By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
MCKEE—Clay County made it 10 straight 49th District titles with a 64-58 win over North Laurel Friday. Although the game was still in doubt until the final minutes, the Tigers did not trail again after a pull-up jumper by Tyler McDaniel gave them a 4-2 lead.
“When you’re playing a team like Clay, they have a really nice team; it comes down to possessions at the end. You’ve got to make free throws and get stops, complete big plays when you need them. We couldn’t get the ones we needed,” North Laurel coach Brad Sizemore said.
With 1:41 to play, the Jaguars were within 54-51 on a three-pointer by Marcus Carson. Clay County’s Stephon Lyttle drew a foul on the inbounds play. He made one free throw to make it a four-point game. Carson then missed on another three-point attempt. A Marty Bowling free throw added a point to the lead. Two free throws from Elijah Jervis had the Jaguars back within three points with 1:09 to play. Clay County hit its final eight free throws to ice the game.
“I thought we were right there. We played really hard. We tried to come up with some steals, but we couldn’t turn them over as much as we wanted to,” Sizemore said.
Clay County turned the ball over eight times on the night and just once in the fourth quarter. They also out rebounded North Laurel. But possibly the Tigers biggest strength was an active, aggressive zone that forced North Laurel to take 20 three-point shots. They made only four.
“Them and Harlan County are the most physical teams that we’ve played all year as far as guarding the inside,” Sizemore said. “They’ve got some veterans out there, big strong kids that know how to play.”
The Jaguars were still able to get 15 points from Jake Allen, but it may have been his toughest 15 points this season.
“I thought the guys worked really hard for the ball. Again, everybody is playing us zone. They are basically putting four guys down there and just clogging the lane up. We did the best we could trying to get it in there,” Sizemore said.
Clay County took its early lead by grabbing the long rebounds off North Laurel misses and converting on the other end. They led 10-2 before Austin Thompson sank the Jaguars’ first three-pointer.
“McDaniel does a really good job of throwing the ball ahead and they’ve got guys that can really get out and run,” Sizemore said.
The Jaguars claimed some momentum in the last five seconds of the first quarter. They held the ball for a driving layup by Carson with 5 seconds. Carson then stole the inbounds for a layup to pull within a point at 14-13. North Laurel’s last chance for the lead when Kendrick Henson missed two free throws to open the second quarter.
The Tigers added to their lead when North Laurel accidentally tipped a ball in for Clay County. Another quick layup for Kody Reed off a North Laurel miss made it 18-13. The Jaguars cut the lead to two points three-time, but trailed by seven at halftime.
“They’ve got a really good team. That’s why they’ve won 20-some games this year,” Sizemore said.
Clay County’s largest lead came at 36-26 on a three-pointer by Jarrod Rice early in the third quarter. The third quarter has been the Jaguars strongest this season and again they rallied with a boost of energy. In the closing seconds of the quarter, Henson made a save under the basket that led to free throws for Allen. The foul shots had North Laurel within 45-42, but again Clay County rushed down court for a Lyttle jumper just before the buzzer.
“I’m really proud of our guys. I thought we competed. If we can do that next week we’re going to give ourselves a chance to win an advance,” Sizemore said.
The last time Clay County lost in the district tournament was a 52-51 thriller to Rockcastle County in the 2003 finals. The Rockets are no longer in the 49th District.
Boys’ 49th District Tournament
at Jackson County
Clay County 64, North Laurel 58
Clay County 14 17 14 19—64
North Laurel 13 11 18 16—58
CLAY COUNTY (64)—McDaniel 19, Reed 8, Rice 10, Lyttle 6, Bowling 15, Wolf 6.
NORTH LAUREL (58)—Carson 18, Thompson 11, Henson 5, Allen 15, Rush 4, Jervis 5.