By Denis House
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
At halftime of Tuesday’s game, the South Laurel Cardinals trailed No. 5 Madison Central by three, 31-28.
The Cards came out on fire, hitting 11-of-22 shots from the field for 50 percent. But as the game wore on, South Laurel started to tire, while the Indians seemed to be shifting into another gear. By the end of the third, the lead had reached double digits.
Then a 22-8 fourth quarter turned a close game into a rout, as Madison Central rolled, 77-52.
“I’m proud of the effort,” South Laurel coach Jeff Davis said. “We just got tired at the end of the third quarter.”
The Cards entered the game without the services of Zac Baxter and Trevor Grubb. Austin Schaser and Austin Rader were not at 100 percent. Then both Rader and Blake Sanders battled foul trouble, with Sanders picking up his third foul with 1:15 left in the first quarter and spent the rest of the half on the bench.
With all that going against them, the Cardinals (11-15) could have phoned this game in. After all, nobody expected them to hang with an athletic team like Madison Central.
Nobody but the Cards themselves, especially Matt Slavey. With leading scorer Baxter not available due to illness, Slavey picked up the scoring slack in the first half, scoring 14 of his 16 points, including South’s first 11 points, six off 3-pointers. The quarter ended with the score tied, 16-16.
“Any time you play a team like Madison Central, a very talented and well-coached team, you want to come out and give it your best,” Davis said. “We were shorthanded and we did what we could.”
The Cards kept frustrating the Indians in the second quarter. South hit its first four shots of the quarter, and when Slavey scored and was fouled with 4:44 left, his free throw gave his team a 25-24 advantage. Madison Central (21-5) ended the half with a 7-3 run to take a 31-28 lead into the locker room. While South shot 50 percent in the first half, the Indians made just 9-of-26 for 34.6 percent. Those numbers would be reversed in the second half.
The Indians came out looking like a different team in the third quarter, opening with a 7-1 run to build a 38-29 lead. Then an alley-oop from Dominque Hawkins to Quan Taylor resulted in Taylor throwing down a thunderous dunk, one of three in the second half for Taylor.
Just when it looked like the Indians were set to blow the Cards out of their own gym, Zack Jones drained a three, followed by an intentional foul by Hawkins. Schaser sank both free throws, and with 3:30 left, the Cards were back within four, 44-40.
That would be as close as they would get for the remainder of the game.
Hawkins threw down a dunk of his own to spark an 11-4 run to end the third and give Madison Central a 55-44 lead. Sam Jones came off the bench to score the last seven points of the quarter. He would finish with 15.
Back-to-back layups by Demarcus George upped the lead to 59-44. The shots that were falling for the Cardinals in the first half were coming up short in the fourth quarter. And that usually meant a defensive rebound leading to an easy basket for the Indians, including two more Taylor dunks, the second coming with three minutes left to make it 71-48.
Jon Helton came off the bench for South and scored the final four points of the game for the Cardinals to make the final 77-52.
The Cards shot just 20.5 percent from the field in the second half, hitting 7-of-34, while the Indians were 21-of-52 for 65 percent. For the game, South shot 32 percent compared to 51.7 by the Indians.
Madison Central placed four players in double figures, led by Hawkins with 18. Ken jah Bosley added 17, Jones 15, and Taylor 13.
“You stop one of their players they have another step up, then another,” Davis said “That’s what makes them a good team. They share the ball. They came out with a little more energy in the third quarter.”
Even though his team took the loss, Davis feels like it was a good experience for the Cards.
“You want to win, of course, but this was good for us,” Davis said. “The final score didn’t tell the story of this game. It’s fun when you do what you can to give yourself a chance to win.”
After winning three straight, the Cardinals have now lost four of their last five games. Before the Madison Central loss, South lost by an average of six points in three of those games.
The Cards will host Rockcastle County tonight as part of a girl-boy doubleheader. The girls’ game will tip-off at 6 p.m., followed by the boys’ at 7:30 p.m.
South will then open play Tuesday at 8:15 p.m. against Whitley County in the first round of the 50th District Tournament at Williamsburg.
Madison Central 77, South Laurel 52
Madison Central 16 15 24 22—77
South Laurel 16 12 16 8—52
MADISON CENTRAL (77)—Hawkins 18, Bosley 17, Stocker 4, Taylor 13, George 4, Jones 15, Hotchkiss 2, Ramsey 4.
SOUTH LAUREL (52)—Slavey 16, Rader 1, Sanders 4, Vandeventer 4, Jones 7 Schaser 8, Helton 4, J. Grubb 8.