LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
BAXTER—Tuesday night’s first round game in the 13th Region Tournament featured two teams in search of a first.
The host Harlan County Black Bears were seeking their first ever win in the region tournament, while South Laurel was seeking a first region win for second year coach Jeff Davis.
In the end, it would be the Black Bears prevailing, but only by the skin of their teeth, knocking off the Cardinals, 50-48.
“I didn’t have any question coming into this game that we weren’t ready,” Davis said. “We were hungry and we were not scared.”
These two teams met earlier in the season with Harlan County prevailing at South Laurel, 44-32. The Cards had only four players score in that loss, and were without a full roster.
This time it would be different, as seven Cardinal players scored, led by Zac Baxter’s 20. Still, it wasn’t enough to offset three Black Bears in double figures: Alex Sergent had 13, Aaron Caldwell, 12, and Tyler Brewer, 11. It was Caldwell doing the damage on the offensive boards where eight of his points came off putbacks. The Black Bears (24-7) were able to grab 14 offensive rebounds and outrebounded the Cardinals, 27-18.
“We knew coming in that rebounding would be a key,” Davis said. “You gotta play 32 minutes. If you don’t you get beat.”
“Sometimes during a tournament like this you have to win a close game,” Harlan County coach Mike Jones said. “Hopefully this is the one that will put us over the hump so we can relax and start playing.”
The Cards (13-17) knew coming in that they would have to limit Harlan County’s drives to the basket and force them to shoot more from the outside. Early in the first quarter, the Black Bears were getting to the basket and either scoring or getting fouled. Harlan County held a 9-5 lead with 2:31 left before South Laurel ended the quarter with an 8-0 run for a 13-9 lead. Baxter’s step back three-pointer at the buzzer capped off the run. He scored eight points in the quarter.