LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
MT. VERNON—Zac Baxter came out on fire and never cooled down Friday night against Rockcastle County, pouring in 37 points to lead South Laurel to a 68-59 win.
Baxter drained five three-pointers in the first quarter alone to set the tone early for his monster night.
“Zac is healthy again after an illness,” South Laurel coach Jeff Davis said. “He did a good job tonight on offense and rebounding.”
What looked like a South Laurel blowout at the half (34-18) turned into a nail-biter as the Cards (14-14) hit a lull in their offense in the third quarter, much like they did in a loss to Madison Central three nights earlier, as the Rockets cut the lead to 43-34 heading into the fourth quarter thanks to a 16-9 third quarter.
“We talked the last few days at practice, before this game and even at the half about getting better in the third quarter,” Davis said. “We seem to lose focus and I don’t know why.”
Before that third quarter letdown it was all South Laurel, as the Cardinals jumped on the home team 22-11 after one quarter of play thanks to 15 points from Baxter, all on threes.
The Cards continued their domination throughout the second quarter as Baxter added five more to his total, as did Jared Grubb, who would finish the night with 15, and South led at the break, 34-18.
A spinning jumper in the lane by Baxter at the 5:45 mark of the third made it 37-20 in favor of the Cards. Rockcastle then went on a 7-2 run to cut the lead to 39-27. After Brennan Miller sank two free throws to make it 41-27, the Rockets would end the third with another 7-2 run to bring them to within nine heading into the fourth quarter, 43-34.
Baxter then started to take the game back over, scoring the first 10 South Laurel points of the fourth, but the Rockets wouldn’t go away. A three by Dakota Hasty with 4:41 remaining cut South’s lead to seven, 52-45. A bucket by Lucas Gentry and a free throw to finish off the three-point play brought the Rockets to within five, 53-48, with 4:24 left.
Baxter would score again, then Jared Grubb drove to the basket, scored and was fouled. When his free throw swished through the net the lead was back to eight, 58-50, with 3:18 remaining.
John Helton was then called for a foul on Gage Reynolds. He wasn’t pleased with the call and was teed up for a technical foul. Reynolds sank both of his free throw, but Gentry missed the two technical free throws. Rockcastle still had possession of the ball but turned it over, and South dodged what could have been a potential six-point swing.
Play started to get physical over the final 2:44 of the game with South Laurel going to the free throw line 12 times, connecting on eight of those for a 68-56 lead with 34.2 seconds remaining. Gentry drained a three on Rock’s next possession, but it was too little, too late, as South Laurel held on for the 68-59 win.
“This was a good win for us,” Davis said. “I think our press in the first half was the difference in the game. We got a little lax in the second half and took some quick shots, but our ability to handle their pressure and hitting our free throws was key.”
The Cardinals will now take on Williamsburg in the opening game of the 50th District tournament tonight at Corbin.
South Laurel 68, Rockcastle County 59
South Laurel 22 12 9 25—68
Rockcastle Co. 11 7 16 25—59
SOUTH LAUREL (68)—Bre. Miller 8, Baxter 37, J. Grubb 15, Helton 1, Holcomb 3, E. Anders 2, Vandeventer 2.
ROCKCASTLE COUNTY (59)—Mason 5, Harper 2, Pensol 4, Reynolds 4, McPhetridge 6, Hasty 5, Gentry 20, Noble 7, Mullins 4, Cornelius 2.