By Chris Parsons
WILLIAMSBURG — Coming into Tuesday’s 50th District semifinal game between South Laurel and Whitley County the two teams had split the season series with the home team winning each time.
With the matchup on a neutral floor, it was anybody’s guess what would happen.
The Cardinals got 13 points each from Matt Slavey and Zac Baxter, along with 12 from Blake Sanders as they cruised to a 66-47 win, advancing to the district finals Thursday night.
After the win, South Laurel coach Jeff Davis said he was pleased with his team’s effort in the early stages of the game as well as how they dictated the pace from the start.
“I was happy with our energy we came out of the gates and the way the guys tuck with the game-plan,” Davis said. “Kids are going to have mistakes, so we stressed the importance of minimizing those in crucial points of the game and I felt like we did that.
“I’m proud of these kids for what they’ve done,” he added. “To give themselves a shot at a region championship and to play for a district title against a huge rivalry is going to be a lot of fun.”
The Cardinals forced the issue from the start and it paid off as they took advantage of three-pointers from three different players in the first quarter (Slavey, Austin Rader and Trevor Grubb) to take a 19-10 lead after one period of play.
The second quarter was much of the same as the Cardinals extended their lead on a 12-9 effort, pushing the gap to 31-19 as the two teams headed to the locker room at halftime.
Whitley County was able to regroup at halftime and mounted a rally midway through the period.
Back-to-back three pointers by Zack Rutherford trimmed the Cardinals’ lead to 35-27 and as string of free throws and a basket by James Sasko made the score 38-32 with 3:00 to play in the period.
South Laurel took advantage of the timeout and closed the third quarter on a 9-1 run to push its lead to 47-33 to start the fourth quarter.
The Colonels managed just three field goals in the final eight minutes as South Laurel made seven-of-10 free throws in the period to close out the game and the 66-47 win.
Sasko led the Colonels with 14 points, while Boston Bryant added 12 and Zack Rutherford scored nine.
After the loss, Whitley County coach Jerry Overbey said his team just didn’t play well enough to win, but hoped his returning players would build on the experience.
“We’ve had a tough season, but I like how we improved over the season,” he said. “We just have to get the kids that are coming back a little stronger and put things together for next year.”
South Laurel will face Corbin Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the 50th District Championship game.
Boys 50th District Tournament Semifinals
at Williamsburg High School
South Laurel 66, Whitley County 47
Whitley County 10 9 14 14 47
South Laurel 19 12 16 19 66
Whitley County (47) – Sasko 14, Bryant 12, Z. Rutherford 9, Powers 8, Lawson 2, Smith 2.
South Laurel (66) – Slavey 13, Baxter 13, Sanders 12, Jones 8, Rader 5, Schaser 4, Helton 4, T. Grubb 3, Holt 2, Miller 2.