HINDMAN — There’s been a programming change for everyone expecting to see 13th Region heavyweights South Laurel and Clay County in the WYMT Mountain Classic finals on Saturday evening.
The showdown will still take place, but it will be a littler earlier than anticipated as a third-place game. Harlan County spoiled the prime time television battle by shocking South Laurel 52-46 in the semifinals Friday. The Bears will play Perry Central, a 79-68 winner over Clay County, in the finals around 8:30 p.m.
“The kids executed to perfection. They really did,” Harlan County coach Michael Jones said. “I told them if we would fight and rebound we would win the basketball game. I don’t know if anyone has defended South that well. We just have to get our offense better.”
Junior point guard Cameron Carmical took over the game down the stretch with a 32-point performance that cemented his position as one of eastern Kentucky’s top players. Treyce Spurlock, a junior wing, also played well with a 14-point effort that included three 3-pointers.
“I wouldn’t trade those two kids for anyone,” Jones said.
Harlan County (14-2) scored the final 11 points over the game’s last 2:07, sparked by Carmical, who took over the game when the game was on the line, beginning with two free throws. Spurlock, a junior wing, added a jumper to pull the Bears within one. Carmical’s three-point play with 55.8 seconds left put HCHS up by two in the midst of three straight South Laurel turnovers.
South Laurel had the ball, down by two, when junior guard Jared Grubb, one of the region’s players, turned it over against the tight defense of Tyrese Simmons. Two more free throws by Carmical pushed the lead to four.
Sophomore guard Ryan Anders missed twice for the Cardinals in the final 30 seconds as Spurlock and Carmical each hit one shot at the line to put the game away. Carmical scored eight of the final 11 points.
“I think he’s the best point guard around. I’m lucky to have him as my point guard, said Jones. “We went to stack and let him go to work.”
South Laurel (11-3) turned the ball over 20 times against the Bears, who surprised most by playing a man-to-man against a lineup that featured 6-foot-7 senior center Caleb Taylor and 6-foot-5 senior forward Andrew Griffith.
“People were asking me what kind of zone I was going to play, but I didn’t want to change anything. We’re going to play man to man and play as hard as we can play,” Jones said.
Taylor scored 12 points to lead the Cardinals, who were ranked among the state’s top 20 teams in the most recent Cantrall Ratings in the Lexington Herald Leader. Grubb and Anders added 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Harlan County missed its first five shots as South Laurel built a 5-0 lead before Spurlock and Carmical heated up. Carmical broke the drought with a three-point play, then added a 3-pointer to pull the Bears within one. Two straight treys by Spurlock on opposite corners tied the game at 9 and then 12.
Another three-point play by Carmical put the Bears ahead for the first time, but Taylor answered with a three-point play of his own to tie the game at 15 after one quarter.
Carmical and Spurlock stayed hot with baskets to start the second quarter as the Bears built a 22-17 lead. A trey by Anders tied the game at 22 midway through the period.
Neither team scored over the next four minutes with HCHS running over a minute off the clock after going to its spread late in the half. Simmons drew Taylor’s second foul with eight seconds left but missed twice at the line. Griffith hit a short jumper to put the Cardinals up by two at halftime.
South Laurel extended its lead to six by the midpoint of the third quarter as Taylor had two baskets and Anders added one. The Bears started the half cold again, missing four of their first five shots. The lead grew to 11 after five straight points by Grubb.
Carmical sparked a late run, hitting two 3-pointers and a jumper as HCHS clawed back to within six, at 38-32, going into the fourth period.
Harlan County hit its first four shots in the last quarter, beginning with Spurlock and followed by Carmical and Nolan before Carmical drained a 3 from well behind the line to put the Bears up 41-40 with 5:54 left.
Taylor went to the bench with his fourth foul at the 4:51 mark, but South went on to take the lead right after that on baskets by Grubb and Anders. Grubb’s basket with 2:31 left extended the Cardinals’ lead to five, but they didn’t score again.
“I told WYMT that no one will expect us to win tomorrow, but I guarantee whoever we play will get a dogfight,” Jones said.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134