CORBIN- The South Laurel Cardinals started defense of their 13th Region crown with a 63-51 win over Clay County in Thursday night’s opening-round action from the 13th Region Tournament.
“Our guys have always been hungry,” South Laurel coach Jeff Davis said after the win. “They had to be to make up for bad coaching.”
There was no “bad coaching” on this night. For a while there was some question as to whether Davis would be on the sidelines for this game. He collapsed after the 50th District final against Corbin and was diagnosed with torn rib cartilage and the flu.
“I can’t say enough about my coaching staff,” Davis said. “Anybody who says assistant coaches don’t do anything is crazy. They prepared this team for tonight. I’ve got the best assistants in the state.”
One thing people seem to forget is when the Cardinals went 2-6 in February they were forced into a makeshift lineup after several of their starters went out with injuries. Against the Tigers, South Laurel was once again at full strength, including the return of Zac Feltner, who finished with seven points and three rebounds. It’s the small things that Feltner does which don’t show up in the score book. Those are the things South missed during his absence.
“He’s our ‘All Little Things’,” Davis said. “Going for loose balls, guarding guys bigger than him, taking charges. He’s so unselfish. We’re glad to have him back.”
The Tigers led only twice in the game, at 2-0 and 22-20 with 4:49 left in the first half. The rest of the game belonged to South Laurel.
The Cards opened up with a 12-4 lead, thanks to 10 points by Jared Grubb, who finished with 24 points. In those 10 points were two 3-pointers. The Cards finished 5-of-12 from 3-point land.
Just when it looked like South was going to run away with the game, the Tigers responded with a 7-0 run, including a 3 by Jacob Curry, to cut the lead to one, 12-11, at the 1:52 mark. South led 17-15 after one.
Three Feltner points to open the second quarter upped South’s lead to 20-15. That’s when Clay went on a 7-0 run, with four from Will Sexton and a 3 by Trevor Sams, to take a 22-20 lead with 4:49 left. It would be the last lead Clay County would enjoy.
J.J. Ramey, who finished with 14 points, scored the next five points, with a 3-pointer of his own, to put the Cards up, 25-22, at the 3:28 mark. A lay-up by Grubb following a Tiger turnover gave South a 29-24 halftime advantage.
The teams continued to battle tooth-and-nail in the third quarter. When Ramey snatched a rebound for a put back at the 5:56 mark it gave South a 33-26 advantage. Another offense rebound and put back by Ramey and the lead was 35-28. And when he drained a 3 at the 3:08 mark, the Cards held a 40-32 lead. The lead would be 10 at the end of three, 47-37.
A banked jumper to start the fourth by Grubb gave South its biggest lead at 49-37. Clay would hang around, thanks mostly to its inside game, but could never get any closer than six (52-46) at the 3:40 mark. South pulled away late for the 63-51 win.
“We had trouble with their big guys the first time we played them,” Davis said. “Coach (Glenn) Gray has done a phenomenal job with them. They were bigger and stronger than us. But we’ve been undersized in about 80 percent of the games we’ve played. I thought the second half we did a better job of getting position and fighting for rebounds. We are starting to get our rhythm back. I’m proud of my guys. It was the little things we were missing, and we are getting those back.”
For the game, Clay County outrebounded South Laurel 27-19, with Logan Gabbard leading the way with 11 rebounds to go along with his 14 points. Sexton also added 14, while Ryan Rogers had 10 for the Tigers. The free throw line proved to be the difference as the Cardinals finished 10-of-17 while Clay was just 4-of-7. South also shot 52 percent from the field compared to just 44 percent by Clay County. Clay turned the ball over 10 times compared to four by South Laurel. Another key factor was of the nine South Laurel players who saw action, eight of them scored, compared to six of the 10 Tigers.
South Laurel will now face Harlan County on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in the semifinals. The Black Bears beat Lynn Camp 57-52.