South Oldham and its coach, Steven Simpson, will be making their first appearances in the boys’ Sweet 16 when they take on Second Region champion Hopkinsville Wednesday night at 8 at Rupp Arena in Lexington.
South Oldham, located in Crestwood, first opened its doors 24 years ago. Simpson has been coaching longer.
“When I was younger, I was so driven to get (to the state tournament), but as I grew older I realized there were so many things in life more important,” said Simpson, recognizable by the sleeveless sweaters he always wears courtside. “I’m excited about going and I’m happy to be a part of it. I’m more excited for these kids. I want it to mean something to them, something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.”
It’s a sentiment reflected by Dragons’ senior forward Mitch Catinna, who said, “We’ve been talking about this since the sixth grade, when we were playing AAU ball.”
Simpson will be the second member of his family to participate in the Sweet 16. His father, Bobby, played for Grant County in the 1957 tournament in Louisville’s Freedom Hall.
Simpson, who was an assistant at Augusta, Grant County and Danville, took his first job as head coach at Williamstown. He coached four years at Augusta and four years at Lincoln County.
South Oldham (24-7) earned a spot in the Sweet 16 with a 58-48 victory over Oldham County in the Eighth Region final, which avenged a 52-52 loss to the Colonels in the 29th District championship.
“I’m happy for Steven,” Oldham County coach Jason Holland said after the regional final. “He’s been coaching a long time. They’ll represent the Eighth Region well.”
Simpson credited a change in defense for the turnaround in the championship game.
“(The regional final) was the first time we had elected to play man-to-man on every possession this season,” Simpson said. “Not one possession did we play zone. We were afraid (Oldham County’s) Sam Gruber would get hot.”
The Dragons will have their work cut out for them against Hopkinsville (31-4), which has won its last 23 games.
South Oldham doesn’t have a lot of height, but leading scorer Shea Goodlett (16.4 points per game) plays much bigger than 6 feet 1. Goodlett and Matthew Haysley won’t hesitate to take the ball to the basket.
Goodlett, who has drawn interest from Transylvania University, is hitting 52.3 percent from the field, 80.1 percent from the free-throw line. He scored 27 points and made 14 of 18 free throws — including his last 12 — in the regional final. He scored 33 against Simon Kenton in the semifinals.
Matthew Haysley (12.6 ppg) and his twin Michael (4.7 ppg) both start for the Dragons.
Matthew Haysley scored 27 points in the regional opener against Collins, knocking down three 3-pointers in five attempts. Catinna, the team’s third-leading scorer (8.9 ppg), had 18 points against Collins and followed with 13, including three threes, against Oldham County.
South Oldham returned all five starters from its 2011-12 team that finished 20-10, but Jack Sherry, 6-5, has come off the bench this season.
“We knew this team would be experienced and talented, so we worked on our chemistry,” Simpson said. “It got better and better as the season went along. They really wanted this.”