By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
BAXTER—Year two of the North Laurel rebuilding project ended Thursday with a 57-34 loss to Corbin. The Lady Jaguars complete the season 6-26 in the second year under Eddie Mahan with a promise of better days ahead.
“We did well at the end of the year. I hope that is a trend for us that we continue to always do better in the tournament than we do in the regular season. At the same time, next year I promise you this, we’re going to have a much better team as far as regular season preparation is concerned,” Mahan said.
The Lady Jaguars were 9-25 last year as they tried to piece themselves back together after the 2010-11 season crash landed with a 15-12 record in Roy Bowling’s finale. An off-court incident that led to the suspension and eventual transfer of some players would sabotage a promising season. The final links to Bowling’s last year, seniors Ashley Wyatt, Kendall Ellington, and Brooke Carpenter, wore the Lady Jaguars uniform for the final time.
“The (seniors) have done a tremendous job of bringing our team around this year. I don’t think they ever understood how important they really were to us and the leadership it was going to take to bring the youth along,” Mahan said.
Youth was the strength and the burden of this year’s team. At times showing flashes of great potential. Other times looking like kids thrown into a fray.
“They are a building block, just like last year was a building block to what our future is. I think we have as good young kids as there is in the region right now,” Mahan said.
This year’s roster included four players from the middle school and four freshmen. There were no juniors and the only sophomore, Hannah Gray, started.
“We have a seventh grader (Hannah Lawson) starting at point guard. It is really amazing to me how far she has come along this year. At the beginning of the year the only thing she was getting close to in double figures was turnovers,” Mahan said. “Kayla Bruner will be back for us next year, our best offensive threat, which is what we struggled with most of the time this year. It’s amazing what one player can do for you offensively.”
Once Mahan began to speak about next year’s team, he sounded like he was ready to suit them up and start the season there in Harlan County. He mentioned the spark provided by Kelsie Chestnut, Ashton Bridges steady improvement, and Makayla Sexton’s defense and rebounding.
“I can go on and on. I love our young kids. I know we’re going to be very formidable in the future.”
But potential was just potential Thursday when they faced a Corbin team with two seniors and seven juniors. North Laurel’s shots were not falling and all of the rebounds were going to Corbin. The Lady Jaguars went without a field goal in the first quarter. The Lady Redhounds claimed the game’s first nine rebounds. Their 13-4 rebounding advantage in the first quarter included a stunning 11 offensive rebounds.
“What really killed us were offensive rebounds. They killed us on the boards. That hasn’t always been the case this year. That’s usually one thing we are decent at is crashing the boards,” Mahan said.
Defense and free throws would keep North Laurel in the game early. They made 7-of-8 free throws in the first quarter. They also held Corbin to 5-of-20 shooting as the Lady Redhounds settled for an 11-7 lead after the opening quarter.
“When you come out with a lot of energy, usually you have a reverse effect eventually,” Mahan said.
Mahan thought the “reverse effect” came in the second quarter when the inability to score and lack of rebounding took a mental toll.
“When you are struggling you need those extra possessions, which come from the rebounds. Each one of those was kind of deflating us too, which led to more issues,” Mahan said.
North Laurel’s first basket came on an Ashley Wyatt hook shot in the lane with 4:00 in the first half. Wyatt’s points again had North Laurel within four at 13-9. It would be six minutes before they made another field goal as they went scoreless the rest of the half. Corbin ended the half on a 12-0 run and led 25-9 at the half.
Mahan knew that if his team was going to score with Corbin they had to be able to rebound with Corbin.
“It gave them opportunities to set up in their defense. We would like to have scored a little bit in transition, but you don’t have those opportunities if you don’t get those boards,” Mahan said.
The lack of rebounding might be traced to the amount of zone defense the Lady Jaguars played, which was much more than they are used to playing.
“I’m more of a man-to-man type team. I like to pressure you quite a bit and this is one team matchup-wise we couldn’t do that with so we really had to flatten out in some zone and try a few different types of defenses,” Mahan said.
Although some shots started to fall for North Laurel in the third quarter, Corbin still added to their lead. After Wyatt opened the fourth quarter with a three-pointer, the Lady Redhounds used seven North Laurel turnovers to build their biggest lead of the game at 23 points.
“I hate it for my seniors. My heart is breaking for them. I wish we could have done something better tonight,” Mahan said.
Girls’ 13th Region Tournament
at Harlan County
Corbin 57, North Laurel 34
Corbin 11 14 12 20—57
North Laurel 7 2 10 15—34
CORBIN (57)—Ashhurst 4, Miranda Wilson 9, Disney 5, Ashley 15, Wilson 10, Jewell 2, Fothergill 4, Gallagher 4, Melanie Wilson 4.
North Laurel (34)—Wyatt 14, Gray 2, Lawson 8, Carpenter 8, Ellington 2.