Burgin seniors have one more shot at regional tourney

March 01, 2004|MIKE MARSEE

One shot.

Every player who shoots hoops in his driveway dreams about a last shot at glory. But for four boys from Burgin, it's no longer just a dream.

One shot is all they have left to leave their mark by taking Burgin to the regional tournament for the first time in nearly 20 years.

The four seniors - Sean Bottoms, Zack Gross, Joe Harris and Bobby Wylie - are at the foundation of the best team the school has seen since the Bulldogs last won a postseason game in 1986.


Monday night, they'll take their last shot at reaching the regional when they play Mercer County in the opening game of the 46th District Tournament.

"That's the only game that counts," Wylie said.

Their coach says it is not the only thing their basketball careers should be measured by.

"It's not fair if everybody assesses them on that one ballgame," coach Don Irvine said. "What they need to look at is where they started and where they've come to."

They started their time together as teammates in the seventh grade, and they have seen their team's win total steadily increase in their four years in high school.

The Bulldogs won just four of 27 games when they were freshmen, then went 6-22 in their sophomore year and 9-17 last season. This year's team is 11-14, but only one game matters now.

Are they feeling the pressure?

"That's what sports are about," Harris said. "Everybody feels it at tournament time."

Beyond their own dreams, the four seniors are carrying the hopes of the people in their close-knit community who have watched them grow up.

"People have been looking forward to this, and we don't want to let them down," Harris said.

Burgin is smaller than every other school in the 12th Region than Kentucky School for the Deaf. In fact, there are only four public schools in Kentucky with lower enrollments.

It's a place where the players know virtually everyone in the home stands.

"It's everybody you come in contact with over the course of the week," Harris said. "If you don't play well, you're going to hear about it at the post office or at the Trading Post or at the BP."

But they say that's one of the best things about playing for Burgin.

"It's knowing everybody in the stands, having the same friends and people around to support you," Bottoms said.

"I'd rather play here than in any other gym other than Rupp Arena," Gross said.

Irvine said the foursome has represented the town well

Irvine, who coached the 1986 team to a win over Mercer and returned to Burgin as an assistant coach last year before taking over as head coach this season, said the foursome has represented the town and the school well.

"This is one group that I believe really deserves something good to happen to them," he said. "They're such good people, too. They're good students, they're never in trouble in school, they're here every day in practice.

"I'm just proud to be part of their senior year. They've established this; I've just had the opportunity to work with them."

These teammates are also good friends, and that is an asset for them on the floor.

"It makes it easy to read each other's games," Gross said.

And they are as likely to be seen together off the court as on it. "We do things together off the court all the time, too," Harris said.

They know that no matter what happens Monday, they'll soon be walking off the court together for the final time.

"You don't really like to think about it, but you have to eventually," Harris said. "You don't think about how close it actually is, and all of a sudden it's here."

They hope to delay their departure by beating Mercer, which would put them in the regional tournament whether they win the district or not.

Even though Mercer is the No. 1 seed and Burgin is No. 4, the Bulldogs believe the gap between the two teams is small enough to bridge. They lost 45-43 to Mercer at home and 62-56 on the road during the regular season.

"There wasn't a blowout in the district this year," Bottoms said.

Bottoms, Gross and Harris produce most of the offense for Burgin, while Wylie, sophomore forward Daniel Howard and the underclassmen who come off the bench are supporting players.

"We've got three standouts and two role players, and Mercer's more deep in five spots," Irvine said. "Our three do give them a lot of problems, but we need somebody unexpected to step up, and we need those three to all have a good game on the same night."

This chance only comes along every so often for Burgin. The seniors remember vividly remember watching as eighth-graders when the 2000 Bulldogs lost by one point to Harrodsburg, and they say there is potential in this year's middle school teams.

But this is their time, their one chance to play in a tournament they have only seen from the bleachers.

"We think about it," Harris said. "We go and watch (the regional), and we wonder what it would be like. We'd like to find out."

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