By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
It wasn’t exactly the lineup North Laurel expected to open the season. When starting point guard Kayla Bruner went down with a knee injury in Saturday’s scrimmage, the Lady Jaguars lost one of the most experienced players on an inexperienced team.
“I got the effort I expected. I also knew with our short numbers that we hadn’t been able to practice the way I wanted to practice that we would wear down some too. That’s something we have to get better at,” North Laurel coach Eddie Mahan said. “Our numbers are not going to grow. People are not going to magically show up on our bench.”
Bruner will be evaluated today for the extent of her injury. Baxley Jackson also went down in the JV game with an ankle sprain.
The Lady Jaguars stayed with McCreary Central for most of three quarters before falling 64-48. The starting lineup included three seniors, a sophomore, and a seventh grader. The seventh grader, Hannah Lawson, scored 11 points stepping into Bruner’s spot in her first varsity game.
“She’s obviously a great talent. As she learns the game more this season and learns how to go against this type talent night in an night out, she will improve,” Mahan said.
Lawson made 9-of-12 free throws and drew praise from her coach for attacking the basket. She also defended well against the Lady Raiders’ point guard.
“Her future is a bright spot in the program. There are quite a few great young players in our program, unfortunately a lot of them are playing varsity right now,” Mahan said.
Mahan joked that Lawson’s knees were probably sore from knocking together from pre-game jitters. She wouldn’t be the only player feeling butterflies on this night. But there were also glimpses of what Mahan expects from this team.
“As far as bright spots, I can definitely start with Kendall (Ellington). She came out the way I wanted her to,” Mahan said. “She has gotten better at penetration and being under control when she does . She was focused.”
Ellington led all scorers with 17 points. She scored the first two North Laurel baskets to allow the less experienced players to ease into the game.
“She has to have that same look every night. She has to be a leader,” Mahan said.
Mahan also saw glimpses of what he expects from Ashley Wyatt, although she has been limited for a couple of weeks with shin splints.
“I think just getting that conditioning back will help her play at the pace I want her to play at,” Mahan said.
The Lady Raiders led 13-10 with just 41 seconds in the first quarter, but that would be enough time for a pair of quick three-pointers as the lead stretched to 20-10. Mahan said his players were told who the shooters were for McCreary Central.
“That is something we preached in the scouting report,” Mahan said. “We’re going to have to make sure they understand.”
Brooke Carpenter would spark a North Laurel rally in the second quarter. The North Laurel senior drained a three from the baseline and another from the top of the key on consecutive possessions. With the defense limiting the Lady Raiders to just one field goal in the second quarter, North Laurel climbed all the way back. Ellington’s pull up jumper with 27 seconds in the half tied the game 26-26 at the break.
“I think a lot of it was our nerves calming down,” Mahan said.
There would be a couple of lead changes and the fifth tie of the game in the third quarter. North Laurel managed just two Ellington field goals in the final 5:35 of the third period. When the quarter ended the Lady Raiders had stretched the lead back to 10 points.
“We’re in decent shape, but we’re not in good enough shape to play four quarters right now,” Mahan said. “And some of that was just the ball bouncing their way.”
All 10 players saw action for North Laurel, which is something Mahan doesn’t expect to change. The 30-minutes plus that Bruner played per game has to be spread out now among the rest of the team.
“I know we’re not getting a whole lot from our bench scoring-wise, but we have to have them go out there and get a couple of stops, get some turnovers,” Mahan said. “And when Kayla comes back it is only going to make us better,” Mahan said.
North Laurel will be on the road at Madison Central tonight.
McCreary Central 64, North Laurel 48
McCreary Central 20 6 19 19—64
North Laurel 10 16 9 13—48
MCCREARY CENTRAL (64)—King 13, Gibson 10, Foster 13, Terry 10, Cotton 17.
NORTH LAUREL (48)—Wyatt 7, Gray 2, Lawson 11, Carpenter 9, Ellington 17, Chestnut 1, Rains 1.