By Denis House
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
MANCHESTER—Beating Clay County at home is a daunting task for any team. Since the 2009-10 season, the Tigers are 37-7 at Bobby Keith Gymnasium, including 9-1 this season coming into Tuesday night’s match-up with South Laurel.
Make that 10-1, but it didn’t come easy, as the Tigers pulled away late to take a 69-62 win.
It was a turnover plagued first quarter that got the Cardinals (10-13) in a hole early, trailing 15-11 after one.
“You can’t have seven turnovers in the first quarter,” Davis said. “And they weren’t really forced turnovers. It was just us getting in too much of a hurry and throwing the ball away. But we did do a better job the next three quarters.”
The Cards were down by one at the half, 25-24. But at the start of the third, Clay County (17-6) opened things with an 8-0 run to push its lead to 33-24. While the Cards would hang close, they would never get closer than three points.
“They (Clay) are so physical,” Davis said. “Our kids did a good job of battling and we gave ourselves a chance to win.”
The recent Super Bowl had a 34 minute delay due to a power outage. This game had its own delay of almost the same amount of time, but it came before the tip-off, as Clay County celebrated its Senior Night, then its cheerleaders performed a routine. By the time this was all done, and the teams were given 20 minutes to warm-up, the game started well over a half hour from its previous scheduled start time of 7:30 p.m.
The wait didn’t seem to bother South Laurel at first. Zac Baxter got things started with a three, then Matt Slavey and Blake Sanders followed with baskets for a 7-0 lead, forcing Clay to call a time out with 5:23 left in the first quarter.
That break seemed to be what the Tigers needed, as they responded with a 10-0 run to take a 10-7 lead with 1:51 left. They wouldn’t give up that lead. Clay twice stole the ball during that run, and converted on the other end. The Tigers stole the ball four times in the first quarter.
The lead grew to six in the second quarter, 24-18, before Zack Jones and Baxter hit back-to-back threes to pull the Cards within one at the half, 25-24.
Any momentum the Cards had at the end of the half failed to carry over. The 8-0 run by the Tigers to open the third gave them a 33-24 lead with 5:35 left, forcing Davis to call a time out. For the remainder of the third, the Cards used threes from Baxter, Jones and Brennan Miller to keep close. Miller’s three, off an assist from Sanders, cut the lead to three, 40-37, with two minutes left in the quarter.
Poor free throw shooting over the final two minutes kept South from inching closer, as the Cards were 3-of-6 and trailed after three, 46-40.
A Baxter three at the 3:56 mark brought South to within three, 56-53. But the Cards then went cold from the field, missing their next seven shots and didn’t make another field goal until a Trevor Grubb lay-up with 27 seconds left. After Baxter’s three, Clay outscored South 10-2, to take a 66-55 lead with 53.7 seconds left.
South managed to stay close by hitting 7-of-8 from the free throw line over the final 2:20. But Clay was just as good from the charity stripe, especially Tyler McDaniel, who was 7-of-8 on his own in the final 1:35 to help seal the 69-62 win.
“McDaniel is a good player,” Davis said. “We tried to focus on him, but then their big guys hurt us inside.”
Clay County placed four players in double figures, led by Stephon Lyttle’s 16. McDaniel added 12, and Jarrod Rice and Marty Bowling both had 10.
Baxter led South with 14 and Jones had 12. They would be the only Cardinals to break double figures. This was the third straight game that Jones came off the bench to score in double figures.
“We had three straight shots by Sanders, Jones and Grubb late in the game that didn’t fall,” Davis said. “If they had fell, it might have been a different outcome. Clay has a tradition, especially at their place. There’s a reason why they have all those banners hanging up.”
The Cards shot 35.2 percent from the field, making 18-of-51. They were also 15-of-22 from the free throw line for 68 percent. Clay hit 23-of-49 from the field for 46.9 percent and 21-of-27 from the charity stripe for 77.7 percent.
The Cards have their next two games on the road. They were at Williamsburg Thursday night, then will travel to Clinton County on Saturday. That game will tip-off at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time.
“I like where our team is right now,” Davis said. “We have been playing well these last few games.”
Clay County 69, South Laurel 62
South Laurel 11 14 15 22—62
Clay County 15 9 22 23—69
SOUTH LAUREL (62)—Baxter 14, Slavey 8, Sanders 8, Jones 12, Schaser 2, Vandeventer 3, T. Grubb 6, Miller 4, Rader 5.
CLAY COUNTY (69)—Rice 10, Reed 7, Bowling 10, Lyttle 16, Smith 9, Wolfe 5, McDaniel 12.