CORBIN—If Corbin did anything wrong in the first half, it didn’t show on the stat sheet or the scoreboard. The Redhounds roared to a 32-11 halftime lead on the way to a 65-42 win over North Laurel in the 13th Region championship game.
In the end, there can be little argument that Corbin deserved to be crowned the best team in the 13th Region. The Redhounds were 19-0 against region teams this season. They are 40-2 over the past two years, as they won back-to-back titles for the first time in 58 years.
“We came into this season as one of the teams that might be able to do it,” Corbin coach Tony Pietrowski said. “We distanced ourselves as the team everyone thought was the favorite. And that favorite role is not an easy one to play. In the end, we are the best team in the region.”
They were never better than in the first half Monday. In opening a 21-point halftime lead, Corbin controlled the inside and the outside. On the inside, Corbin held the Jaguars without an offensive rebound in the first half. They also outscored North Laurel 16-0 in the paint. On the outside, the Redhounds forced 12 turnovers in the first half and held North Laurel under 30 percent shooting.
“We just ran into a buzz saw. They were firing on all cylinders and we weren’t,” North Laurel coach Jim Conway said. “I’m extremely happy for our guys. I wanted them to end their careers in Rupp Arena, but none of my kids have anything to be ashamed of.”
It remains a memorable run for North Laurel with wins over Harlan County and South Laurel to reach a region final for the first time since the 2005-2006 season. They also became the first team since Cumberland in 2002-2003 to reach the final with a losing record entering the tournament. That year Cumberland upset favored Rockcastle County to reach the Sweet Sixteen. Conway thought his team could do the same.
“I felt really confident. I felt our guys were playing at an extremely high level,” Conway said.
But what was supposed to be a contest quickly became a coronation.
North Laurel scored the first five points. The Jags lost lead for the first time on a basket by one of their own. Adrian Wardrup fought for a rebound and got a hand on the ball, which bounced into the Corbin basket. With the Corbin defense focused on Wardrup, that would be as many as he scored for the Jaguars in the first half.
“Guarding Wardrup was a real big thing for us and transition defense. I thought they really hurt a lot of teams by getting Wardrup back into open space,” Pietrowski said. “We slowed him down and kind of got the team frustrated, and really may have been the difference in the game.
The score was tied briefly at 9-9, but you could see this would not be a case of Corbin overlooking North Laurel. After Wardrup tied the score 9-9, Corbin closed out the quarter with a 9-0 run. The run came with quick steals, physical rebounds, and a three-pointer by a chest-pounding Isaac Wilson.
“If you can’t get up for a regional final, in this atmosphere, then your heart is not in the right place,” Pietrowski said. “I knew when we came out our kids would be focused.”
Dustin Baker scored for North Laurel to open the second quarter and stop the run, at least until the next one. Baker’s bucket at the 6:52 mark would be the only score of the second quarter for the Jaguars. North Laurel was 1-of-7 in the quarter with six turnovers. Meanwhile, Corbin reeled off 12 unanswered points.
“Once they got a lead and extended that lead you could see our guys got the confidence sucked right out of them and we really never recovered from that,” Conway said.
Corbin extended the lead further in the third quarter. The Jaguars got no closer than 18 points in the second half.
“They had a great game plan and executed very well, regardless of what defense we were in,” Conway said.
In the previous meeting this season with Corbin, a 69-51 win for the Redhounds, Johnson and Wilson scored 53 of the 69 points. That would not be the case Monday. Wilson and Johnson each scored 14, but center Aaron Manns also scored 14. Matthew Taylor gave Corbin a fourth starter in double figures with 10 points.
“Teams are always going to try to take those two kids (Wilson and Johnson) away from us, and we talked to our role players about stepping up and having the ability to make shots. I think you saw that tonight,” Pietrowski said. “Role players on our team would not be role players on a whole lot of teams.”
The Corbin coaching staff will be able to watch the 11th Region finals between Scott County and Lafayette. Then they will play the winner of that game at 8 p.m. March 17 at Rupp Arena. Scott County coach Billy Hicks had a successful run as coach at Corbin. Pietrowski was one of his players.
“We’re going to enjoy the heck out of this. We’ve got a long time before we play,“ Pietrowski said.
Conway spent a long time with his players after the game, making an emotional speech to the team.
“The loss is tough, but the bigger thing is when I lose my six seniors. That is probably the hardest part when you say your good-byes to them,” Conway said. “Once they play for me, they will always be one of my players. I try to keep up with them and do everything I can to help them.”
Chris Cheek, Baker, and Wardrup graduate for the Jaguars. Raymond Shears, Landon Jones, and Brody Creech also played their final game.
Cheek and Wardrup were named to the All-Region Team, along with junior Cody Likins.
Mitch Howard can be reached at email@example.com.
13th Region Finals
at The Arena
Corbin 65, North Laurel 42
Corbin 18 14 17 16—65
North Laurel 9 2 19 12—42
CORBIN (65)—Wilson 14, Johnson 14, Taylor 10, Smith 7, Manns 14, Stewart 6.
NORTH LAUREL (42)—Cheek 13, Shears 1, Baker 5, Wardrup 11, Likins 8, Spencer 4.