THE BEARS BELONG/Ty Price, Butler County embracing first KHSAA Sweet 16 berth in school history


They’ve been waiting for a boys basketball season like this at Butler County High School for a long, long time.

Calvin Dockery is in his 11th season as the Bears’ head coach, and he played at Butler County in the late ’80s.

He’s seen it all come to fruition. Butler County has earned its first berth in the KHSAA Sweet 16, the first such berth in SCHOOL HISTORY, and the Bears are poised to build on this unprecedented success over the next few days at Lexington’s Rupp Arena.

Butler County (23-8 overall) rolled into the Sweet 16 by sweeping through the KHSAA 3rd Region Tournament, beating Daviess County, Ohio County and then finally Owensboro Catholic High School, all by double digits. Ty Price, the Bears’ do-it-all junior guard, is averaging nearly 30 points per game. The city of Morgantown may as well be shut down on Thursday, when Butler County makes its maiden voyage to the promised land of the Sweet 16.

Butler County will square off with Louisville’s Evangel Christian Academy, a private school with an enrollment of roughly 40 students, for grades 9-12, in first-round play on Thursday. They’ll tangle at 1:30 p.m., Eastern Time, after Warren Central and Harlan County get the second day of the tournament rolling with an earlier start.

(That’s approximately 12:30 p.m., in Morgantown and thereabouts, so adjust your schedules accordingly.)

“Our guys have worked incredibly hard, to get to this point,” Dockery said. “(The Sweet 16) was a goal that we set, in preseason. It’s been a mantra for awhile, to do ‘what’s never been done here.’ The guys have embraced the theme, ‘Why not us?’

“Our team chemistry really has developed over the course of the season. Right after Christmas, we reminded ourselves of what our goals were, and how we could achieve that level of success. That meant everyone was going to have to sacrifice a little of themselves, for the betterment of the team.”

The results speak for themselves.

Butler County isn’t a particularly deep squad, but the Bears have learned how to make it work. They’ve got a unique challenge on their hands in tangling with Evangel Christian, with such a small enrollment, a reminder that Kentucky is the last state in the nation to have a totally inclusive tournament — for basketball, at least — without classifications. Evangel Christian has two guards, seniors Kyler Tilley and Christian Doerr, who both average more than 17 points per game.

Inside, Evangel has two 6-foot-8 forwards in Ben Mukadi and Johny Dejema. The Eagles take a 29-6 overall record into the Sweet 16, having earned their way to Lexington with a 64-54 victory over Fairdale last week in the KHSAA 6th Region Tournament finals.

Butler County, with an enrollment of about 660 students, almost passes for a Goliath compared to tiny Evangel Christian, but semantics are the last thing on the mind of Dockery and Eagles coach Larry Miller. The winner of Thursday afternoon’s first-round matchup will tangle with either Louisville’s Trinity High School (26-7) or Pulaski County (23-10).

Trinity is considered one of the tournament favorites, but looming in the distance is defending KHSAA Sweet 16 state champion Warren Central. Should the Dragons and Butler County each open tournament play with two victories, they’d square off in the second of two semifinals on Saturday afternoon.

The championship game is set for 7 p.m. EDT on Saturday, so it’ll be a logistical challenge for any team coming out of Butler County’s half of the bracket.

Not that the Bears are getting ahead of themselves. They’ve waited too long for this breakthrough.

“Evangel presents a definite challenge,” Butler County coach Calvin Dockery said. “They are solid, and well rounded. We will need to execute, at a high level, to win this game. We’ve got a lot of respect for what they’ve accomplished, and the talent they have.”

The 6-foot-7 Dockery is a favorite son in Morgantown, a former Bears player who is on the faculty at Butler County Middle School. While Ty Price, the Bears’ junior guard, has commanded the bulk of the headlines, Butler County has a solid front-line player in junior Lawson Rice. Rice averages 18 points and 11 rebounds per game, and another Bears player, junior guard Briar Griffin, averages just under 12 points per game.

Meaning Griffin, Rice and Price all figure to be back for the 2024-25 season. Price spent his freshman year at South Warren High School before transferring to Butler County, and he’s helped the Bears compile a 45-19 overall record over the last two seasons.

Bryce Button, South Warren’s standout quarterback/swingman, was Ty Price’s basketball teammate for the 2021-22 season, when the Spartans finished 14-16 under former South coach Jason Holland.

“From what I remember,” Button said via text message, “(Price) was a very hard worker and a very talented ballplayer. I would guard him in practice, and we would push other to be better. I always thought he was a cool kid to be around, too.”

The 6-foot, 160-pound Price figures to be heavily recruited over the next few months, which could help the Bears’ profile across the Commonwealth.

“Ty’s been in contact with many schools,” Dockery said, “and I expect that to blow up over the summer, as well.”

For the time being, of course, all eyes in Morgantown are cast toward Rupp Arena. Butler County’s Ty Price told Micheal Compton of the Bowling Green Daily News that the Bears understand the challenge at hand.

“We’ve been playing teams like (Evangel) all year,” Price said. “I definitely feel like we are prepared … playing as well as we did in the region tournament, in front of a big crowd (at Owensboro’s Sportscenter) like that, a big atmosphere.

“I feel like we’re definitely prepared, even though it’s our first time stepping on that court.”