CORBIN — Old rivals Clay County and Corbin hooked up in a classic that saw the defending 13th Region champion Tigers lead by as many as 14 points in the second half before seeing the resilient Redhounds put together one final comeback.
Many had written Corbin off at the end of January after the Redhounds suffered their fifth straight loss, and they did the same during Monday’s 13th Region title game when two free throws by Clay County’s Jake Allen gave his team a 34-20 edge with less than 3:30 remaining in the third quarter.
Tony Pietrowski’s had misfired on 14 straight shots while being held scoreless for more than nine minutes, allowing the Tigers to go on a 19-2 run.
And just when it looked as if Corbin was down and out, the Redhounds went on a 31-19 run, as Kevin Goins’ three-pointer with 3:09 remaining in regulation cut his team’s deficit to 53-51.
But just when it seemed as if Corbin might pull off the upset, the Tigers did what they do best, not miss from the free throw-line, knocking down 13-of-14 attempts during the final two and half minutes to capture the 13th Region crown in fine fashion, 68-54.
“This is huge,” Clay County coach Robert Marcum said. “I thought we did what good teams do. We improved as the season went on. We had struggles at the beginning of the year, but we continued to get better, and I’m so proud of our guys.
“I thought we were able to get everyone involved tonight,” he added. “We came into the game averaging 75 points per game. It hurt our pride some, but Tony Pietrowski is a heck of a coach and he did a heck of a job over there.”
Sharpshooter Trey Farmer earned 13th Region Tournament MVP honors by knocking down a crucial three-pointer, while connecting on seven-of-10 shot attempts from the floor while scoring a game-high 20 points.
“I thought Trey came out and hit some big shots for us,” Marcum said.”He was able to get some good looks, and he did what we needed him to do.”
Pietrowski came into the game with the mindset of slowing the pace down, and it worked.
Despite seeing his team miss four straight shots while turning the ball over three times during Corbin’s first seven possessions to begin the game, the Redhounds only trailed 11-10 heading into the second quarter.
Clay County’s lead grew to 13-10 before seeing Corbin rally to take an 18-15 lead after baskets by Goins, Kenny Hopper and Andrew Taylor.
Taylor’s lay-up with 4:39 remaining in the first half prompted Clay County to take a time out, and Marcum’s squad responded by closing out the first half with a 7-0 run.
Farmer played a big role in the Tigers’ success by scoring five of his nine first half points during the stretch to give his team a 22-18 lead despite seeing both Wes Wolfe and Chip McDaniel held scoreless during the game’s first 16 minutes.
“They were denying both Wes and Chip the ball, but we were able to get some others involved and I thought Trey and (Blake) Smith did a great job for us,” Marcum said.
Both teams struggled from the floor in the first half with Clay County hitting on only eight-of-21 shot attempts while the Redhounds were seven-of-25.
“Clay has a high quality team,” Pietrowski said. “I thought our (ball movement) was great. We got good looks, but the shots weren’t falling.”
Corbin continued to struggle on offense in the third quarter, which allowed the Tigers to build a commanding 36-22 edge, but after missing its first five shots of the second half while turning the ball over six times, the Redhounds finally found some offense.
A three-pointer by Trevor Browning cut Clay County’s lead to 38-31 with :13 remaining, but Farmer came down and hit maybe the biggest shot of the game, a high-arcing three-pointer at the buzzer that gave his team a comfortable 41-31 edge with eight minutes to play.
“That was a big shot at that time,” Marcum said.
The Redhounds continued to chip away, and opened the fourth quarter by hitting their first five shot attempts and six-of-eight.
Two three-pointers by Hopper, and another by Goins with 3:09 left in the game, cut Clay County’s lead to 53-51, but that would be as close as Corbin would get.
“I was real concerned,” Marcum said of Corbin’s comeback attempt.
Farmer hit two free throws 30 seconds later, pushing his team’s lead to 55-51. The Tigers added 11 more points before seeing the Redhounds score again, allowing Clay County to repeat as 13th Region champions.
“It’s really big to be able to win back-to-back region titles,” Marcum said. “It’s been so long since we’ve been able to do that. This is really special.
“I really thought that our defensive play was key tonight,” he added. “We were able to hold Goins in check.”
Clay County finished the game connecting on 19-of-38 shot attempts and a 28-of-36 effort from the free-throw line while out rebounding Corbin, 28-24. The Redhounds were 21-of-56 from the floor, eight-of-11 from the free-throw line, and turned the ball over 13 times, while forcing the Tigers into 17 miscues.
Hopper led Corbin with 19 points while Zach Maguet followed with eight points.
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Corbin (54) — Waddle 3, Shelton 2, Goins 7, Maguet 8, Taylor 5, Hopper 19, Browning 7, Hopkins 3.
Clay County (68) — Wolfe 4, Farmer 20, McDaniel 14, Allen 9, Smith 18, House 2.