By Chris Parsons
Coming into the 2012-13 basketball season, the Clay County Lady Tigers and Whitley County Lady Colonels were tabbed as the teams to beat in the 13th Region.
Fast-forward to today’s first-round matchup and those two teams will be fighting for survival as the opening act in the girls’ 13th Region Tournament.
James Burchell’s squad brings the best record in the 13th Region into tonight’s contest, sitting at 26-5 on the season, including a 12-3 mark against regional foes.
The Colonels are 19-10, but have struggled after they started the season red hot, winning their first eight games of the season, including a 58-55 win over Clay County on Dec. 10.
Larry Anderson’s squad suffered their first loss to an in-state team four days later, falling 47-44 to Sacred Heart in the Titans Christmas Clash at Mercer County High School, where they eventually finished 1-2 in the tournament.
From that point, the Lady Colonels finished the season 9-7, thanks to a rash of injuries that saw Kandice Craig, Hallie Jones, Brandi Smith and Bethany Powers all miss playing time down the stretch.
The good news for Anderson is that he has all five starters back on the floor as the tournament gets underway. The bad news is he says they are only at 60 percent as far as what he feels like they can do on the floor. With that said, Anderson was apologetic as far as what the Lady Colonels bring to the table this week as far as ability.
“I think this is going to be a game of two different teams,” Anderson said. “They do a lot of inside stuff and are post-oriented in how they run their offense, while we are a team that is mostly perimeter-oriented.
“The thing I regret right now is with what we’ve had go on since Jan. 7, the kids really are exhausted right now and they don’t have any game conditioning,” he added. “Brandi has mono, Bethany is playing basically on one leg, Taylor has been out for two straight days and Craig hadn’t played since January, so you can’t get in game-shape when your kids are trying to get healthy.”
Coming into tonight’s game, Whitley County has lost three of its last five games, including a 56-52 loss to Corbin in the 50th District finals Friday night. Despite the loss, Anderson’s squad was just a few breaks here or there from a district title.
While the Lady Colonels may be trying to get healthy, Clay County coach James Burchell said he’s not taking any chances as far as preparing his team. The Lady Tigers will be looking to avenge the earlier season loss to Whitley County at home, which snapped a 61-game win streak against 13th Region teams.
“We know what this Whitley County team is capable of doing when they’re playing well,” Burchell said. “They have quite a few weapons on offense, with Smith probably being the main one. She shoots the ball really well from the outside and also can get to the rim as well.
“Really, all of their kids can shoot the ball from the outside and Craig is a strong presence in the post for them,” he added. “What it comes down to is you have to guard them well on the perimeter, while also trying to keep them from penetrating. Then, you have to block out and rebound to limit their second-chance points.”
The X factor in tonight’s game may come down to which team is able to keep its composure down the stretch. The Lady Tigers are used to the pressure, having won four straight 13th Region titles, while Whitley County will try and regroup after the loss to Corbin Friday.
While Clay County comes in as the favorite to some to win its fifth straight region title, Anderson said the underdog role isn’t one that he expects will help his team in the long run.
“Coach Burchell is too veteran of a coach to let something like that affect the game,” Anderson said. “If we win, we’ll have to earn it and it won’t be because they overlooked us at all.
“We’re going to have to play well because Whitley County is going to try to do everything they can to get the win,” Burchell said. “This is the time of year when you have to play your best basketball, because you can bet that the team you face is going to try to do the same thing.”