Young Braves Battle Tested After Difficult Season

In a season that showed some promise early on, the Union County boys’ basketball team struggled with mid-season player turnover and inconsistent play on its way to a 9-21 record.  Coming on the heels of a 19-9 year that included the Braves’ first 6th District championship since the 1999-00 season, coach Shane Smith’s fourth campaign in Morganfield yielded only a single win over the final ten games.

Four wins in the first five games got the Braves off to a flying start, including an overtime victory over visiting University Heights Academy in early December.  A holiday trip to Illinois to compete in the Duster Thomas Hoops Classic resulted in a 2-2 road trip, leaving the Braves at 7-5 overall at the end of 2019.

However, 2020 would be a different story.  The New Year began with six consecutive losses, including a 53-48 setback at the hands of Trigg County in the opening round of the 2A Championship Sectionals.  The Braves snapped the skid with a revenge win over the Wildcats, followed by a win over Crittenden County to provide some hope of righting the ship.

After a pair of losses to Paducah Tilghman and Madisonville-North Hopkins, they got the signiture victory of the season when they knocked off 6th-District rival Henderson County in overtime on February 4.  But the Braves would drop their last seven games of the regular season heading into a district tourney matchup with second-seeded Webster County.

Despite 14 points from lone senior Keishon Martin, the Braves couldn’t keep up with the Trojans, and the season came to an end with a 72-49 defeat.  The loss ended a two-year run for Union County at the 2nd Region tournament.

Martin’s 7.9 points and 4 rebounds a game will be missed, but the Braves return a group of players that have extensive experience with the rigors of the 2nd Region.  Leading the way is senior Kaleb Kanipe, after averaging a double-double with 11.8 points and 10 rebounds per game.  Kanipe hit for 57% from the field and was the only Brave to average double figures in either category.

Izaiah Manuel returns after a freshman season the saw him put up 9.8 ppg, while leading the team with 23 3-point makes.  Juniors Eli Mackey and Ethan Corbett, and senior Clem Johnson, each averaged around 4 points this season and will be called upon for increased production.  Mackey also connected on 19 3-pointeers, while Johnson pulled down just under 5 rebounds a game.