By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
BEREA—Led by 22 points from Zac Baxter, South Laurel pulled away from Letcher Central 58-43 Saturday for third place in the Peoples Bank Classic. Baxter scored 11 of his points in the fourth quarter as the Cardinals expanded a five-point lead to 15.
“Tonight (Baxter) let things come to him. He didn’t force anything. When he plays under control, relaxed, and lets things come to him, his opportunities are going to come,” Davis said. “The biggest thing he did today was he guarded and he rebounded.”
The Cardinals showed little emotion early before a subdued crowd. They did seem to be ready to play when the ball tipped off.
“I’ve tried to read this bunch and then I quit trying. Sometimes they’re giddy and then come out and don’t play well. Sometimes they are just cool, calm and come out on fire,” Davis said.
The South Laurel defense almost held Letcher Central without a field goal in the first quarter. The Cougars only points came on a pair of early free throws and a transition layup with 13 seconds. The Cardinals had opened a nine-point lead before the first field goal fell.
It would be a game of runs, but the Letcher Central’s runs were never enough to take the lead.
“Games are full of runs and it’s how you overcome those. I’m just glad when they hit us, we came back and responded, which is a sign we are growing up a little bit,” Davis said.
The Cougars were as close as three points in the second quarter, but trailed by 10 at halftime. Letcher Central’s strongest run may have been to start the second half when they came out of the locker room full of energy.
“They kind of keyed in on Baxter a little bit and pressured our guards a little bit more. We got a little anxious and started trying to make the pass too quick or trying to dribble through things,” Davis said.
The Cardinals were also committing a lot of fouls and getting beat to rebounds as Letcher Central again pulled within three points.
“We got in a little foul trouble and they got some rebounds. We took some quick shots at times,” Davis said.
Three points was again as close as the Cougars would get. South Laurel led 41-36 when a 12-2 spurt put the game out of reach. The Cardinals’ run started with Brennan Miller scoring on the baseline from a Trevor Grubb assist. A jumper and free throw from Austin Rader sandwiched a Letcher Central basket. Baxter scored the next seven points with his put back pushing the lead to 53-38.
“If we can play like that, together, and understand what our roles are as individuals this team can compete with people,” Davis said. “It was a good builder for us. We got two wins, which was good, but we’re learning and that’s the biggest thing for us,” Davis said.
South Laurel goes from one tournament straight into another. The Cardinals will play in the Ashland Invitational Dec. 27-29.
“We open up with Henderson County, who is a really good basketball team. It’s going to be a challenging week. We’re going to have three good opponents,” Davis said.
Peoples Bank Classic
at Madison Southern
South Laurel 58, Letcher Central 43
South Laurel 11 13 14 20—58
Letcher Central 4 10 20 9—43
SOUTH LAUREL (58)—Slavey 11, Rader 3, Miller 12, Baxter 22, Vandeventer 2, Grubb 6, Helton 2.
LETCHER CENTRAL (43)—Gregory 15, Robinson 2, Frazier 3, Kincer 2, Owens 15, Blair 6.