Pikeville boys search for back-to-back trips to Rupp Arena

PIKEVILLE, Ky. (WYMT) - It seems like no matter the sport, Pikeville will always hold a seat at the table. The Panthers won the 15th region last season, and they're back for more this year.

"Our goal every year is win a district championship, win All "A" region and then make a run at All "A" state," Senior Guard Christian Billiter says. "Then win a regional championship and make a run at state, like it always is."

If they want to get back to Rupp, Pikeville will need to replace a couple key seniors, including Wyatt Battaile. Battaile scored over 24 points per game and added eight rebounds per contest.

"Losing Wyatt is going to hurt a lot, but I think we have some good guys that can step in and take - not his role, but they can pick up their game," Senior Guard Kyle Watkins says. "Cause everybody's been working hard in the off season, and I don't think anybody in the region is going to be ready for us."

The Panthers say replacing Battaile will require a team effort.

"Wyatt was a tremendous asset to our team, but we're going to make up for it," says Connor Roberts, a senior guard. "Everybody has to pick up a different role, like Wyatt had a lot of rebounds and of course he scored a lot, so somebody's going to have to pick up the rebounding and somebody's going to have to pick up the scoring end of it. It's really going to be everybody contributing together to help make up for him."

In terms of style of play, the Panthers plan to stay the same.

"Up and down the court, high energy, press all game," Billiter says. "We're not going to be tired. We're going to up in your face the whole game, so just gotta be ready for it."

The Panthers were already fast last year, but they plan on being even faster this year.

"I think we'll run-and-gun more than we did last year at least," Senior Forward JT Orem says. "We had guys that could've done it last year, but now we have a lot of guards and a lot of bigs that can run the floor and get up and down. So that's what i think we'll do this year."

This season, they have a senior lead team that knows the ropes and has experience in winning.

"Hopefully we'll be able to set a good example for the younger kids," says Byron Hammond, a senior forward. "Show them that hard work will pay off in the end, cause just this team has put in an insane amount of work over the off season."

"We've got a senior-led team again this year, and these guys have got some experience and they understand how to win and how we want to play," says Head Coach Elisha Justice. "Obviously they're going to have to take the lead and lead some of the younger guys, and lead by example with their hard work."

The Pikeville Panthers open up the season ranked No. 6 in the boys' Alice Lloyd College Mountain Top 10.

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