The Lady Mustangs of R.W. Combs Elementary have been through a lot this year, beginning with the tragic loss of their teammate, Taylor Cornett, in January. But through it all they have persevered and kept Taylor’s memory alive, and as a team they’re also finding success on the basketball court.
Team Taylor, as they call themselves, entered the 14th Region middle school tournament this past weekend, picking up their first championship in the process.
Coach Larry Caudill said the regional contest has been held for the past few years and brings together the area’s best teams. This year’s was the first the team from R.W. Combs Elementary had entered.
A total of 13 teams were listed on the bracket, with East Perry and Hazard being the other local schools from within Perry County. The tournament was held Oct. 12 and 13 at the Richard M. Nixon Center in Leslie County, and also included teams from Breathitt, Knott, Leslie, Powell, and Owsley counties.
R.W. Combs opened against Stinnett Elementary, with the Lady Mustangs coming away with the 48-27 win. After June Buchanan dropped out, the Lady Mustangs automatically advanced to the third round, where they took on the Emmalena Eagles of Knott County. The Lady Mustangs advanced again with a 24-20 victory, putting them in the finals against the team from Carr Creek.
Caudill said his team, which starts a fifth and sixth grader along with one seventh and two eighth graders, had used the first three quarters to pick up a significant advantage before briefly losing the lead in the fourth period.
“We had them beat going into the fourth quarter, and then all of the sudden they came back on us and tied the game up,” Caudill said.
The Lady Mustangs were able to maintain focus down the stretch, however, and picked up the 35-31 win, and the title.
The team won’t be resting on its laurels, however, and is set to travel to Pikeville this weekend to participate in the Pink Panther Tournament. They then head to Lexington on Oct. 25 and 26 to compete in the Kentucky Basketball Association’s state tournament. They’ll wrap up their season early next month when they face more local competition in the county’s post season contest.
Caudill said his players are used to traveling to find the best competition, and praised them for their work ethic and drive to improve on the court. He said he thinks Taylor would have been happy with her teammates’ success.
“I’m really proud of the girls and the hard work they’ve put in this season, especially with the loss of Taylor,” Caudill said. “These girls have really come together and worked hard. I think if she was with us right now, she’d be really proud of these girls.”