By Denis House
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
If you wanted a model of what a true high school rivalry game is, then Tuesday night’s South Laurel-Corbin match up was the blueprint that all other games should be patterned after.
A nearly packed gym. Two tremendous student sections. A Twitter war the week leading up to the game. Eleven ties. Seventeen lead changes. Two overtimes. And a buzzer beating lay-up that gave the Cardinals a 77-75 win over the visiting Redhounds.
“It’s been a long time coming,” South Laurel coach Jeff Davis said. The win snapped Corbin’s 11-game winning streak over South Laurel. “It feels good to get it.” You would have to go back to Jan. 29, 2009, to find the last time a South Laurel team beat Corbin, 66-58.
The game was tied, 75-75, with 20.5 seconds left in the second overtime after Trevor Grubb made 1-of-2 free throws. Corbin inbounded the ball and it was deflected away. Austin Rader chased down the loose ball in front of the South Laurel student section and passed it to Blake Sanders, who drove to the basket surrounded by four Corbin players.
Sanders then dished the ball off Austin Schaser, who laid the ball in as the buzzer went off, prompting the South Laurel students to storm the court in celebration of the 77-75 win.
“Look at what Rader did,” Davis said. “He was a force on defense, and hustled to run down that ball for the steal.” Just minutes prior to that Rader had missed two open lay-ups. But his steal made up for those misses.
“I love Austin Schaser and I love him to death, but Blake Sanders coming down in the lane and no one thinks he’s going to pass it to Austin and he did and Austin hit the shot,” Davis said. “We’ve been telling our guys this past week that if they step up on us, dish it and make our big guys have to step up and make it inside. I’m happy for our kids and this senior bunch. The way they were focused and came ready to play. And for those fans who support us. I’m happy with the way we played.”
It was the second straight double overtime game for South Laurel, as the Cards fell to Harrison County on Saturday, 71-70.
There’s hasn’t been this much excitement and intensity for a South Laurel-Corbin game since the 2007-08 season, the last of South’s four straight trips to the state tournament.
And this game lived up to any of the previous meetings between these two district foes, including any of the region finals they have met in. In fact, this game had the feel of a region final.
Corbin (15-7, 3-1) had the momentum coming into the game, riding a 5-game winning streak and winners of eight of its last nine games, including wins over Knox Central and Whitley County, two teams that beat South Laurel (8-11, 3-2) during the Cards 3-game losing streak coming into the game.
But the inspired play that South Laurel showed in its loss to Harrison County carried over into this match-up.
Like two heavyweight boxers, the teams traded punches, but neither could land that knockout blow until the final second basket by Schaser. The Cards led after one, 18-16, an 39-32 at the half.
“We just didn’t start out well,” Corbin coach Tony Pietrowski said. “You can’t lose players like (Zac) Baxter and (Matt) Slavey—they just gapped us early.”
Zac Baxter, who finished with 17, scored seven of those in the first quarter. Meanwhile, Corbin used the three-point shooting of Hunter Grubb and Kaleb Maguet to take a 12-8 lead with 4:35 left.
It was a Baxter three that cut the lead to one, 12-11. Still trailing by one, 14-13, Matthew Slavey followed his own miss for a basket and a foul. He missed the free throw, but South was now up, 15-14. Slavey would score nine points before fouling out midway through the third quarter.
South started to take control in the second quarter. Consecutive threes by Slavey, Baxter and Zack Jones gave the Cards a 31-24 advantage with 2:35 left in the half. Five points by Joey Shelton helped Corbin cut the lead to two, 33-31, at the 1:18 mark. The Cards went inside to Schaser for two baskets and a 39-32 halftime lead.
Corbin opened the third with a three by Grubb, then went inside to Robbie Igo for a basket, cutting South’s lead to one, 39-38. Baxter answered with a three, but Maguet made one of his own, keeping the Redhounds within two, 42-40. Both teams hit seven three-pointers in the game.
