By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
MCKEE—When North Laurel patiently worked the ball for Brooke Carpenter’s first three-pointer, Jackson County had no idea what was coming. The Lady Generals trailed 4-2 when Carpenter connected. Then she hit again, and again. Next came a three-pointer from Ashley Wyatt for a 16-2 North Laurel lead.
Chelsea Ball’s foul line jumper was the only break in North Laurel’s barrage. After Ball’s shot, Hannah Lawson made it five straight three-pointers for the Lady Jaguars.
“The good thing about when kids are focused, they make coaches look good,” North Laurel coach Eddie Mahan said. Mahan said he had seen his team shoot like this before, just not in a game.
“We have been doing this in practice the last couple of days too. We saw that focus I have been talking about going into tournament time. Just stepping it up a notch,” Mahan said. “That gives me as a coach the ability to be able to make some adjustments and do some different things.”
Carpenter’s six three-pointers highlighted a night of hot shooting for North Laurel, who was 9-of-14 from three-point range. When the Lady Jaguars were not raining threes, it was Wyatt and Lawson attacking the basket. Lawson finished with 20 points and Wyatt 15.
“We changed around two or three different things, kind of game-planned around what Jackson County does with their strengths and tried to make sure we were able to attack it the right way this time,” Mahan said. “It also helps when Brooke Carpenter is shooting as well as what she did tonight, but also when you have a point guard (Hannah Lawson), I don’t care how old she is, playing as well as she did.”
After the first quarter blitzkrieg, there wasn’t much drama left in the game. Still North Laurel extended its lead in each quarter. North Laurel missed six straight free throws in the second quarter, but didn’t give up any points in that stretch.
“I did see the letdowns in the second and third quarter that I wasn’t very happy with, then again I was happy to be able to play everyone at the end of the game and even extend the lead,” Mahan said.
At the end of the game the lineup included two freshmen, two eighth graders and a seventh grader with the starting point guard, a seventh grader, on the bench
It was the outcome Mahan wanted, but not one you could wager on with a team that won just five games in the regular season.
“Any time you go in with as few wins as we had this year you are going to be a little nervous because you’re not sure how they are going to come out and hit. The thing is when this team is focused we have hit. We feed off the energy of the game,” Mahan said.
The one thing North Laurel had to fall back on was last season when the seven-win Lady Jaguars advanced to the region tournament and upset Whitley County.
“I know the way I coach is always preparing for tournament time. Maybe I put too much of an emphasis on it and that’s why we struggle a little more than we should in the regular season,” Mahan said. “But in the last two years we seem to step it up at the right time.
Part of the late success can also be attributed to the growth of players like Lawson, who was pressed into service as a starting point guard when Kayla Bruner was lost to a knee injury. Her first post season game was an efficient 20-point night.
“That shows a lot of guts, a lot of tenacity, and also show what kind of player she’s going to be,” Mahan said. “What I have been most impressed with this year of her development is her ability to be able to read the game and her basketball IQ is definitely up.”
Mahan is also getting the play now he expected from seniors Carpenter, Wyatt, and Kendall Ellington.
“I’m proud of all our players, but I definitely think our three seniors stepped up tonight like I have been asking for,” Mahan said.
North Laurel will be able to tell more about how much it has progressed after their next game. The Lady Jaguars were scheduled to meet Clay County Thursday for the 49th District title. The Lady Tigers have won the two meetings this season by a combined 64 points. Clay rolled over Oneida Baptist in the semifinals, 60-19.
“I know it’s a tough game on Thursday to be going against Clay County. I know they have hurt us the last two times, but I think if we play this way again I think we can compete and that’s what we’re looking for. And we’ve punched our ticket to regions and that’s what we’re looking for as well.”
Mahan said he doesn’t expect Clay County to change anything they do because of the success North Laurel had Tuesday.
“Not much changes Clay County. That’s what I like about coach (James) Burchell. That’s what I like about his team. They do what they do well and if you are good enough to get them out of it, then you can beat them. It’s hard to get them out of it,” Mahan said.
One area that has been especially painful for North Laurel against the Lady Tigers has been handling pressure defense. Mahan doesn’t feel it will be an issue this time around.
“I hope they press like they have in the past. That’s ability I think we can hurt them at this time. Our ball handling is much better and our decision making is much better,” Mahan said.
Girls’ 49th District Tournament
at Jackson County
North Laurel 68, Jackson County 34
North Laurel 19 12 17 20—68
Jackson County 5 5 13 11—34
NORTH LAUREL (68)—Wyatt 15, Chestnut 3, Gray 5, Smith 1, Lawson 20, Hamm 2, Carpenter 18, Ellington 4.
JACKSON COUNTY (34)—Rose 15, Belt 4, Madden 4, Ball 2, Crowe 8, Hammonds 1.