The Southwestern Warriors boys' basketball team pulled off one of the better postseason runs in 12th Region history this past spring, upsetting three tourney favorites en route to winning the school's second-ever regional championship.
Who was the man behind that magical postseason run? Warrior head coach Chris Baker.
For playing the lead role in Southwestern's march to a regional championship, Baker has been tabbed as the Commonwealth Journal's 2018 Coach of the Year.
Baker felt extremely humbled to win the award, but he credits the players and the coaches that he gets the opportunity to work with each day at Southwestern.
"I am honored to win this award when you look back at the coaches who have won it before," told the third-year Southwestern head basketball coach. "It is very humbling to be in such company. It is also a recognition of the great players and coaches I have had the great fortune to work with."
After suffering a 39-24 loss to Wayne County in the 48th District Championship, Southwestern didn't help themselves out for the region tourney, as they would have to go into the tournament as a district runner-up. After a lackluster performance at Wayne County, the Warriors were certainly not one of the favorites to make it out of the first round, much less win the whole thing.
"The loss to Wayne County was the low point, but that group was as tough mentally as you will find, and they handled it all remarkably - and to knock out the 3 teams that have stopped us time after time made it that much sweeter." told Baker. "Coach (Stephen) Butcher said it best when he said, 'You handled all the family business in a single week.' As coaches, it is our job to put our kids in the best position to win, and give those kids credit because they went out and made the game plan a reality."
In the opening round of the regional tourney, Southwestern pulled off their first upset of the week, taking down Boyle County by a score of 62-60. The two-point win over the Boyle County Rebels avenged a tough loss from the 2017 region tourney, but more importantly, allowed them to advance to the semis.
Coming into the semifinal contest against the Maroons of Pulaski County, the Warriors had not beaten their rival in their three previous meetings of the season. Southwestern got the 'W' when it mattered the most, taking down the Maroons by a final tally of 53-44. With the emotional triumph, the boys in blue and orange punched their tickets to the regional finals.
An evening after downing Pulaski County at PC Gym, Southwestern got a steal and a last-second lay-up to defeat Mercer County, 48-46, in the regional title game. The two-point victory at the buzzer gave the Warriors their second regional championship in the history of the program, as the first title came in 2012.
Southwestern would fall to a hot-shooting Warren Central ballclub in the opening round of the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys Sweet Sixteen® Basketball Tournament the following week in Lexington. Despite the 68-44 loss at Rupp Arena, it was quite the year to remember for Baker and company.
The Warriors battled adversity all-season long, as many players missed several games due to various illnesses and injuries. Overcoming all of that adversity made last season's regional championship that much sweeter for the Warrior Nation.
"Last year's run to the region title really was magical," Baker stated. "We had struggled all-year long with injuries that just seemed to pile on one after another. We put our staring five on the floor together in mid-December, and it would be the last game of the year at Mercer County before that would happen again."
In the 2017-18 season, the Warriors finished with an overall record of 18-15 in Baker's second year at the helm of the program. After two seasons at Southwestern, Baker's record as the Warrior coach is 42-21.
The 2018 Commonwealth Journal Coach of the Year had a slew of people that he wanted to show his appreciation to, including his family, coaching staff, administration, booster club, and the teachers.
"I am so lucky to be the coach at Southwestern," Baker said. "I had applied for this job every year that it came open, and to finally land the job and to win a region title was a dream come true. There were so many people that contributed - it was a group effort. My coaches, Don Daniel, Casey Dalton, Rusty Glover and TJ Bower did so much behind the scenes. The administration at Southwestern made sure we always had whatever we needed. The boosters, especially Robin Dykes, who took care of every kid like it was their own. My family supported me in every way possible, especially through the injury plagued months that were so frustrating."
"The teachers at Southwestern who encouraged, tutored and supported the players, shared a part in it all," continued the Warrior hoops coach. "This award belongs to all of them, and the culture of Southwestern basketball every bit as much as it belongs to me. It is a privilege to win this award and to be the coach at Southwestern."
Follow Michael Childers on Twitter - @GetChili22