By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
I think I know what happened Tuesday night in Clay County. The anticipated showdown between North Laurel and Clay County turned into a long celebration for the Tigers.
It’s like the commercial where the guy is afraid to come up from the basement because his team took a lead while he was away. I did something out of character that day. I told everyone and texted others that North Laurel would win the game. It was the kiss of death for the Jaguars.
I should have known it was a bad pick when I saw legendary coach Bobby Keith pause to give a little pep talk to the cheerleaders. Richie Farmer was there too and his son Trey shot like dad this night.
What led to such a pick? I really felt like North Laurel was on the brink of putting it all together. Throughout the season I have felt the same way about Jackson County, Bell County, Knox Central, Corbin, South Laurel and now Clay County.
Jackson County is and was a popular pick to win the region, but I jumped off their bandwagon and onto Knox Central when the Panthers won that showdown 81-71. Bell County seemed to have momentum until they lost consecutive games to South Laurel and Harlan County. Clay County’s recent stretch of three straight losses, including a loss to Bell County made them look vulnerable. Clay County also lost a home game to Knox Central. The Tigers only other home loss this season was to Lexington Catholic.
Corbin went through a stretch of five straight losses, which included Bell County, South Laurel, and Knox Central.
Bottom line is that it should be a wide open tournament. If the officials calling the 13th Region Tournament allow physical play as predicted it will open up inside play for someone. The larger floor at The Arena will play in someone’s favor and I’m not sure who it will be.
Some say bigger floors help smaller teams, but the smaller teams also like to press and force tempo. That’s not as easily done with more room to guard.
North Laurel won the tournament the last time it was played there with a two-point win over Clay County in the 2012 finals. One of those two teams might not even make it out of the 49th District.
In 2011, it was Bell County winning the 13th Region at the Arena. The tournament moved to The Arena in 2010 with Bell County beating Corbin in four overtimes.
So we know North’s Brad Sizemore and Bell’s Lewis Morris both know how to get a team to Rupp Arena. We know Clay County is the champ until someone knocks them off. But we don’t know who is going to win. At least I don’t and I have already proven that once.