By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
It’s like a movie where you can pick your own ending. I could write this column three times and make a case for Clay County, Jackson County, or North Laurel to win the boys’ 49th District Tournament.
Clay County is 4-0 against the other two teams. That isn’t very convincing when you consider the wins over Jackson County were by a combined two points.
You don’t think North Laurel can catch fire and win this tournament and more? The Tigers had two wins over North Laurel last season, including a 36-point rout in Manchester. But it was North Laurel that came out on top in the region.
Although some teams are getting a measure of revenge for Clay County’s years of dominance, they have not been able to wrestle the 49th District title away. Clay County has won the 49th District nine straight years. The last time they lost in the district tournament was a 52-51 thriller to Rockcastle County in the 2003 finals. The Rockets are no longer in the 49th District.
Since losing the title in 2003, the Tigers have a record of 54-3 against district opponents. Along with the previously mentioned loss to North Laurel, the Jaguars also picked up a 68-56 win over Clay County in the 2010 Cumberland Falls Invitational Tournament. The only other district loss in nine years was a 2004 loss at OBI.
If you think North Laurel will come out on top, I won’t argue. If your pick is Jackson County, there is plenty of evidence in their favor. But if you follow history and trends, it’s hard to pick against the Tigers.
North Laurel coach Brad Sizemore explained it well.
“They are used to winning. Clay County is always there at the end and they expect to show up and win those games,” Sizemore said. “That’s kind of half the battle really.”
The Girls’ 49th District Tournament is being played in Jackson County, but the girls’ championship still goes through Clay County.
The Lady Tigers haven’t lost a 49th District Tournament game since they fell in the championship game in 2005. That season they lost to Rockcastle County in the finals. The Lady Rockets are no longer in the 49th District.
Since that loss, Clay County has won seven straight 49th District titles. They have won 35 straight 49th District games. There have been a few close calls. Clay County needed overtime to hold off North Laurel 50-49 in the 2010 49th District championship game.
The last time one of the current 49th District teams beat Clay County was 2003 when both Jackson County and North Laurel knocked off the Lady Tigers in the regular season. Rachel Gaynor coached the Lady Jaguars to a 50-49 win. Nine days later Greg Parrett, now the Jackson County boys coach, led the Lady Generals to a 54-36 win. That was not your typical Clay County team with the Lady Tigers losing in the first round of the district tournament that year.
This season has been much more typical Clay County. Two of the Lady Tigers five losses have been in overtime. The other three losses were by a combined eight points. Clay County has lost twice to 13th Region opponents. They fell by three points to a Whitley County team that has since lost four starters to injuries. They also lost at Corbin to a Lady Redhounds team that may be the hottest team in the region.
Clay County is winning behind a strong and efficient inside attack of Cheyenne Madden and Morgan Chestnut. Madden averaged 17.4 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. Her 67 percent field goal shooting ranks third in the state. Clay County as a team ranks No. 1 in field goal percentage.
Chestnut is almost equally effective at 15.6 points and seven rebounds per game.
Then you have to worry about Talaura Mathis on the outside, who ranks among the state leaders in three-pointers at 2.6 per game.
The Lady Tigers are ranked No. 18 in the state with good reason. This tournament will not do anything to hurt that ranking.