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Final Four: Shelby fans red and ready

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The Cardinals’ Final 4 berths have created excitement – and travel plans for several, even a UK fan or two.

By Todd Martin

University of Louisville fans around the county proudly have been displaying their flags, shirts and hats this week as the Cardinals’ men’s squad prepares for a second consecutive trip to the NCAA Basketball Tournament Final Four in Atlanta and the women’s team also gets ready for the Final Four in New Orleans.

“We’ve definitely been selling more [Cardinals gear] because they’ve been winning,” said Stryder Reed, assistant manager at Hibbett Sports in Village Plaza Shopping Center on Midland Trail in Shelbyville. “And a lot of people have been calling in and coming in asking about Final Four shirts and stuff.”

But Reed said the store doesn’t have the hottest new Cardinals shirt – at least not yet. Adidas came out with a new “Rise to the Occasion” shirt for UofL, with the No. 5 in place of the “s” in Rise and with a No. 5 on the back. The shirt honors Louisville guard Kevin Ware, who broke his leg while jumping to try to block a shot during the first half of the Cardinals’ victory over Duke in the Elite Eight last weekend in Indianapolis. The freak but gruesome injury has made Ware a rallying point for the team.

“We didn’t get any of the Ware shirts,” Reed said. “A lot of people have been asking about them, but I don’t know why we didn’t get any. They usually just try to guess what will sell at each store. If we do get some they’ll probably come UPS this week.”

Jeff Popp, a Louisville fan who was shopping at Hibbett on Thursday, said he wasn’t planning a trip but he wanted to show his support.

“I came in looking for a flag for my car, but everybody is sold out,” he said. “I’ve been everywhere in Shelbyville and I can’t find one. I’ll just have to settle for a shirt and maybe a hat.”

Popp said he’s excited to watch the Cards, both teams.

“Oh shoot yeah, I’m excited and not just about the boys but the girls as well,” he said. “I got a daughter that played though high school and I got into watch the girls games. Heck, they’ve been just as good as the guy’s games. I’m just as excited for them.”

Several fans could be checking in with the local sporting goods store to see if they can pick up shirts on the way to Atlanta today, tomorrow or even Monday if the Cards advance past Wichita State. Those two meet up Saturday at 6:05 p.m. in Atlanta to see who will face the winner of the University of Michigan and Syracuse University in the following game.

The championship game will be Monday.

Because the NCAA moved the tournament back one week this year, it seems several fans aren’t going to be able to travel with the Cards. Many Cardinals’ fans contacted by The Sentinel-News said they just had too much going on to make the trip, although they would love to go.

But there are others for whom things have just fallen into place.

Lawren Just, developer and golf course owner at Persimmon Ridge, already was making a trek to Augusta, Ga., on Monday for a practice round of the Masters golf tournament. She got four tickets for the day through the tournament’s lottery system.

“I really would have preferred not to have Monday,” she said. “But now I’m loving it.”

Just and her husband, Doug Garmon, and their friends Bob and Georgene Ring are planning to be at the course by 8 a.m. and then leave early enough to make the 2-hour drive to Atlanta and be at the championship game that night, if the Cardinals advance.

“I’m so excited,” she said. “You can’t beat that day. I’m a diehard Cards fan; we’ve had season tickets since 1978.”

Just was also in Indianapolis last weekend, sitting about 20 rows off the floor to watch the Cardinals rout Duke University.

“When Kevin Ware went down, you could hear a pin drop in there,” she said. “We were directly across from the Louisville bench, and we didn’t know what was going on. Finally, when we could see it, I just yelled, ‘Oh my God, he broke his leg.’

“But what an amazing game.”

Just is riding a bit of a lucky streak; She came into those Elite Eight tickets after surprise a from her son Patrick.

“He was there for the first game in Indianapolis, too, and after UofL won, they moved down to some lower seats, and during a timeout he stood up and yelled ‘My mom’s birthday is this week, anybody have tickets for Sunday?’ The guy right in front of him said he did. Then, at midnight that night, I got a text from him that said, ‘Happy Birthday, mom, I love you,’ and it had a picture of the tickets attached.”

Just said her son also is going to Atlanta, and hopefully he can pull off the same feat after Saturday’s games.

“Oh, he’ll be trying for us again,” she said.

Although some fans are traveling to see their favorite team, others are headed to Atlanta without a rooting interest.

Ken Cates, a University of Kentucky graduate and Shelby County High School assistant basketball coach, is going to the game with his dad, George, despite the fact that they’re both Kentucky fans.

“My dad got the tickets through the [NCAA] lottery before the season started, and when the preseason polls came out, I thought, ‘Oh, man this could be the best year ever if Kentucky, Louisville and Indiana could all make it,’” Cates said.

“Of course, as the season went on, it was obvious that Kentucky wasn’t going to make it. But we’re still going and we’re going to just take it all in.”

Cates, whose wife, Suzanne Cates, is the head softball coach at Collins, can’t make the trip because of scheduled games, but Cates said she’s a big UofL fan.

“Yeah,” he said while laughing, “we’re really a house divided.”

Cates said they really never thought of not going.

“My dad has put in several times for tickets, and we’ve never gotten them, and we rarely get to travel together,” he said.

“He’s decided to root for them [UofL], but I don’t know if I can do it. I have packed a red shirt though.”