South Laurel’s defense clicked on all cylinders, forcing 30 Middlesboro turnovers. Cardinals Jamie Clark, left, and Lauren Wombles trap the YellowJackets’ Emily Osborne.

If South Laurel was champing at the bit to get back out on the court, one need look no further for indication than the Cardinals’ 86-47 dismantling of Middlesboro in Monday’s season opener.

“We’ve been practicing against each other for quite a while now,” South Laurel coach Konnie Snyder said. “It’s nice to just play somebody else.”

Middlesboro was picked by many to be among the top five teams in the region this season, but the Cardinals walloped the shorthanded YellowJackets with a 23-6 second quarter to turn the game into a blowout early.

Cardinal guard Johnna Sizemore said the team was hoping to get off to a good start to get the rest of the region’s attention.

“I think we accomplished that tonight,” said the junior, who scored 16.

South Laurel also got big efforts from senior guard Whitney Smith, who hit five three-pointers, and junior forward Laurel Wombles, who had seven assists to go with a handful of steals, rebounds and blocked shots. Both led the way for the Cardinals with 22 points.

The Cardinals hit 54 percent of their field goal attempts, but that high percentage had less to do with crisp offensive execution than it did with creating offense from defense, forcing 30 Middlesboro turnovers.

“We’ve been working really hard on our defense — that was one of our main goals coming into the season,” Sizemore said.

The YellowJackets scored the opening bucket of the game on a drive by Mallory Shoffner, but didn’t score again until midway through the first quarter, a span which featured a 12-0 South Laurel run to put the game out of reach early on. During that time, Middlesboro struggled mightily against the Cardinal full-court and half-court press.

“I thought we played awfully hard defensively,” Snyder said. “We were able to get after them a bit and get some steals, get some turnovers early, and I think that was a big key later on in the game, to get the tempo up and get some easy buckets.”

Shoffner and Amber Johnson each had 10 points, and center Brooklyn Jimison came up with 21 to lead her team.

South Laurel owned a 32-21 advantage on the glass, providing the Cardinals with a number of second-chance opportunities.

“That’s just hustle and aggressiveness,” Snyder said.

Sizemore hopes this is a sign of good things to come for the Cardinals, who figure to provide the biggest challenge to defending champ Clay County in the 13th Region.

“Everybody’s got more experience,” she said. “I’m excited.”

South Laurel 86, Middlesboro 47

MB 10 6 17 14—47

SL 18 23 27 18—86

MB (47)—Johnson 10, Jimison 21, Williams 5, Shoffner 10, Davis 1.

SL (86)—Smith 22, McWhorter 8, Clark 4, Wombles 22, Sizemore 16, Justice 8, Coffey 2, Dean 2, Gaines 2.

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