Cundiff came close to coaching at state
By Jim Turner


Posted on January 1, 0001 12:00 AM



A former Russellville basketball star and Auburn basketball coach came ever so close to leading his team to the state tournament this season.
Nelson Cundiff's Mercer County Titans reached the 12th Region finals before losing by three points (51-48) to one of the state's best teams, West Jessamine. The same two teams had played an even closer game a week earlier when West Jessamine beat the Titans 69-64 in overtime in the district championship game.

Cundiff's team had won over West 68-64 on the Titans' home court during the regular season with the Colts winning 88-74 in Nicholasville.
How good is West Jessamine? The Colts were coming off a Final Four season a year ago when they lost in the state semifinals to Louisville Central, which won the championship that night. This year Coach Damon Kelley's team won its state tournament opener 73-63 over Muhlenberg County before losing in the quarterfinals to a Shelby Valley team which went on to win the state. So the Colts won three games at state the last two years before losing to the teams which would win the state.

And Nelson Cundiff's team was just an eyelash away from being as good as West Jessamine.

More good news for Mercer County is that the Titans' top four scorers against West in the district finals at East Jessamine were all juniors. West Jessamine started four seniors, including Jarrod Polson, who was considered the state's second best point guard behind Mr. Basketball Elisha Justice of Shelby Valley.

Cundiff's team finished 22-10. He hasn't had a losing season in his four seasons at the Titans' helm. Before that he had great success as the girls coach at Nelson County where he succeeded the legendary Herbie Phelps as coach. He guided his 2004-05 team to the Fifth Region finals while he was in Bardstown.

Nelson was one of Russellville's best basketball players of the 80's; in fact, you could make an argument for his being one of the best Panthers of any decade. He still is the only Panther to have been named Fourth Region Player of the Year, according to Russellville basketball historian Greg Owens. He was also a distance runner in track for the Panthers before switching to baseball and becoming a starting infielder.
He was the best player for Lindsey Wilson in its first years as a four-year college. He was also one of the most popular students there.

Cundiff coached Auburn Middle School in the mid-90s and then went to Todd Central as an assistant coach under Dennis Pardue.
Nelson was coming home to coach his Titans in the First Southern National Bank/Roy's Christmas Classic in December 2008, but he was in an horrendous automobile accident that not only kept him from being here, but almost wrecked his life. He broke his back, an ankle and some ribs along with suffering internal injuries; after he finally left the hospital, he was unable to coach anymore that season..The Titans lost to Pardue's RHS Panthers by a single point in the championship game of the tournament here, but the team's season nose-dived without Cundiff directing their fortunes.

This has been a difficult four years in Mercer County's history. Just as Cundiff made the switch, small-but-proud Harrodsburg High School was closed and absorbed into Mercer County High. The transition has been far from smooth and sometimes unpleasant, insiders say.

Married to the former Cassie Stokes of Todd County, whose dad Phil Stokes owns a motor company on Russellville's Main Street, Nelson Cundiff hopes some day to return to this area and help lead a team to a Fourth Region championship. With credentials like his, that day may not be too far away.
The LoJo
The Mercer County-Land of Logan Connection is a strong one. Former Logan County High School head boys basketball and baseball coach Chris Souder is the girls coach at Mercer County. His Lady Titans went 20-10 this year and won the 46th District Tournament. They played one of the top ranked teams in the state, 12th Region champion Rockcastle County to within five points.

Souder has had a remarkable run at the school. In 11 seasons as head coach, his team has won the district seven times and been runner-up the other four. He's never been one-and-out in postseason play. Additionally he has coached three teams to the regional finals, winning the championship in 2002-03. That state tournament team had a 28-6 record.

In those 11 seasons, his teams have won 20 or more games seven years. The Lady Titans have put together winning records 9 of the 11 seasons. His composite record at Mercer County is 233-112.

One of his assistants has been Sean Pigman, former head girls basketball and golf coach at LCHS.




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