By Chris Parsons
When the season started, North Laurel Jaguars head basketball coach Brad Sizemore said he knew that teams would be gunning for his team after winning the school’s first-ever 13th Region Championship the year before.
It turned out that he was right, but that’s not the only troubles the Jaguars had. Senior big man Jake Allen went down to a hand injury early on and missed significant action.
All in all, the season wasn’t a complete bust, but it didn’t go the way Sizemore had planned either. He said in the end, he was happy with the way his team was playing at the end of the season.
“Obviously, it didn’t go exactly as we had planned,” Sizemore said. “You get a few injuries early on and couple that with a tough schedule and you get some tough losses along the way.
“I thought right at the end of the year, the district and regiontournaments, we started to play the way we were capable of playing,” he added. “We just came across a really good Harlan County team on their home floor and we had a chance to win that game with about 30 seconds to play, but we came up a little short.”
The Jaguars opened the season with wins over Harlan and Oneida Baptist, but dropped the next two games to Jackson County and East Ridge. They would only win consecutive games on three more occasions during the season, which meant they were unable to establish any momentum until late in the season.
Sizemore’s squad did manage to win their tournament, the Legacy Nissan Shootout, with a hard-fought 70-67 win over Corbin in the championship game on Dec. 22.
After that win, North Laurel didn’t win back-to-back games again until Jan. 29, when they beat Leslie County three days after knocking off Whitley County.
The Jaguars stumbled into the postseason having lost three of their last four regular season games before facing Jackson County on their home floor in the opening round of the 49th District Tournament. North Laurel gutted out a 47-43 win, advancing them a showdown with Clay County in the district finals and guaranteeing a spot in the region tournament.
“We were fortunate to get past a really tough Jackson County team at their place to earn a trip to the region tournament,” Sizemore said. “Then we have to face the team that eventually came away with the region title in our district finals, so that shows you just how tough our district is.”
After falling to the Tigers in the district title game, the Jaguars snuck past Knox Central, 49-47, in the first round of the region tournament, setting up the meeting with Harlan County, where they lost 50-45.
With the season behind them, Sizemore said he feels like his team will be better next year because of the tests it faced this year. As for now, he said most of his players will stay busy with other sports, but it’ll be back to work when the time comes.
“Our kids are going to learn from this season just like they did the year before,” Sizemore said. “We’ve got some young kids coming back that I think will be ready to make an impact next year and get back to where we were when we run the region title."