By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
MCKEE—What a difference it makes when the shots are falling.
Tuesday North Laurel made five straight three-pointers in the first quarter. They bolted to a 28-5 lead and rolled on to 34-point win over Jackson County. In Thursday’s 49th District championship game against Clay County, the Lady Jaguars would not make a field goal until 3:10 remained in the half. Clay County rolled to its eighth straight championship with a 59-32 win.
“You have to score and we had some looks early on and when we didn’t hit those it rattled our nerves,” North Laurel coach Eddie Mahan said.
Mahan has contended all season that his team’s outlook rises and falls with their shooting percentage. The Lady Jaguars missed all five of their first-quarter shots and made just 3-of-14 in the first half.
“From the first missed shot that was in and out, our mentality just kind of dropped from there,” Mahan said.
Credit also goes to Clay County’s trapping defense. After North Laurel’s first shot missed, Clay County forced five straight turnovers. The Lady Jaguars finished the first quarter with 10 turnovers to just five shot attempts.
“We froze up. When the traps come you have to move the ball quickly. You have to flash quickly to the ball. If you do that, you will kill people when they trap you. Unfortunately we froze up and turned our back to where the pass needed to go very time there was a trap,” Mahan said. “It caused a lot of jump balls because we just sat on it like third graders.”
Once Clay County’s lead reached 20 points, it only briefly dropped below that margin. A free throw by Hannah Gray accounted for the first North Laurel points and made it a 20-1 game.
Clay County led 30-8 at halftime. The second half opened with a steal and layup by Kendall Ellington. Hannah Lawson then buried a three-pointer for a 30-13 score. Then Clay County woke up again.
“They got very aggressive. We wilted away. We showed the team that we had been a few weeks ago and not the team we had been the last week or so. I’m very disappointed in our mentality for that. We’ve got some things to work on before the region tournament,” Mahan said.
The young Lady Jaguars season will last at least one more game. North Laurel will play the winner of the one of the other three districts in the 13th Region Tournament.
“Clay County is probably the best team in the region, so we are not going to see anybody better than that. That is the good news,” Mahan said. “The bad news is everybody’s pretty good at this point. There is not going to be anybody that you just say I have got to have that team.”
The other teams in the 13th Region Tournament include Corbin, Whitley County, Lynn Camp, Barbourville, Harlan County, and Bell County. North Laurel has played and lost to each of those teams except Harlan County. Losses to Lynn Camp and Whitley County were the most competitive.
“We’ve got to have the mentality that we know we can win instead of thinking we can. We went in thinking we can win. If you just think something it can change in a ballgame with one or two missed shots,” Mahan said. “The good thing about it is we are young. We are going to be much, much better next year. I plan on being back,” Mahan said.
The All Tournament team included four players from North Laurel. The team’s three seniors; Kendall Ellington, Brooke Carpenter, and Ashley Wyatt were named to the team, along with seventh grader Hannah Lawson.
Girls’ 49th District Tournament
at Jackson County
Clay County 59, North Laurel 32
North Laurel 0 8 11 13—32
Clay County 20 10 18 11—59
NORTH LAUREL (32)—Wyatt 9, Chestnut 3, Gray 7, Smith 3, Lawson 3, Rains 2, Carpenter 3, Ellington 2.
CLAY COUNTY (59)—Robert 4, Cotton 8, Mathis 4, Chestnut 19, Madden 14, Robinson 7, Smith 2, Woods 1.