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Cromer helps Cards rally from 10 down to edge Harlan

CORBIN — It‘s hard to keep a good player down — even if he’s been battling a case of the flu for close to a week.

South Laurel senior Matt Cromer showed why he’s the best player in the 13th Region during Thursday’s 13th Region Boys Tournament First-Round battle with Harlan by knocking down the eventual game winning shot with 34 seconds remaining While being far from 100 percent.

Cromer struggled throughout the contest, but came through when it mattered most.

After seeing his team trail 52-48 with less than two minutes remaining, the South Laurel senior capped off a 6-0 run with a contested jumper while giving the Cardinals a 54-52 win.

South Laurel coach Jeff Davis said Cromer assured his coach Thursday morning there was no need to worry about him being sick nor his team’s chances of winning.

“The text said, ‘Coach, I got you.’ He wasn’t going to go out like this,” Davis said. “He didn’t have his best game. He didn’t shoot the ball well, but when we needed a big shot, he was able to hit it. He never made any excuses and didn’t want to come off the floor. The biggest thing he did tonight was that he believed in his teammates.”

Freshman Parker Payne came through in the clutch as well, scoring five crucial points during the final three minutes of the contest.

“We had a freshman step up and make the plays tonight,” Davis said. “We needed Parker and he came through. He doesn’t play like a freshman. I’m hard on him and he can be as good as he wants to be.”

The Cardinals (28-4) led for only 34 seconds the entire game which led Davis to calling the two-point win one of the “gutsiest wins” he’s been a part of.

”These kids gave everything they had tonight,” he said. “As coaches, we always say, ‘Give me everything you got,’ well they did that tonight. Our guys have everything. They never quit and they never stopped believing. They did this not me. We did it against Corbin and we did it again. Down 10 and to come back and win — it shows guts.”

Cromer’s 15 points led the Cardinals while Payne added 12 points. Micah Anders finished with 11 points and Brett Norvell scored 10.

But once again, South Laurel’s defensive play turned out to be huge.

The Cardinals forced 23 turnovers while limiting Harlan to only 9-of-20 shooting in the second half.

“Our defensive play came up big again,” Davis said. “This was a team effort. We had everyone step up tonight. With everything that we’ve been through with the sicknesses the past week, this is big. We just never gave up.”

Harlan coach Derrick Akal labeled the two-point loss as one of the toughest he’s been through.

“We had some tough turnovers down the stretch that hurt us,” he said. “We were caught in the moment. You’ve got to give credit to South Laurel. That’s why they are (district) champions. They seized the moment and made some key shots.”

Jaedyn Gist led the Green Dragons with 20 points while Jordan Akal finished with 11 points.

South Laurel will face Knox Central at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday during semifinal action.

The Cardinals will bring a 17-game win streak into the contest. They defeated the Panthers, 71-57, back in Feb. 13.

“Knox has heart and a chip on their shoulder. They’re playing at a high level and they never stop. Coach (Tony Patterson) has done a great job with them. They’ve got a lot of talented players. It’s going to be another tough game. Hopefully, we can keep it close in the end and find a way.”

Harlan’s Gist was hard to handle in the first half. He scored 16 of his team’s 27 points while hitting 7-of-10 shot attempts including going 2-for-2 from behind the arc.

His two 3-pointers at the end of the first quarter which also included a buzzer-beater, gave the Green Dragons a 14-9 advantage going into the second quarter.

South Laurel’s offensive struggles carried over into the second quarter.

The Cardinals connected on only 8-of-28 shot attempts while going 2-of-8 from 3-point range.

Harlan’s Gist continued to have the hot-hand and played a big part in the Green Dragons holding a 27-20 advantage at halftime despite seeing leading scorer Jordan Akal limited to only four points.

Harlan (13-17) hit 12-of-20 shot attempts in the first half, including a 3-of-4 effort from 3-point range.

Cromer led South Laurel with eight points but connected on only 3-of-11 shot attempts.

Harlan was able to build on to its lead in the third quarter thanks to Akal and Gist.

After seeing the Cardinals cut its deficit to 38-33 with 2:20 remaining, the Harlan duo scored their team’s final five points of the period to give the Green Dragons a 43-35 advantage with eight minutes remaining.

Harlan extended its lead to 47-37 with 6:01 remaining after a basket by Akal but that’s when Cromer and company woke up.

Two free throws by Cromer ignited an 11-2 run that was capped off by Payne’s old-fashioned three-point play that tied the game at 48 apiece with 2:42 remaining.

The Green Dragons answered with four straight points to take a 52-48 with 1:51 left but baskets by Payne and Anders ties the game at 52 apiece while Cromer sealed the deal with a jumper at the 32-second mark that eventually gave South Laurel a 54-52 win.

———

South Laurel 54, Harlan 52

HARLAN (13-17)

Jordan Akal 4-9 3-3 11, Kaleb McLendon 2-6 0-0 6, Kyler McLendon 2-6 2-2 6, Jaedyn Gist 9-13 0-2 20, Jon Eldridge 4-6 1-1 9. Totals: 21-40 6-9 52.

SOUTH LAUREL (28-4)

Alex Hostetler 2-7 0-0 4, Micah Anders 4-7 3-3 11, Matt Cromer 5-17 3-4 15, Brett Norvell 3-8 4-4 10, Caden Jones 1-2 0-2 2, Parker Payne 4-10 3-3 12, Fischer Proffitt 0-0 0-0 0, Brayden Reed 0-0 00 0, Jordan Made 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 19-54 13-16 54.

Harlan 14 13 16 9 — 52

South Laurel 9 11 15 19 — 54

3-point goals: Harlan 4-7 (Gist 2-2, Kaleb McLendon 2-3, Akal 0-1, Eldridge 0-1), South Laurel 3-18 (Cromer 2-5, Payne 1-6, Anders 0-3, Norvell 0-4). Rebounds: Harlan 26 (Eldridge 13, Akal 6, Kaleb McLendon 3, Kyler McLendon 2, Gist 2), South Laurel 25 (Cromer 8, Norvell 6, Jones 2, Payne 2, Proffitt 2, Reed 2, Hostetler 1, Anders 1, Mabe 1). Turnovers: Harlan 23, South Laurel 15. Assists: Harlan 8 (Kyler McLendon 4, Eldridge 2, Akal 1, Gist 1), South Laurel 15 (Hostetler 3, Cromer 3). Fouled out: None.