By Denis House
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
LOG MOUNTAIN—Through Matthew Slavey’s first 10 trips to the free throw line Friday night against Bell County, the South Laurel senior was a perfect 10-of-10.
So when he stepped to the free throw line with 0.8 seconds left and the game tied, 54-54, you would expect the game to be over, even though he was 2-of-4 after making those 10 straight.
He missed the first free throw, but drained the second to give his team a 55-54 lead. But the game wasn’t quite over yet.
Bell County tried a long baseball pass on the inbound play, but the ball sailed out of bounds with no time running off the clock. Surely the victory was secure for South.
But not so fast.
South got the ball inbounds to Zac Baxter, but the officials ruled he stepped out of bounds in front of the South Laurel bench. The clock now read 0.4, but the officials decided to add time back to 0.8. So Bell County had one last gasp.
Peyton Collett threw a long pass that was tipped up in the air 10 feet in front of the Bobcats’ basket, where Cody Ferguson came down with the ball and fired a shot that missed, and South Laurel escaped with the one-point win.
“We played hard, both teams did,” South Laurel coach Jeff Davis said. “It was a back and forth game from beginning to end.”
This was the start of a 4-game road trip for the Cardinals (7-8). It was also South’s third win in a row.
“To start the road trip, to come over here, that was a big test,” Davis said. “It was a big win. This should help us build confidence.”
South Laurel opened the game with a 7-0 run, and when Zac Baxter drained a three with 5:38 left in the first quarter, that lead was now 10-2. A minute after making that three Baxter also picked up his second foul and didn’t see action the remainder of the half. Bell County (6-10) would finish the quarter with a 15-3 run to hold a 17-13 advantage.
The Bobcats maintained their lead through much of the second quarter until Slavey sank four straight free throws, and with 4:02 left, the game was now tied, 23-23.
Bell answered with a three by Jake Patterson to take a 26-23 lead. Tyler Potter then scored to push the lead to five, 28-23, before Zack Jones his a three of his own for South to bring the Cards within two, 28-26.
South was still down two, 30-28, when Brennan Miller’s shot missed as the seconds ticked away in the first half. Jon Helton was there to grab the rebound and put a shot back up and in, tying the game at the half, 30-30. The ball had hit the wire that runs from the backboard to the ceiling, but the officials allowed the basket, which didn’t sit well with Bell County’s coach, Lewis D. Morris, who let his feelings be known and was hit with a technical.
Slavey opened the second half but making both technical free throws. The two teams would continue to battle throughout the remainder of the quarter. Austin Rader was fouled trying to shoot a three, and he hit 2-of-3 free throws. A Baxter jumper with 3:53 left gave South a 38-36 lead, but Ben Collette’s three at the 3:31 mark put the Bobcats back up, 39-38.
Another Collette basket and Bell County regained the lead, 41-40. South then visited the free throw line four times over the final 1:10, but could only convert twice. Bell County led after three, 45-42.
The lead grew to six, 49-43, early in the fourth quarter. With 2:38 left, the lead was now seven, 53-46, and things weren’t looking too good for the Cardinals.
But South continued to chip away at the lead. A leaning jumper in the lane by Baxter cut it to one, 53-52, with 37.5 seconds left. He then scored to put South on top, 54-53.
A free throw by Potter tied the game, 54-54, with 18.1 seconds left. South got the ball to Slavey, but there was a loose ball under the basket. Slavey gathered it in and tried to score, but was fouled, sending him to the line for the eventual game winning free throw.
After going 8-for-8 in the first half, South struggled in the second half at the charity stripe, hitting 11-of-22 to finish the game 19-for-30.
“I think those missed free throws, and some of the missed shots we had in the second half, were due to a lack of concentration due to being tired,” Davis said. “But we are starting to come together as a team. These three wins have not been pretty, but we are playing full games and never quitting. We fought hard and continued to play hard. This was a true team win.”
The Cardinals will be at Knox Central Tuesday, then at Whitley County Friday for a boy-girl doubleheader. They will then wrap-up their 4-game road trip against Harrison County on Saturday at George Rogers Clark.
South Laurel 54, Bell County 53
South Laurel 13 17 12 13—55
Bell County 17 13 15 9—54
SOUTH LAUREL (55)—Slavey 19, Rader 4, Miller 8, Baxter 15, Schaser 3, Jones 4, Helton 2.
BELL COUNTY (54)—Asher 10, Collette 7, Ferguson 4, Hudson 6, Partin 4, Patterson 10, Potter 13.