CORRBIN — Many thought the Knox Central Panthers were going to give South Laurel a run for its money during semifinal action of the 13th Region Tournament, but the Cardinals wouldn’t have any part of it.
South shot 27-of-46 from the floor, including four-of-11 from 3-point range, while outrebounding the Panthers, 32-21, during their 72-47 win Saturday.
“(Chad) Marsee and (Wade) Liford are two heckuva a basketball players. They caused us a lot of problems, but it helps when you have Caleb (Taylor), Andrew (Griffith), and Zach Feltner to go in there and take some of the beating that they take,” Davis said of his team’s rebounding edge over the Panthers.
The 25-point win moves the Cardinals into the 13th Region championship game for the first time since 2009 when they fell to the Corbin Redhounds.
“I’m just so proud of all the past players that laid this foundation. It means a lot of our program and to our kids that all the hard work is paying off,” South Laurel coach Jeff Davis said.
After coming off a surprising triple overtime win over North Laurel, many thought Knox Central had a chance to knock off a Laurel County school for the second straight game.
“I don’t think they are that much better. I think we just didn’t guard. I think we can beat them on a given night. We didn’t guard at all. We didn’t sit down. We were floating around the floor waiting for somebody else to step up,” Knox Central coach Tony Patterson said. “Grit and heart got us here. We’re going to be back stronger, bigger and faster.”
South Laurel went straight to the paint to open the game as two straight baskets by Andrew Griffith gave the Cardinals a 4-0 edge. Knox Central answered with two baskets from Chad Marsee, but six straight layups by Caleb Taylor combined with back-to-back 3-pointers by JJ Ramey allowed South Laurel to take a 16-7 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Cardinals shot six-of-12 from the floor while the Panthers were three-of-10.
“We started to do a good job of taking them out of their first entry and it helped create our tempo. We got some stops, and I think that really got us going,” Davis said. “It always starts and stops with our defense.”
Baskets by both Griffith and Jared Grubb pushed South Laurel’s lead to 20-9 while an old-fashioned three-point play by Ramey increased the Cardinals’ advantage to 23-9 with 7:00 remaining. Despite seeing Taylor pick up his second foul midway through the quarter, South Laurel continued to increase its lead.
Ramey’s third 3-pointer of the game gave South Laurel a 26-11 lead, while a free throw and layup by Ryan Anders pushed the Cardinals’ advantage to 29-13. A basket by Marsee sparked a 7-0 run by Knox Central that cut its deficit to 29-20, but Anders added his fifth point of the game to extend South Laurel’s lead to 31-20 at halftime.
“The scouting report on him is he can shoot it. The other night he was shooting air balls. When you don’t guard people and let them get their feet set it’s a lot easier,” Patterson said of Ramey’s 19-point performance Saturday.
The Cardinals shot 12 of 25 from the floor in the first half, including a three-of-eight effort from 3-point range while the Panthers connected on nine-of-19 shot attempts, including zero-of-one from behind the arc.
Knox Central opened the second half with a 4-0 run after baskets by Marsee and Liford, cutting its deficit to 31-24, but South Laurel respond with a 7-2 run thanks to four straight points by Taylor.
An old-fashioned three-point play by Taylor increased the Cardinals’ lead to 41-30 at the 4:28 mark. Patterson picked up a technical on Knox Central’s ensuing possession leading to a free throw by Ramey.
South Laurel finished the quarter out by hitting its final six shots of the quarter, including Blake Phelps’ jumper at the buzzer to give his team a commanding 52-36 lead.
Davis’ squad put the game away during the opening minutes of the fourth with a 10-3 run. The Cardinals led by as many as 27 points (70-43) before rolling to the 25-point win.
Ramey’s 19 points led all scorers while Taylor finished the game with 15 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots. Griffith and Anders each scored in doubles figures, finishing with 11 points apiece.
Marsee finished his career as a Panther by leading the way with 15 points while Jermel Carton followed with a nine-point effort.