Coach J.P. Deaton leads his girls to state
As published in Times-Voice 2004
J.P. Deaton, long time assistant to Fairce Woods, took the reigns of the relatively young program in 1983, and five years later led the LadyCats to Bowling Green for Breathitt’s third girls’ state tournament appearance. Assisting Coach Deaton was Melanie Gross, all-state tourney player in ’78.
After the LadyCats’ state championship near miss in 1978, nine years would elapse before Breathitt would once again make it to the Sweet Sixteen. Coach Carolyn Mayes coached four more years after being named Kentucky’s coach of the year in ’78, but never was able to equal the success of the ’78 dream season.
Coach Mayes resigned after the 1982 season with an overall record of 154 wins against 52 losses, five 55th District championships, two second place finishes in the 14th Region, two regional championships, and one state runner-up. She was the perfect fit in nurturing the program’s infancy, and will always be remembered for her coaching endeavor.
Coach Deaton flirted with dominance early in his career, winning the 55th District in his first year as head coach, and while winning 24 games against only 6 losses, made it to the finals of the 14th Region. Again in 1985, with 16 wins against 7 defeats, his LadyCats made it to the regional championship game. Under his direction the girls put together four consecutive district championships beginning in ’86 and running through ’89.
Girls’ basketball was becoming increasingly more balanced in the 14th Region with the emergence of Knott Central, Leslie County, M.C. Napier, Hazard, Fleming Neon and Whitesburg. Jenkins and Breathitt County had led the way in establishing the 14th Region as one of the state’s strongest in the infancy of girls’ basketball, and the region continued to gain even more strength during the ‘80’s becoming a hotbed of basketball powers. Although Jenkins, Breathitt, and Whitesburg knocked on the state championship door, M.C. Napier and Hazard eventually made it through, bringing crowns back to the 14th Region.
Basketball tends to run deep in some families, as was the case with ‘Big Earl’ Stevens and his daughter, Angel. In 1987 Angel, standing at 6-2 and averaging 20 points along with 12 rebounds per game, played the same position her father had played 24 years prior. Both found great success and both were instrumental in getting their teams out of the region.
Coach Deaton built his team around his talented center much the same way Coach Woods did a generation earlier. Opposing teams had much difficulty attempting to contain Angel, and when she got the ball in the lane she was deadly with a variety of moves, which more often than not, resulted in a LadyCat basket. Angel had been selected to the 14th Region all-region squad as a sophomore and junior, and by the time her senior year rolled around in ’87, she was the best in the area.
The LadyCats were anything but a one-woman team. The LadyCats had a very capable point guard in junior Crystal Noble, who, with masterful ball-handling maneuvers, ran the Breathitt offense. Crystal, also, was the team’s defensive specialist. Senior Patty Kazee, 14th Regional Tournament MVP, was a long-range threat, and while playing prior to the three-point shot, averaged 18 points per game from downtown. Sophomore Bernetta Southwood, averaged 16 points, and gave the LadyCats another force in the paint. Senior Missy Engle provided the LadyCats a variety of offensive and defensive options.
Coach Deaton’s bench ran strong and deep with freshman Sandy Stevens (Angel’s younger sister), senior and first off the bench Gail Banks, senior Bitsy Turner, senior Lisa Holbrook, junior Ronnie Back, junior Rachelle Lusk, and sophomore Sara Bellamy.
The LadyCats captured their first trophy of the season with a win in the Sheldon Clark Invitational. Breathitt returned to get an impressive victory over highly ranked Whitesburg. The 14th Region was packed with state powerhouse teams, one of which was eighth ranked M.C. Napier. The LadyCats lost three times during the regular season to the mountain juggernaut. Breathitt would get the best of them, 60-57, in the regional. The LadyCats finished the regular season with an impressive 18-8 record, playing one of the toughest schedules in the state.
The LadyCats downed June Buchanan 70-23 in the opening round game of the 55th District Tournament then squeaked by Knott Central 60-59 in championship game.
In the region, held at the Breathitt Coliseum, the LadyCats got the very difficult, if not impossible draw. The LadyCats got the best of Randy Napier’s highly ranked M.C. Napier in the opening round game, and then took care of John High’s powerhouse Whitesburg 58-57. In the championship game the LadyCats cruised, defeating Dilce Combs 55-46 to give the Breathitt LadyCat program its third state tournament appearance.
The LadyCats faced tough Shelby County in the opening round of the state tournament held at E.A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green before 5200 spectators. Angel scored 12 or her 19 points in the fourth quarter to lead the LadyCats to the 48-43 victory. The game was close throughout with Shelby County leading 24-22 at the half. The Rockets increased the lead to seven entering the fourth quarter, but Coach Deaton’s troops came roaring back to outscore Shelby County 18 to six in the final quarter to pull out the win.
Breathitt faced a lean and lanky athletic team in Franklin-Simpson in the quarterfinal match-up. The LadyCats came out strong leading 14-13 as the first quarter came to an end. Franklin-Simpson outscored Breathitt by 20 in the next two quarters to lead by 19 going to the final quarter. The LadyCats outscored Franklin-Simpson 18-13 in the final frame, but it was too little, too late, as the road ended with a 67-53 loss. Bernetta led the LadyCats with 14 followed by 12 from Angel and 10 from Patty. The LadyCats finished 24-9.
Angel Stevens was named first team all-state and received a full scholarship to the University of Kentucky, the first and only LadyCat to do so. Patty Kazee, Missy Engle, and Gail Banks received scholarships to Lees College where they furthered their athletic endeavors and education.
Coach J.P. Deaton returned as head coach in ’88 and ’89 compiling an overall record of 138 wins against only 67 losses. The personable coach won five district titles, was a two-time regional runner-up, won one regional championship, and was a state quarterfinalist in his seven years at the helm. All this was accomplished at a time when 14th Region girls’ basketball programs led the state.