Bell County athletics in review

Published 10:29 am Friday, June 22, 2018

The biggest story in Bell County athletics this past school year was the changing of the guard in two of the school’s major programs. Both the football and boys basketball teams were led by new coaches. Dudley Hilton returned to Bell County after several years coaching at UPike and Taylor County to take the reins as the football coach, and Frankie Smith took over the boys basketball team.

The football team showed improvement on the gridiron increasing their win total by three games. Finishing with a 7-5 record (2-3, district), the team started the season on a three-game winning streak. Victories over Middlesboro, Letcher County Central and Pike County Central help build momentum and excitement in the program.

The Bobcats would go on to swap wins and losses for the remainder of the regular season. A 48-8 victory over Breathitt County allowed Bell to advance to the second round of the playoffs, where the team’s season ended with a 32-6 defeat to Corbin.

“We’re just growing up,” said Hilton following the postseason loss to the Redhounds. “Again, we have no experience. We got a team with very little experience. Now we got a little experience. Hopefully, we just keep working.”

Frankie Smith led the boys basketball team to one of its better records in recent memory. In his first year at the helm, the Bobcats ended the season with a 17-11 record.

The team had two stretches where they went on six-game winning streaks. The first stint was between Dec. 8 and Dec. 28 — a stretch that saw Bell defeat Harlan, Jenkins, McCreary Central, Buckhorn, Red Bird and Russell County.

The second winning streak occurred between Jan. 22 and Feb. 3 with the Bobcats defeating Lynn Camp, Lee (Jonesville), Buckhorn, Barbourville, Middlesboro and Jenkins.

Arguably, the team’s signature win came in a 72-71 victory over Lynn Camp — a team that finished 23-8 and earned a trip to the 13th Region Tournament. Bell’s season ended with a disappointing 58-56 loss to Harlan in the first round of the district tournament.

The Robbie Landrum-led baseball team also saw improvement this past season — improving their win total by seven and finishing the season with a winning record.

Still a relatively young team, the Bobcats found success outside of district play. After a 2-2 start early in the season, Bell went on a six-game winning streak with victories over Norview, Virginia; Washington, Virginia; J. Frank White Academy; Oneida Baptist Institute; Hancock County, Tennessee and Jellico, Tennessee.

A loss to Barbourville halted the team’s momentum. The Bobcats closed out the final stretch 6-10 and lost to Middlesboro in the opening round of the district tournament.

“We’ve got a bunch of juniors, if they want to come to work. We got a shot at this thing next year. I keep telling them that,” said Bell County coach Robbie Landrum after the season-ending loss to the Jackets. “We still ain’t where we want to be, but we’re crawling. You’ve got to crawl before you can walk and run. So, hopefully they will buy into it.”

For the girls, the Lady Cat basketball team rebounded from the 2016-17 season with an impressive showing this past year. Adding Southeast Missouri State commit Brittney Cupp to the team, Bell County ended the year with a 19-10 record.

The Lady Cats hit their stride at the end of January going on a 9-0 run that saw them defeat Madison Southern, Lynn Camp, Corbin, Lee (Jonesville), Middlesboro, Harlan, Barbourville, Jackson County and Knox Central.

Unfortunately for Bell, they ended the regular season with a lopsided loss to Whitley County which set the tone for a 55-33 season-ending loss to Harlan in the opening round of the district tournament.

Below are the final records for volleyball, softball and girls soccer:

Volleyball: 4-17 (2-7, district);

Softball: 10-15 (0-6, district);

Girls soccer: 0-13 (0-7, district).