WILLIAMSBURG—This time there wasn’t any need for last second heroics.
Unlike the first two times these two teams met this season, the third time wasn’t even close after the first quarter, and definitely the charm for South Laurel, as the Cardinals rolled to a 59-43 win over Whitley County in the Boys’ 50th District Tournament at Whitley County.
“I’m proud of how our guys were focused,” South Laurel coach Jeff Davis said. “We struggled at first and I told them to calm down and be patient. Good things will come.”
Indeed they did.
After trailing 10-5 with 3:45 left in the first quarter, the Cardinals ended the first with a 12-0 run to take a 17-12 lead, a lead they would never relinquish and continued to build on.
Picking up where they left off in their regular season finale win over Rockcastle County, the Cardinals defense cranked things up a notch against the Colonels, forcing six turnovers in the first quarter and 17 for the game.
“Our press was very effective tonight,” Davis said.
Trailing 10-5, Zac Baxter hit one of his two threes in the first quarter to spark the 12-0 run. He would finish with a team high 20 points, while Jeff Hale added 16. Hale also had a three in the first quarter, as the Cards hit five for the game.
“Zac has been playing really well the last couple of games,” Davis said. “He’s letting the game come to him. He’s young and still learning, but he took care of the ball tonight.”
Davis was also impressed with Hale’s play, both on offense and defense.
“Jeffrey had another solid night,” Davis said. “He did a great job defensively on Aaron Petrey and still was able to score on the other end. We did a good job of making him take tough shots, but he still scored 20.”
Jason Mitchell chipped in with 10 points.
“Jason is so active, and I told him sometimes he’s too active,” Davis said.
South would continue to build on its lead in the second quarter. A tip following a Baxter miss by Matthew Slavey, followed by a Hale three and a steal and basket by Mitchell, and the lead was 27-12 with 1:50 left in the half. The Cards would led at the half, 29-17.
Baxter, Hale and Mitchell accounted for all 12 of South Laurel’s third quarter points to push the lead to 41-27 heading into the final quarter of action.
The Cards would open the fourth hitting 6-of-7 from the field, and with 3:59 left, they had their largest lead at 54-33. Whitley outscored South over the final 3:32, 12-5, but it wasn’t enough as the Cardinals advanced to tonight’s district championship game against Corbin with a 59-43 win.
For the game, the Cardinals shot 44.2 percent, hitting 23-of-52, while Whitley County was 20-of-56 for 35.7 percent.
“I’m proud of all of them,” Davis said of his team. “The other guys played well. Slavey did a lot of working handling the ball, and it was a team effort. We’ve been preaching for the last two weeks to rely on each other. Be patient and we’ll get there. Not one person has to take over.”
With the win, South Laurel advances to the 13th Region Tournament along with Corbin. But the Cards would love to go as district champs, no runner-up.
“It’s a huge game with Corbin,” Davis said. “We had two close games with them and we came up short in both of them. They are well coached, play good defense and they rebound the ball well.”
The championship game is set for 7:30 p.m. tonight at Whitley County High School.
Boys’ 50th District Tournament
at Whitley County High School
South Laurel 59, Whitley County 43
South Laurel 17 12 12 18—59
Whitley County 10 7 10 16—43
South Laurel (59)—Anders 3, Rader 2, Slavey 4, Baxter 20, Mitchell 10, Hale 16, Schaser 4
Whitley County (43)— Powers 6, Lawson 4, Petrey 20, Z. Rutherford 3, Sulfridge 6, Sasko 2, Blakley 2.