MCKEE—The storylines are familiar for North Laurel.
Clay County’s 71-58 win Friday gave the Tigers the 49th District title again. Take away one quarter and it may have been North Laurel celebrating.
“Since I have been here, we haven’t been able to beat them. So, hats off to them,” North Laurel coach Jim Conway said.
North Laurel thought this could be the year. The senior-laden Jaguars had lost in overtime earlier this season at Clay County. That game they played without starter Raymond Shears.
“I liked our chances. Especially when we started out well,” Conway said.
It was a good first quarter for the Jaguars. A quarter they won, 16-10, even though two regular starters, Chris Cheek and Adrian Wardrup, opened on the bench.
“We have team rules and they broke a team rule. We had a team meeting and they were late,” Conway said.
The first four minutes were a 4-4 tie without Cheek and Wardrup. When Wardrup entered the game, he made an immediate impact. Wardrup scored nine straight points and boosted the Jaguars to a 13-4 lead.
“He’s our leading scorer and the guy that makes things happen for us,” Conway said. “Usually when he plays well, we play well.”
The Tigers drew within 13-10 before Wardrup closed the quarter with a three-pointer.
North Laurel out shot and out rebounded Clay County in the first quarter. That would not be the case in the second quarter. One quarter has led to several losses this season.
“We made a run in the first quarter, but we couldn’t sustain it,” Conway said. “We fired on all cylinders offensively in the first quarter.”
North Laurel led 18-12 when Clay County started to warm up. Like a perfect storm, they also started grabbing every rebound and the Jaguars stopped hitting. The shooting woes Conway attributed to shot selection.
“There were times we would handle their pressure and get the ball to half court, then we went 100 miles per hour at the goal. I told them to attack only if we had the numbers,” he said.
When North Laurel missed, they didn’t get another chance. Clay County claimed the first nine rebounds of the second quarter. An 8-0 run allowed Clay County to take the lead . Cody Likins sank a three-pointer to give the lead back to the Jaguars. North Laurel would go almost five minutes before making another field goal. By then, the seven-point lead it began the quarter with was an eight-point deficit. Clay County led 33-25 at half-time.
“At half-time I was upset with them for a lack of defense. That’s what it came down to and rebounding,” Conway said.
He also mentioned the basketball fundamental of the defense stopping the man with the ball. Clay County opened the second half scoring with Kendale Reed taking a rebound end to end for a lay-up and the first double-figure lead. Clay County pushed the lead to 14-points, but this time it was from the outside. D.J. Wilson and Codie Roberts sank three-pointers to lead the charge.
“They’ve got specific guys you can’t let shoot,” Conway said. “In the second half, we were scrambling and left them open on the break.”
The closest North Laurel came from that point was 46-37. Cheek made a steal under the North Laurel basket and converted the lay-up. Raymond Shears made a three-pointer to end the third quarter.
The game’s pace added another gear in a fourth quarter that saw the teams combine for 46 points and a total of 32 free throws. The Jaguars never threatened the Clay County lead.
Although both team’s advance to the 13th Region Tournament, the loss means North Laurel will now face a winner from an opposing district, either Corbin, Harlan County, or Knox Central.
“You’re not going to draw your way through a region tournament, but I don’t want to draw Corbin right off the bat,” Conway said.
The Jaguars already have a win over Bell County and two wins over Knox Central this year. The Boys’ 13th Region Tournament begins Tuesday at The Arena in Corbin.
Mitch Howard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
49th District Final
at Jackson County
Clay County 71, North Laurel 58
Clay County 10 23 13 25—71
North Laurel 16 9 12 21—58
CLAY COUNTY (71)—Wilson 16, Roberts 12, Mitchell 12, England 7, Gay 8, Reed 16.
NORTH LAUREL (58)—Cheek 9, Wardrup 21, Shears 14, Likins 13, Baker 1.
Second quarter does in North Laurel in 71-58 loss
MCKEE—The storylines are familiar for North Laurel.
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