By Les Dixon / Staff Writer
SOUTH LAUREL — After seeing South Laurel drop an 81-74 decision at home to rival North Laurel just a couple of days ago, coach Jeff Davis was curious to see how his team would respond during Monday's 13th Region match-up with Bell County.
Davis had to have liked what he saw.
The Cardinals responded in a big way, using an 11-0 run to end the first quarter and never looking back during their 72-64 win over the Bobcats.
South Laurel turned in one of its best shooting efforts of the season, hitting 19-of-35 from the floor while sealing the deal at the free-throw line, finishing the game 27-of-36, which included going 22-of-28 during the game's final eight minutes.
“Bell County is a good team, and we did a good job starting the game,” Davis said. “We had our lapses, but overall, I was happy with the way we played.
“(For us to win), we can't give up 81 points,” Davis added, referring to his team's loss to North Laurel. “You're not going to beat anyone doing that. I was so proud of our focus tonight.”
The Bobcats had trouble figuring out how to attack the Cardinal defense the entire game, as Lewis Morris' squad finished the game connecting on 24-of-47 shot attempts after hitting their first six shots to begin the contest.
“We were active defensively, and I think we can play with any one in the region, but we've got to do the little things,” Davis said. “Tonight shows what this team can do when we are mentally focused. We can do it. The big key for us is that we're getting better at the right time of the year.”
Junior Zac Baxter continued his impressive play of late, leading the way with a game-high 27 points with 15 of those coming in the first quarter alone.
“He's got to continue to work on not forcing his shot, but I'm biased, I think he is one of, if not the best in the region, if he lets the game come to him,” Davis said. “He has matured a lot since his freshman year, and he can just do a lot. He can hit the three, and score off the dribble, and he can hit the pull-up jumper.”
Bell County had no answer for Baxter early on, as the junior forward scored 15 points, including knocking down four three-pointers to give the Cardinals a 22-13 edge at the end of the first quarter.
The Cardinals' lead grew to 32-14 with less than three minutes remaining in the first half after two baskets by Jon Helton, and two three-pointers by Ethan Anders.
But just when it looked as if South Laurel was going to run away with the game, the Bobcats answered with an 8-0 run and only trailed, 32-22, at halftime.
Bell County cut its deficit to seven points (42-35) with 2:11 remaining in the third quarter, but the Cardinals gained some much-needed breathing room thanks to two free throws by Helton, a put back by Vince Holcomb and a basket by Baxter, as South Laurel led, 48-37, at the end of the period.
Bell County tried to rally during the final eight minutes, but got as close as seven points (52-45) once again before seeing Davis' squad wrap-up the win at the charity stripe.
South Laurel 72, Bell County 64
Bell County 13 9 15 27 – 64
South Laurel 22 10 16 24 – 72
Bell County (64) – Woolum 8, Asher 3, Collette 8, Colleck 3, Potter 14, Patterson 8, Partin 20.
South Laurel (72) – Baxter 27, T. Grubb 9, J. Grubb 6, Holcomb 2, Helton 6, Anders 6, Bre. Miller 12, Bra. Miller 4.