LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
RUSSELL SPRINGS—With 7:18 left in the third quarter of Monday night’s game, the South Laurel Cardinals trailed host Russell County by 18 points, 41-23. The Lakers looked on their way to a blowout win over the Cardinals.
But South Laurel had other plans.
The Cardinals were able to battle back and tie the game at 54-54 early in the fourth quarter, and had a chance to tie it and send it into overtime, but Jared Grubb’s three at the buzzer rimmed off and Russell County escaped with a 74-71 win.
“We’re getting better,” South Laurel coach Jeff Davis said. “We are improving with each possession and are understanding what we need to do. We are playing at a high level right now.”
South Laurel was its own worst enemy early in the game, especially in the second quarter, where the Lakers outscored them 22-7 to take a two-point lead after one and turn it into a 17-point lead at the half. A 16-2 run to open the quarter put Russell County in firm control.
“We had a little rust in the second quarter,” Davis said. “I gave them a couple of days off after last week’s tough schedule and we came out a little sluggish.”
But that sluggishness started to wear off in the third quarter as the Cardinals mounted their comeback.
It started with seven straight points from Zac Baxter, including a three, to cut the lead to 43-30 with 5:52 left. The lead was at 11 (47-36) at the 4:14 mark when South Laurel ended the quarter with a 12-5 run, and suddenly the once double-digit lead was down to four, 52-48, heading into the fourth quarter.
Two threes by Baxter to open the quarter tied the game at 54-54. Russell County’s Blake Ellis then sank two free throws to put his team back up by two, 56-54. The Lakers then got the ball inside to Nick Coffey, and his basket made it a four-point game.
The Cards were down three, 62-59, when Russell County turned the ball over at the 3:32 mark But the Cards gave the ball right back and Ellis was again fouled. He hit both of his free throws to make it a five point game, 64-59, at the 2:59 mark.
Two Baxter free throws brought South back to within three at 64-61. But on the other end Coffey again scored on a lay-up and the lead was back to five, 66-61.
A three by Trevor Grubb at the 2:19 mark brought South back to within two, 66-64. On South’s next possession, Baxter drove to the basket and was called for a charge, a decision that didn’t sit well with the South Laurel bench or its fans. It was Baxter’s fifth foul. Twelve seconds later, Trevor Grubb was whistled for his fifth foul, so the Cardinals would be without two key players for the final 1:37 of the game.
“It hurt us not having Zac and Trevor in the game,” Davis said. “That made a difference. But our bench has been playing well. They are buying in to what their roles are.”
A 5-0 Russell County rum looked to seal the deal with a 73-66 lead with 28.9 seconds left. But a Jared Grubb three, followed by a turnover that resulted in a basket by Grubb, and the lead was down to two, 73-71, with 11.7 seconds remaining,
Grubb would steal the ball, but Colton Back stole it right back and was fouled with 6.5 seconds left. He missed the first free throw, but sank the second to make it a three point game.
Braden Miller then inbounded the ball to Grubb, who pushed it upcourt and fired a three that just rimmed off as the buzzer sounded and Russell County escaped with a 74-71 win.
Baxter led the Cards with 23 points, while Jared Grubb added 18 and Trevor Grubb, 13. Kei Stotts led Russell County with 21 points, while Ellis had 17 and Coffey, 15.
“I’m pleased with our effort,” Davis said. “We fought and we showed great poise.”
The Cardinals will now host North Laurel Friday.
Russell County 74, South Laurel 71
South Laurel 14 7 27 23—71
Russell County 16 22 14 22—74
SOUTH LAUREL (71)—T. Grubb 13, Baxter 23, J. Grubb 18, Holcomb 2, Helton 2, Braden Miller 3, Brennan Miller 9.
RUSSELL COUNTY (74)—Turner 6, Stotts 21, Coffey 4, Ellis 17, Coffey 15, Bertram 6, Back 4.