By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
ALBANY—It’s not hard to find where Clinton County beat South Laurel. It is marked with a line 15 feet from the goal.
“There is only one place on the floor that the rules will not allow you to guard and that is the free throw line,” South Laurel coach Jeff Davis said.
The Cardinals made 22 field goals to Clinton County’s 19 in the 68-61 loss to the Bulldogs. The difference came at the foul line.
“We put them on the line 33 times and we only get there 13. That’s the difference in the ballgame,” Davis said.
The Cardinals were already trying to overcome injury and illness that forced the lineup to be juggled. Austin Schaser and Trevor Grubb were out of the lineup. Zac Baxter’s play was limited and he finished with just five points.
“I was also pleased with (Tyler Vandeventer, Brennan Miller, and Zack Jones) stepping in with everybody sick and hurt. Those guys really stepped up and played well,” Davis said.
The Cardinals fell behind 14-9 in the first quarter with cold shooting a big reason. South Laurel made just 3-of-11 shots in the quarter as it tried to solve the Clinton County zone.
“They do a great job switching up their defenses. They really confuse you and they play so hard,” Davis said.
The Cardinals made enough shots to stay close until a drought in the second quarter of almost five minutes without a field goal. By the time Baxter broke the ice with a baseline drive, South Laurel trailed 27-13.
“I think we got a little wide-eyed, just kind of standing and not for sure how to attack. Really, I think we were waiting on Blake (Sanders) to attack for us because he had done it so much. We can’t just wait on him to do things,” Davis said.
The Cardinals didn’t have to wait long on Sanders in the second half. He drilled a three-pointer on the first possession and scored 10 of his 26 points. He was also setting up much more offense, including a slick no-look pass to Vandeventer as he sliced through the lane.
“Blake reminded me of the game against Tates Creek before he got hurt. (He) was shooting the ball really well, handled the ball extremely well. He got us in our offense and created shots for other people,” Davis said. “When he does that, it makes us really, really good.”
South Laurel trailed by six after three quarters. Back-to-back baskets by Vandeventer to start the fourth quarter had the lead down to 45-43.
“(Vandeventer) is undersized to be playing the five position. He’s really not a center, but he’s learning. The best thing about it is in the last month he has started to play physical and with no fear,” Davis said.
A Clinton County turnover gave South Laurel a chance to tie the game. They failed to convert on free throws and would not get another chance to tie. The Bulldogs responded with a 10-0 run. The Cardinals never got closer than six in the closing minutes.
The Cardinals were scheduled to host Madison Central Tuesday, one of the teams given a shot at winning this year’s Sweet Sixteen if they can get out of the tough 11th Region.
“I will tell you they are one of the top three teams in the state. They’ve probably got one of the most underrated guards in the state, if not in the country in (Dominique) Hawkins,” Davis said.
Clinton County 68, South Laurel 61
South Laurel 9 13 17 22—61
Clinton County 14 16 15 23—68
SOUTH LAUREL (61)—Slavey 1, Rader 4, Sanders 26, Baxter 5, Vandeventer 10, Miller 5, Jones 10.
CLINTON COUNTY (68)—Beard 5, Claywell 9, Davis 6, Langford 9, Dalton 23, England 16.