By Les Dixon/Sports Editor
SOUTH LAUREL — South Laurel coach Jeff Davis made No secrets about it to his players that Tuesday’s 50th District matchup with Whitley County was a must-win game for his squad.
After starting the season off with three losses while losing starting guards Blake Sanders and Trevor Grubb in the process, the Cardinals needed something positive to happen Tuesday and it did.
South Laurel led by as many as 21 points in the second half and held off a late Whitley County rally to knock off the Colonels, 62-48.
“It was a big win for us, but more importantly we’ve got to learn to play and gain confidence in these kids that’s stepping up with our other guys out. It allows them to gain confidence.
“I just flat out told them (his players) we can play all the games we want, but these district games are the most important,” he added. “We needed to come out and win this and we couldn’t dig ourselves a hole. It was like a tournament game, that’s how we approached it.”
The Cardinals (1-3 overall, 1-0 in 50th District play) got off to a hot start thanks to solid shooting from three-point range and stingy defense.
South Laurel knocked down three-of-three shot attempts in the first quarter to build a 21-14 edge in the first quarter. The Cardinals’ lead grew to 37-26 at halftime, as three-pointers by Matt Slavey and Zac Baxter along with a five-of-six effort from the free-throw line allowed South Laurel to build the comfortable 11-point advantage.
Davis’ squad connected on six-of-seven shot attempts from behind the arc in the first half while limiting Whitley County 10-of-29 shooting overall and eight turnovers.
Consecutive three-pointers and a jumper by Baxter keyed a 15-5 run that saw South Laurel’s lead grow to 52-31 before the Colonels closed out the quarter with a 6-0 run.
Whitley County (1-2, 0-1) took advantage of a 10-minute stretch that saw the Cardinals go without a field goal and cut its deficit to only nine points (57-48 with 1:20 remaining).
But South Laurel’s Austin Rader silenced the Colonel comeback attempt by scoring with a jumper and Baxter put the finishing touches on the win with two free throws with less than a minute remaining in the game.
Baxter scored a game-high 23 points in the win for South Laurel while Matt Slavey finished with 16 points. Michael Powers led Whitley County with a 16-point scoring effort.
The Cardinals finished the game with a nine-of-14 shooting effort from three-point range and 20-of-51 for the game while turning the ball over 17 times. The Colonels were one-of-seven from behind the arc and 18-of-53 from the floor while turning the ball over 19 times.
South Laurel 62, Whitley County 48
Whitley County 14 12 11 11 48
South Laurel 21 16 15 10 64
Whitley County (48) — Powers 16, Lawson 6, D. Rutherford 6, Z. Rutherford 8, Hale 4, Sasko 4, Foley 4.
South Laurel (62) — Slavey 16, Schaser 4, Miller 9, Baxter 23, Rader 2, Grubb 8.