By John Stepp For The Times Tribune
NORTH LAUREL — The North Laurel Jaguars may be peaking at just the right time – again.
The defending 13th Region champions have won three straight regional games with the latest being an overtime thriller over the cross-town rival South Laurel Cardinals, 70-65.
The win was revenge for North Laurel, who fell to the Cardinals 62-53 in their last meeting. Even with his team’s improvement, Jaguars’ Coach Brad Sizemore said they are still taking things one game at a time.
“You’re only as good as your next game or your next practice. We’ll feel good about ourselves tonight and get ready to go back to work,” Sizemore said. “I have a lot of confidence in our kids. I told them in the locker room that I know how we are capable of playing. I told them to not forget what they accomplished last year. Hopefully this win is going to boost us for the next four games.”
It was a defensive struggle to start the game, as both teams were riddled by missed shots and turnovers. South took a 10-8 lead with under a minute to go in the opening period, but a last second three-pointer by junior guard Chris Miller put the Jaguars on top, 11-10 after one.
It was a tug-of-war match during the second quarter, with the teams exchanging the lead five times. Seniors Blake Sanders and Austin Schaser kept the Cardinals alive during the period, scoring six points each. North Laurel was able to maintain the lead when a two-point basket by junior Elijah Jervis put the Jaguars up 28-27 heading into the half.
“Outside of a few games, we’ve had guys who can score the basketball, as long we take good shots and move the ball around,” South Laurel Coach Jeff Davis said. “I thought we did a good job for the most part tonight. I think we just got a little tired at the end.”
The game was all North Laurel in the third quarter thanks in large part to junior center Jake Allen. The Jaguars’ big man dominated the paint, scoring 13 of his game-high 24 points in the quarter.
Allen had only two points in the entire first half, but came through when his team needed him the most, helping the Jaguars to a 41-38 after three.
“He packed us in the lane. During one of our time outs, I told him ‘Welcome back.’ He was back to old form tonight,” Sizemore said. “He got hurt earlier in the year and he’s still trying to get his legs back under him. He played extremely hard for four quarters. He had a lot of energy and was able to finish the game, even into the overtime. When he’s working hard, he’s hard to stop in the lane.”
Both teams continued to battle in the fourth quarter. Allen and fellow big man Austin Rush continued to dominate the paint for the Jaguars, combining for 14 of North Laurel’s 18 fourth quarter points. Not to be outdone, South Laurel displayed their sharp shooting ability, knocking down five three-point shots, including three from star sophomore guard Zach Baxter.
Down one point with just over a minute left in regulation, senior guard Zach Jones put the Cardinals ahead 59-57 with a trey from the corner. North Laurel brought the ball down the court and immediately went to Allen, who was fouled. Allen knocked down both free throws to pull the game even, 59-59. Both teams had a shot at the game-winning basket, but fell short, sending the game into overtime.
“Zach’s been shooting the ball really well for us, especially down the stretch. I just think we got a little tired and forced some things we didn’t need to,” Davis said.
South took control of the lead to start the overtime period as Baxter scored a quick two followed by a free throw. North Laurel guard Kendrick Henson scored six points during an 8-0 run, to take a 66-62 lead with just over a minute left in the game. A three-point shot by Sanders cut the North Laurel lead to 66-65 with 30 seconds left, but four straight free throws by Jaguars’ senior point guard Marcus Carson sealed the deal, giving North Laurel a 70-65 win.
“With this rival and in this type of environment, I’m happy for the kids. We’ve been grinding it out the last couple of weeks and just kept fighting and kept believing,” Sizemore said.
North Laurel 70, South Laurel 65
North Laurel 11 17 13 18 11 70
South Laurel 10 17 10 22 6 65
North Laurel (70) – Allen 24, Henson 12, Rush 11, Carson 8, Miller 5, Peyton Broughton 5, Thompson 3, Jervis 2.
South Laurel (65) – Baxter 23, Sanders 11, Jones 10, Slavey 10, Schaser 8, Rader 2, Grubb 1.