By Chris Parsons
The South Laurel Cardinals finished this past season with a 13-17 record and were one three-point basket away from playing in the semifinals of the 13th Region Tournament.
A 50-48 loss to Harlan County sent the Cardinals home for the season where Jeff Davis will have plenty of holes to fill when next season comes calling.
As if a tough schedule (including eventual state champion Madison Central) wasn’t enough to detail with, Davis and company were plagued with a host of injuries to start the season, including losing starting point guard Blake Sanders for a time.
Once the Cardinals got healthy, Davis said he liked what he saw from his team and despite the losing record, he felt like the Cardinals were contenders at the end of the season.
“We kind of picked up where we left off the season before with injuries and had to kind to battle through that with some kids out,” Davis said. “Once we got everybody back on the floor and healthy and in a rhythm, I felt like we played well as a team.
“The biggest thing is that I just think we had some really tough games at the end of the season where we played well, but just couldn’t get over the hump and win,” he added. “I’d love to have had more wins, but when you lose kids like Blake Sanders and Trevor Grubb to injuries and sickness, it’s really tough to develop any kind of continuity.”
The Cardinals started the season with three straight losses before consecutive wins over Garrard and Whitley County. The holiday tournament season saw them finish 2-3 before rattling off three straight wins over North Laurel, Williamsburg and Bell County.
Another three-game skid was followed by three straight wins over Corbin, Barbourville and GRC. From that point, Davis and company dropped six of the final nine games, including a loss to Corbin in the 50th District Championship game.
As a team, the Cardinals averaged 58.9 points per game offensively, while allowing 59.7 on the defensive end. The Cardinals were 8-8 against 13th Region foes, while they finished 5-3 in the 50th District with at least one win over every other team in the district.
Looking ahead to next season, Davis said he feels like he will have a solid nucleus of players returning as well as a group of young kids who he expects will be chomping at the bit for playing time when the season starts.
“We have a couple kids coming back like Zac Baxter and Trevor Grubb who we expect to step in and lead the team,” Davis said. “They know there’s going to be a lot expected of them next season, but I feel like they can get the job done.
“We also have a group of young kids that are going to want to come in and make an impact right away,” he added. “You can see how hungry these kids are based on the fact that we have to run them out of the gym every night because they want to stay around and get some work in.”