PREP BKB: Unbeaten County Line relies on sixth-man Vest in key role

County Line’s Caden Vest (21) maneuvers in the lane as The New School’s Evan Goldman (23) defends during the second quarter of the Indians’ 52-30 win at County Line High School in Branch. The undefeated Indians (44-0) will take on Marked Tree today in the Class 1A state championship in Hot Springs. Hank Layton / NWA Democrat-Gazette

COUNTY LINE -- Caden Vest is much more than the sixth man, or the first player off the bench, for County Line.

He's an invaluable asset for the Indians.

"It's unreal, he's 6-7 with good hands that can score, that can rebound, that can defend," County Line Coach Joe Brunson said. "We're very fortunate."

The unbeaten Indians will need that kind of contribution again at 7:45 p.m. today in the Class 1A boys state championship game against Marked Tree at Bank OZK Arena in Hot Springs.

County Line starts seniors Aundrae Milum, Drake Price and Kelby Rudd with juniors Cooper Watson and Trent Johnston, but Vest has been just as much a part of the 44-0 season.


"We've got six guys that are playing, and only five of them can start," Brunson said. "All of them are key guys. He's really important to what we're trying to do."

Vest always is on the floor by the end of the first quarter for a couple of reasons.

"Sometimes, we try to get him in the game because we know he can help," Brunson said. "Other times, it's necessitated because of foul trouble. He does a real good job for us. He's a good player."

Vest said he fully accepts and understands his role off the bench.

"I just come in, do my part and work with the team," Vest said. "I just come in there and do what I need to do."

Having six players equal to the success of the team came in handy in the state semifinal Saturday. County Line led just 12-10 after a quarter and despite 24 points in the second quarter still led just 36-27 at the half against Shirley. Vest picked up his third foul in the second quarter, Johnston and Watson were both whistled for their third in the third quarter.

"We were managing foul trouble all night long," Brunson said. "Cooper was in foul trouble, Trent was in foul trouble, and Caden was in foul trouble."

The Indians answered with 21 points in the third quarter, and pulled away for a 71-58 win.

In the first-round win over Bradley, Vest had 10 points and 10 rebounds, which is almost a typical night for the senior.

Many times, Vest is in the game the same time as Watson, who is 6-6, and Milum, who is 6-2.

"When we have those three guys on the floor, we're pretty big for a Class A team," Brunson said. "That's our big lineup."

When those three are in the game, it allows Milum to slip outside where he's a lethal three-point shooter, and Watson to drive where he does a lot of his offensive work, while Vest anchors the middle both offensively and defensively.

County Line has made back-to-back runs to the state championship game, last year finishing 40-5 after the loss to Bradley in the title game, but that loss hasn't been a motivating factor for the Indians this season.

"We talked about the loss right after it happened," Brunson said. "It's not something we keep coming back to. It's a different team. We do have a lot of the guys back from last year's team, but it's a different team and they're trying to have a good season."

Vest, who also represented County Line at the state golf tournament last year, has enjoyed the Indians' two-year run, which includes 84 wins, as well as the thrill of playing on an exciting team that feasts off turnovers and fast-break layups.

"It's been a ton of fun," Vest said. "It's big motivation when we're on the court. After a steal, we're all pumped. It just rolls on to the next play."