounding – it would take defense to win the regional title. The defense stepped up and played unbelievably.”

This year the 15th Region was the only region in the state to try out the “Super Regional” format, with Castle explaining that under the old format, just making it to the district championship game would have guaranteed them a spot at the Expo Center, but with the Super Regional, the district’s runners-up had to win one more game to proceed to the 15th Region Tournament.

“We’re the only region to use the Super Regional format, so our boys had to win four games to go to state, while everyone else had to win three games,” Castle said. “That’s another feather in the boys’ hat.”

From the district tournament game on, Castle said the team mentally finally realized that defense, which has always been a focus, but if you look at our schedule, they always scored enough points to win, but the constant denominator was they weren’t holding the teams away. With better defense, they would have won more games, but they finally got it in their heads that a strong defense is what it takes to win, and after that we won the region, and defense is the reason we were able to advance.”

One of the bigger headlines surrounding the season was that Senior Guard Aden Barnett set the school record with a total of 3,624 career points, breaking the record set by Leonard Carpenter in 1953, who was later inducted in the KHSAA Hall of Fame. He also netted 978 rebounds.

For the general public wondering about Aden’s “Top 2, Not 2” quote, which he has reportedly been saying all season, Castle explained, “what he meant by that was we’re one of the top two teams in the region and we’re not number two. He always thought we were the best team in the region since the season started.”

As far as the experience in Lexington, he said it was unbelievable.

“It’s something you always dream of as a player,” Castle said. “I played on one of the teams many thought would break through and win the regional tournament, but it didn’t work out, but to now, not as a player, but as a coach, on the Rupp floor, it’s just unbelievable. It was more exciting seeing the boys in the regional championship game, seeing how excited they were and seeing them jump and hug. I’ll always remember that.”

Castle gave the boys a couple days off after winning the region, then they went back to practicing to not just go to Rupp – but to win at Rupp, which they did.

“We were confident playing Perry County knowing that if they played like they could, the would be able to win,” Castle said. “We were down seven points at the half at Rupp and we were able to play full-court defense to escape on to the second round.”

After the game against Perry County, Castle hugged his nephew, Carter, who was one of the main reasons Perry County did so well in the first half.

“Nephew or not, we made adjustments and began pressing Carter, limited his touches to probably three or four in the second half,” Castle said, knowing the strategy to win the game had to be to take out his nephew. “I gave him a hug and told him I loved him, and I was proud he had had a really great season.”

In the Elite 8, the Hornets came up against Great Crossing, who was the #1 ranked team in the state of Kentucky and #14 in the nation, and had one of the top players in the nation, Malachi Moreno.

“We knew Great Crossing would have to play bad and we would have to play the best we ever had to win that game,” Castle said. “In the first half our boys played with some jitters and were a bit bothered by the height differences, but they continued to fight and play hard. Great Crossing’s team is just so athletically gifted and we knew we were playing someone in another league. That was the best team I’ve ever coached against. Incredibly talented.”

Though they lost in the second round of the state tournament, Castle made sure the boys knew what they had done.

“I told the boys I’m proud of them for making history and there’s no reason to hold your head down,” Castle said. “They had represented the community and the name on the front of their jerseys, the parents or whoever were involved in their lives up to that point, and they will always be remembered as a member of the first team that led Magoffin County to the state tournament.”

Castle said if there’s one thing he hopes the community remembers of this team it’s that they put in the hard work, they committed countless hours to the team year-round with the support and assistance from the parents and other community members.

“In this region, you can’t win unless you put in the work in the off-season and these parents and players did just that,” Castle said. ‘Pitt Conley trained Zane Whitaker and Ethan Salyer and Cory Hayes trained Aden Barnett, and the dedication by the parents who made sure they got in these extra workouts, the group effort is what helped them make school history.”

Of course, Castle couldn’t have put in the hours he did for the team without the support of his own family.

“Behind any good coach is a great wife for support,” Castle said. “My wife and daughters went to the games, we watched the game film as a family, and they really understood what we had and, if we did it right, what we could do and they really put a lot of time into this, too.”

As of right now, Castle said he plans to return as head coach next season, but knows it will have to be a rebuilding year, with nine seniors graduating.

Editor’s Note: Congratulations to the Hornets and Coach Castle for breaking school history time and time, again, this season. This entire community is unbelievably proud of you all for all of your accomplishments and how well you represented Magoffin County.

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