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North edges South to earn rematch with HC in finals

CORBIN — Fans in attendance of Saturday’s 13th Region Tournament semifinal heavyweight matchup between rivals North Laurel and South Laurel expected to see a 12-round slugfest that wouldn’t be decided until the end.

That’s exactly what they got.

In what many described as one of the most exciting girls games in recent memory at The Arena, North Laurel managed to do just enough to pull off a slim 64-59 win to advance to its second straight 13th Region title game while eliminating the Lady Cardinals in the process.

“We had two really great teams and two really great players out there tonight, and it’s a shame someone had to lose,” North Laurel coach Eddie Mahan said. “I don’t know if they’re two better guards out there in Ally (Collett) and Amerah (Steele), and then you add Sydnie Hall into the mix, you’ve got one heck of a team.”

The Lady Cardinals came into the season as the region’s team to beat but fell short in their rubber match against their crosstown rivals.

“Our kids are pretty torn up right now, and I told our kids that North came up with the shots when they had to,” he said. “That’s what good teams do. (Isabel) Gray hit one, and (Gracie) Jervis hit one. We lost the ball game in the third quarter. I don’t think we scored during the first four to five minutes. It takes so much energy out of you when you have to battle back like we did. This was a tough one to lose. We did battle back and that’s all you can ask for is a chance.

“This is about as a devastated locker room that I’ve been a part of. They’ve been through so much adversity, and they’re not hearing me right now, but I told them to come out of here with their head high. They perservered so many times. I’m so proud to be their coach. We will work harder and we will come back next year and work hard at it and see what happens. There are no guarantees in this thing.”

Both teams landed haymakers throughout the fourth quarter, with Mahan’s squad landing the most in the end.

South Laurel fought back from a 50-39 deficit with 6:33 remaining in the fourth quarter to eventually taking a 55-52 lead after a 3-pointer by Mariah Anders at the 2:52 mark.

But North Laurel’s Gracie Jervis followed with a 3-pointer of her own to tie the game at 55 apiece. A layup by Ally Collett gave the Lady Cardinals a 57-55 edge with 2:04 left, but a 3-pointer by Isabel Gray at the 1:17 mark allowed the Lady Jaguars to reclaim a 58-57 advantage.

Amerah Steele’s two free throws with 46.6 left gave her team a slim 59-58 edge, but the lead was short-lived with Gray getting fouled while taking a deep 3-pointer with 10 seconds left.

She managed to hit two of three attempts from the free-throw line to give North Laurel a 60-59 lead.

That set up an nerve wracking play for South Laurel that saw Collett’s layup attempt rim out. The Lady Jaguars were able to wrap-up the win by adding four more points.

“To beat a team like that, you’ve got to play really well, but I don’t think we did today,” Mahan said. “Somehow, I look up and we are ahead by 11, but then they came back and show how good they really are by hitting 3 after 3, and they fight back. At that point in time, you’ve got to have a gut check and Isabel Gray and Gracie Jervis stepped up and showed how really good guards they are.

“We were dead (tired). Gracie and Isabel played pretty much the entire game, except for maybe a minute a minute and a half, so they had no rest. Hailee Valentine had the flu all week, and she battled through. She gave us a Michael Jordan flu-game. She started off great and scored most of our points in the first half. It’s great to get the win.”

North Laurel will be back in action today at 7 p.m. against Harlan County. The two teams played on Jan. 5 with the Lady Jaguars coming away with a 72-43 win. They also faced each other in last year’s regional title game with the Lady Bears winning, 78-51.

“It’s great to be back, and I expected for us to be back, and that’s what I think we have created for our program,” Mahan said. “No longer is it wanting to just get into a semifinal or final, but you have those expectations. I hope our expectations are to win Monday night.

“I think Knox Central proved that you can’t just overlook someone because you beat them pretty bad earlier in the season. Harlan County is a good team with a whole lot of experience winning a championship in this building. To me, we are the underdogs going into this because they do have the experience of knowing how to win.”

With the loss, South Laurel finished the season with a 26-8 mark.

“It’s hard. This is the worst day of the season when your team gets eliminated,” Souder admitted. “But I told the girls every team in Kentucky will go through this except one team. It didn’t end the way way we wanted to, but the sun will come up tomorrow.”

Gray’s 14 points led North Laurel, while Valentine and Raegan Hubbard each finished with 13 points apiece. Jervis also scored in double figures with 11.

Collett’s 25 points led the Lady Cardinals. Steele finished with 22 points.

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North Laurel (64) — Valentine 13, Gray 14, Jervis 11, Sizemore 7, Hubbard 13, Anderson 2, Carroll 2, Bruner 2.

South Laurel (59) — Collett 25, Hall 2, Howard 3, Steele 22, Anders 3, Turner 4.