By Les Dixon for the Times-Tribune
SOUTH LAUREL — Knox Central and South Laurel hooked up in an old-fashioned 13th Region battle Thursday with the Panthers coming away with a hard-fought, 61-57, win over the much-improved Cardinals.
South Laurel (10-10) led by as many as six points in the third quarter before seeing the Panthers score on their first 10 possessions of the fourth quarter to pull out a slim four-point win.
Knox Central didn't take its first lead of the game until the 3:38 mark of the fourth quarter, as Chad Marsee's put-back gave his team a 50-49 lead that it wouldn't relinquish.
The Panthers trailed 49-46 with 4:48 remaining in regulation before Marsee's basket triggered a 12-0 run during the game's final four minutes.
South Laurel turned out to be its own worst enemy by missing five consecutive free throws down the stretch.
“I'm really proud of our guys' effort tonight,” South Laurel coach Jeff Davis said. “I thought our offense got a little rushed (in the fourth quarter). I wanted to see how we would respond (after their win against Corbin Tuesday) and I'm impressed with the way we never gave up It was a great effort. I thought we gauged ourselves alright tonight.”
Knox Central coach Brian Evans was also pleased with the way his team folded despite trailing for most of the game.
“It was tight the whole game,” he said. “It was a great game. I'm proud of my guys for not giving up. We hung in there and were able to get the win against a very good South Laurel team. They played a great game tonight. They are playing just as good as anyone in the region right now.
“I think they're going to do well,” he added. “I feel good about the win, but I wouldn't put us with Jackson County right now. They are heads and shoulders above us right now, but we are improving and getting better.”
The Cardinals jumped out to a 5-0 lead and built a 13-10 edge heading into the second quarter on five-of-nine shooting from the floor while Knox Central was three-of-10.
South Laurel's lead increased to 25-19 midway through the second quarter before seeing the Panthers hit six straight free throws to end the period, but Evans' squad still trailed at halftime, 27-25.
The play of Jared Grubb and Zac Baxter allowed the Cardinals to continue to lead Knox Central in the third quarter. The duo combined to score all 14 points of South Laurel's points during the period, as Davis' squad held a 41-38 edge going into the fourth quarter.
A three-pointer by Trevor Grubb combined with a three-pointer by Baxter gave the Cardinals a 49-46 edge with 4:48 left in regulation, but that's when the Panthers took control of the game.
Consecutive baskets by Marsee allowed Knox Central to grab a lead it wouldn't relinquish.
“It was a loss, but we played good, and we got to see where we stack up,” Davis said. “We played well in the first half, and had four starters on the bench (because of foul trouble). We basically had a freshman, eighth grader, and a junior and a sophomore on the floor.
“We held the lead throughout the game, but I believe we actually got tired a bit in the fourth quarter,” he added.
Baxter led the Cardinals with 27 points while Jared Grubb added 16. Matt Barger led Knox Central with 27 points while Marsee added 15.
Knox Central 61, South Laurel 57
Knox Central 10 15 13 23 – 61
South Laurel 13 14 14 16 – 57
Knox Central (61) – Barger 27, Adams 7, Hensley 4, Marsee 15, Cole 6, Wyatt 2.
South Laurel (57) – T. Grubb 11, Baxter 27, J. Grubb 16, Anders 3.