TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY
By John Stepp
For The Times Tribune
It'll be a matchup between two of the most historic programs in the 13th Region tonight when the Clay County Tigers defend their 13th Region title against the Corbin Redhounds.
For Clay County, this will be the third straight year coach Robert Marcum has guided them to the championship game, winning last year and falling to North Laurel in 2012. Corbin is playing in their seventh title game in the past 10 seasons under Coach Tony Pietrowski.
Coming into the season, the Tigers were pegged as the favorite to repeat as champs, but Corbin was not on many prognosticators' short list as potential candidates. Fast forward three months and the Redhounds have willed their way into contention.
“We are happy to be where we are. Let's face the facts, a month ago, when we lost five in a row, who said that Corbin was going to be in the finals of the 13th Region,” said Pietrowski. “We have set out to prove the naysayers wrong. With that said, we're still hungry.”
Despite it being their third straight trip to the championship game, the Tigers still do not have the experience that some may think. Point guard Tyler McDaniel was the MVP of the tournament last year and center Jake Allen won a regional title at North Laurel two years ago. Other than that, Clay County has some fresh faces on the court this season.
Among those fresh faces is their trio of super sophomores in Trey Farmer, Wes Wolfe, and Blake Smith. Those three players will be the key, if Marcum and his squad want to make a second trip to Rupp Arena.
“Those three guys are very important for us if we want to win this game," said Marcum. “Wes (Wolfe) has been excellent for us in the tournament so far, and has been our leading scorer. Blake (Smith) is like Wes, in that he is an athletic guard and can defend and score. And then Trey (Farmer) gives us some size and we can play him inside and out. We rely on those three guys a lot throughout the game."
The most valuable player for Corbin up to this point has been senior guard Kevin Goins. Goins dropped 26 points in the Redhounds' win over Bell County and led Corbin with 12 against Jackson County the night before.
In addition to Goins, it has been the play of the Corbin bench that has been the difference in their games near the end of the season. Kenny Hopper, Trevor Browning and Conner Hopkins have all played pivotal minutes for the Redhounds, and have made Corbin a much deeper team.
“Our bench play continues to be big for us. Conner (Hopkins), Kenny (Hopper), and Trevor (Browning) have all made key plays for us," said Pietrowski. “With the emotion and effort that we had to put into the Jackson County game and then having to turn around and play, the bench was big for us. Then we got into foul trouble (against Bell County) and they were able to play some minutes. I'm proud of them for continuing to step up."
On the big stage Monday night, with a trip to the Sweet Sixteen on the line, neither coach will have to dig deep to find the right words to say. The game is motivation enough.
“I don't think I'll have to give my kids any big motivational speech," said Marcum. “We've been here before. Some of these kids were on the sideline last year, but they know what's at stake. It'll be a big moment for them, and something they'll always remember."
Pietrowski wants his kids to enjoy the moment, as well.
“It's going to be a great game. Clay County has a good team and they are playing a good brand of basketball right now. We'll have to be ready for them," said Pietrowski. “You don't get here that often, and when you do, wouldn't it be great to get that next win and really do something for this senior group? We're going to try to figure out how to do that."