Jorden Bortnem goes up over North Laurel's Luke Dalton.

Back in December, Jorden Bortnem was struggling to find his game, and Coach Steve Wright let him know that he wasn’t pleased with the way his senior guard was playing.

So much, in fact, that he benched Bortnem for a few games, then tried a few different things to get him going.

“It was frustrating,” Wright said. “He wasn’t playing up to his ability. Now, he’s back to his normal self.”

If “normal self” means the 26-point output in South Laurel’s 76-65 win over North Laurel Friday night, then South Laurel (18-5) just got a little more dangerous.

Eleven of those points can via the free throw line late in the game, which helped the Cardinals seal their second win against the Jaguars this season. Bortnem finished the game 11-of-13 from the charity stripe.

For three quarters, the Jaguars either outplayed the Cardinals, or played even with them. North (13-9) led 17-13 after one, both teams scored 15 points in the third, and South Laurel outscored North 21-20 in the fourth.

Unfortunately for the Jaguars, there’s four quarters in a game, and the second quarter was their downfall, as the Cardinals outscored them 27-13, including three three-pointers, all uncontested.

“We need to put together four quarters,” Coach Jim Conway said. “In the first half we had guys who had open looks, and we’ve got to make those. Our goal is to try and build upon it and play a complete game.”

The Jaguars had trouble in the first half with the size of South’s Matt St. John, as he scored 16 of his 20 points in that half, going to the basket with ease. But Conway knew that his team couldn’t just pack it in against St. John, because the Cardinals are a good perimeter shooting team.

“They have been shooting the ball well, especially against Corbin and Whitley County,” Conway said. “Now, they have guys stepping up and making shots.”

Wright said it was key that he have other players step up and score, not only relying on St. John. Besides Bortnem’s 26, Billy Jones added 13, and Jamaal Duncan scored eight and played some tenacious defense.

“I thought one big key was at the end of the first half and in the third quarter, when we had 3 or 4 starters on the bench and still built on the lead,” Wright said. “I’ve always said five players never get it done. We’ve tried to develop a bench, as coming into the season that was a concern for us.”

The Cards held an early 10-6 lead on threes from Bortnem and Jones, but Nick Shannon shot the Jaguars back into the game, scoring their last 11 points to give North Laurel a 17-13 lead after one. Adrian Wardrup added six points in the first quarter. Both players finished the game with 19 points, as the South Laurel defense did a good job on leading scorer Josh Seidel, holding him to 14 points, four of those in the first half.

“Both of those guys played well in the first quarter,” Conway said. “South was playing a diamond and one, and Nick stepped up and made his shots. We are a very dangerous team if we can get all of the guys playing. Every possession is important, and I think they are starting to understand that.”

Six straight points from St. John gave South Laurel a 28-22 lead with 3:37 left in the first half. The Cards ended the half on an 8-2 run (including threes from Bortnem and Duncan) for a 40-30 half-time advantage.

“Jamaal gave us a lot of energy off the bench,” Wright said. “Everybody brings value to the team, not just the leading scorer. He played well on defense, and made some big free throws and baskets for us.”

Just when it looked like the Cardinals were going to pull away, the Jags would make another run to cut into the lead. A three from Wardrup, allowed by another basket, cut the lead 42-38 with 6:38 left in the third. But the Cards used a 10-5 run to push the lead back to 10 (55-45) going into the final quarter of action.

A three from Josh Tiller, followed by free throws from Seidel and Luke Dalton, and the lead was down to four, 56-52, with 5:35 remaining. Bortnem then drained two free throws, but Shannon answered with a bucket to keep the Jaguars within four.

But that would be as close as they would get. South went on a 10-4 run, and with 1:37 left, the lead was back to 10, 68-58. Bortnem would go 5-of-6 from the free throw line over the final 1:25 to help seal the 76-65 win.

The Cards will travel to face Boyle Co. Tuesday night, while North Laurel plays host to Leslie County.

South Laurel 76, North Laurel 65

North Laurel 17 13 15 20—65

South Laurel 13 27 15 21—76

North Laurel (65)—Shannon 19, Seidel 14, Wardrup 19, Tiller 3, Dalton 6, Couch 2, Creech 2.

South Laurel (76)—Jones 13, Bortnem 26, St. John 20, Smith 5, Duncan 8, Dean 2, Watkins 2.

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