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What if the 13th Region Tournament were played now instead of the end of the season? Would you get the same winner both times, or would the mid-season tournament give a different team ammunition to change destiny.

We may find out.

North Laurel is playing the 13th Region Tournament this week. With the exception of Bell County, the favorites are assembled in Corbin, the same city where they will meet again in couple of months only a different venue.

The Jaguars opened with a 44-43 win over Whitley County Monday. The Colonels had not lost to a 13th Region team this year. They were allowing teams just 51 points a game, which ranked tops in the region.  Whitley County coach Chris Baker would prefer not to face such a familiar foe in a holiday tournament.

“I didn’t want to play them. The original agreement was for us to play a team from out of state, but they had some teams cancel and they had to shuffle around. It was just the way it had to come out,” Baker said.

Now a loss to North Laurel gives hope to a team the Colonels beat easily two weeks earlier. A team they led by 20-plus points in the fourth quarter at Whitley County.

“There are going to get up for you. They know who you are and they are going to be motivated,” Baker said. “But if we are going to be a favorite we have to be able to handle that.”

Next the Jaguars face two-time defending 13th Region champion Corbin. The winner of that game could meet 13th Region pre-season favorite Clay County. For North Laurel coach Jim Conway it is a chance to turn the fortunes of an underdog team.

Is there a down-side to seeing these opponents now if you are an underdog?

“I don’t think so, especially early. You get an idea where to gauge yourself. I know most teams get better, but it gives you an idea of where you step up,” Conway said.

He pointed out you also get plenty of good film to break down on opponents.  The Jaguars have already had two chances to form the game plan they want against Whitley County should they meet again.  They know which one worked.

Even if the 13th Region Tournament were to fall into place the same way the Cumberland Falls Invitational is seeded, it will be impossible to tell how the outcome may have been affected. None of the teams involved currently look like a lock to even be in the tournament. But should North Laurel make a deep run in the region and win a low-scoring, grind-it-out game with Whitley County, you can mark Dec. 27 as a day they at least gained some advantage when Lee Spencer banked in a shot with 25 seconds to play.

Mitch Howard can be reached at mhoward@sentinel-echo.com.

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