By Denis House
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Going into Thursday night’s game with Whitley County, Jeff Davis wanted his team to treat this game like it was a tournament game.
“I flat out told them we can play all these other games, but the district games are the most important,” Davis said. “This being the first district game you don’t want to dig yourself into a hole. So we approached it like a tournament game.”
That approached work, as South Laurel picked up its first win of the season, handing the Colonels a 62-48 defeat.
After dropping its first three games of the season, Davis knew how important it was to come out with a win.
“It was a much-needed win, but more important it was good to learn how to play and gain confidence for those players who have had to step in with our injuries,” Davis said.
Zac Baxter led the Cardinals (1-3) with 23 points, while Matthew Slavey added 16.
The Cards did catch a break as senior forward Boston Bryant did not play in this game. His inside presence was missed by Whitley County (1-2).
Threes from Baxter, Slavey and Jared Grubb helped South Laurel to a 21-14 lead after one. The Colonels scored the opening basket of the game on a lay-up by Devin Rutherford. It would be their only lead of the game.
Back-to-back threes from Baxter and Slavey gave South a 29-16 lead with 5:28 left in the first half. Whitley cut the lead to 29-22 with a 6-0 run. Another three from Grubb, this time with 1:13 left, upped South’s lead to 36-24. The Cards led at the half, 37-26.
A 15-5 run to open the third quarter gave South a 52-31 lead with 3:13 left. During that run, Baxter would score eight points, including two threes. Just as South looked to have things well in hand, the Cards went cold from the field, going 10 minutes without another field goal, scoring only three free throws during that stretch. Whitley had cut the lead to 55-46 before South’s next field goal was scored on a lay-up by Austin Rader at the 1:48 mark. The basket restored the lead to double digits, 57-46. It was also Rader’s first game of the season coming off a knee injury he suffered during football season.
Davis said his team is still learning how to play with the lead.
“We haven’t had many 20 point leads,” Davis said. “We’ve got to understand when to attack and when not to. But we were still defending and we will learn from it. When we take our time and take good shots and don’t rush we are a pretty good shooting team.”
The Cardinals played Garrard County Saturday in Berea, and will travel for another district game Tuesday when they play at Corbin.
South Laurel 62, Whitley County 48
Whitley County 14 12 11 11—48
South Laurel 21 16 15 10—62
WHITLEY COUNTY (48)—Powers 15, Lawson 6, D. Rutherford 6, Z. Rutherford 8, Hale 4, Sasko 4, Foley 4.
SOUTH LAUREL (62)—Slavey 16, Schaser 4, Miller 9, Baxter 23, Rader 2, Grubb 8.