Another Grubb three and the Redhounds were back on top, 43-40. Slavey then tried to drive against Maguet, but was called for the offensive foul. He was then hit with a technical for his fifth foul and would watch the remainder of the game from the bench.
Maguet hit his free throw, then Grubb scored again, and Corbin had pushed its lead to four, 46-42, with 3:44 left.
Two free throws from Jon Helton and Jones, and a three by Jones, gave South a 49-46 lead before Trevor Hill drained a three, tying the game at 49-49 heading into the fourth.
Kevin Goins opened the fourth with a three and a lay-up to give Corbin a 54-49 lead. But every time it looked like one team was ready to pull away, the other would answer the call.
Hill was whistled for a foul on Sanders in front of the South Laurel student section. He was also given a technical on the play. Sanders sank all four free throws, then Schaser scored off an offensive rebound, and South was back in front, 55-54.
Two more free throws from Sanders made it 59-55 with 4:20 left before Zach Farley made two of his own, followed by a nice spin move for a basket from Igo, and the game was tied, 59-59.
Now it was Miller time, as in Brennan Miller. He scored the next four South Laurel points to give his team a 63-61 lead with 2:02 left.
“At the beginning of the season Brennan came in behind two point guards in Blake (Sanders) and Trevor (Grubb),” Davis said. “Then he was thrown into the point guard role when both of them went out with injuries, and he handled that magnificently. Now with those two players back he has to define his role on the team. He does what I ask him to do.”
After Corbin took a 65-63 lead, Sanders hit a short jumper with 17.6 seconds left in regulation to tie the game. The Cards had a chance to win it at the buzzer but Jared Grubb’s shot wouldn’t fall.
The Redhounds then went cold from the field in the overtime sessions, hitting just 2-of-11 shots from the field. Miller scored in the first OT, but Corbin tied it back up on two free throws by Farley. This time it was Corbin’s chance to win it at the buzzer, but Grubb’s shot missed.
Igo scored to open the second overtime, then Grubb sank two free throws to give Corbin a 71-67 advantage. South needed someone to step up, and that someone was Sanders, who scored seven straight points, the last on a jumper with 33.9 seconds left, to bring his team to within one, 75-74.
The Cards’ defense then forced a Corbin turnover on an inbounds play. Grubb was fouled by Maguet with 20.5 seconds left. He hit the first free throw, but missed the second, leaving the game tied 75-75 and setting up the thrilling finish with Schaser’s basket at the buzzer.
“This was an exciting game with two great teams battling it out,” Davis said. “Head-to-head and blow-to-blow. Corbin’s a really good team. We were lucky enough to come out on top.”
“I thought there were two, three or four times late in the game and in overtime we could have handled things better,” Pietrowski said.”
Davis likes what he has seen from his team over the past two games.
“We’re starting to become a family and have that I got your back mentality,” Davis said. “We decided to simplify things to get back to being us. We have to remember that every team we play is as good as or better than us.”
For the game, South shot 27-of-60 from the field for 45 percent, and 16-of-25 from the free throw line for 64 percent. Corbin was 22-of-56 from the field (39.2 percent) and 24-of-28 from the charity stripe (85.7 percent).
Sanders led South with 20, followed by 17 from Baxter and 12 from Schaser. Igo led four Corbin players in double figures with 17. Grubb added 15, Maguet, 12, and Goins, 11.
The Cards will host Willamsburg tonight and Barbourville on Saturday.
South Laurel 77, Corbin 75 (2 OT)
Corbin 16 16 17 16 2 8—75
South Laurel 18 21 10 16 2 10—77
CORBIN (75)—Igo 17, Grubb 15, Maguet 12, Hill 7, Goins 11, Shelton 7, Farley 6.
SOUTH LAUREL (77)—Baxter 17, Schaser 12, Slavey 9, Sanders 20, Jones 8, Miller 7, Rader 1, Helton 2, T. Grubb 1.