South picked to sweep 13th Region titles

Corbin went from regional runner-up in 2017 to champion in 2018. South Laurel hopes to follow the same path to success in 2019 after falling in overtime to Corbin in last year’s 13th Region Tournament championship game.

South Laurel edged Knox Central for the top spot in this year’s 13th Region Cats Pause poll with 71 points and 11 first-place votes from regional coaches, just ahead of Knox Central’s 54 points and three first-place votes. Corbin was third with 41 points, followed by Harlan County with 24 points and Clay County with 18 points. Middlesboro, Bell County, North Laurel, Whitley County and Harlan rounded out the top 10.

South Laurel (22-9) — A heartbreaking loss to Corbin in last year’s regional finals could provide just enough incentive to propel the Cardinals back to the state tournament. Senior J.J. Ramey (19.3, 5.6) and junior Matt Cromer (13.1, 4.2) lead what may be the region’s best backcourt tandem. Junior guards Alex Hostetler (4.0) and Brett Norvell (2.5) and 6-4 senior forward Matt Dalton could round out a deep and talented lineup. Senior guard Peyton Parker, sophomore guard Micah Anders and juniors Zach Allen, Ford Breeding and Fischer Proffitt should also see extensive action.

Knox Central (27-6) — Losing star guard Markelle Turner to graduation is a blow, but the Panthers bring back all their other starters from a squad that was considered the region’s best for much of last season before a tournament letdown. Guards Jaylen Adams (14.4, 5.1) and Dane Imel (11.7, 2.8) and 6-6 forward Nick Martin (13.3, 7.4) are back for their senior seasons, and 6-1 junior Kevionte Turner (9.2, 6.2) returns at forward. Junior guard Zach Patterson (4.7) could round out the lineup, but seniors Dalton Elliott (2.7) and Jacob Lindsey, junior Zach Moser and sophomore Jevonte Turner are also in the picture.

Corbin (26-8) — You can never count out the Redhounds and coach Tony Pietrowski, even though star guard Matthew Taylor has moved on, along with several other key players. Senior guard Chase Sanders (12.6, 3.5) will have to take on a bigger role this year, along with 6-3 junior Matty Taylor (7.7, 4.3) and senior guards Cameron Maguet (2.5) and Brody Barton (2.1). Candidates in the post include 6-4 senior Jacob Unthank (2.0) and 6-3 juniors Ethan Wine and Alex Bryley (2.7, 2.3).

Harlan County (20-9) — Another district district title would give the Bears five straight and set a district record, but it won’t be easy with the loss of three starters who averaged in double figures, along with what could be the most balanced district field this century. The Bears will be led by senior guard Alex Pace (14.6, 4.9) and 6-6 junior wing Taylor Spurlock (6.0, 2.6). Jacob Wilson (10.0), a junior guard from Harlan, will add some much needed shooting prowess, and senior guards Gabe Price (3.9, 3.1) and Patrick Bynum (2.7, 2.0) should also help with Price providing grit and hustle and Bynum giving the Bears good defense and athleticism. Several sophomores will also play key roles with James Smith at point guard, Tyler Cole on a wing and Josh Turner playing several spots.

Clay County (14-15) — A rare losing season in Manchester probably won’t be repeated with four starters returning, led by junior guard Jacob Curry (12.4 points per game last year, 2.5 rebounds) and standout sophomores Connor Robinson (14.3, 3.9) and Connor Farmer (9.2, 2.5). Evan Langdon (4.0, 3.2), a 6-4 junior, will likely take over at center. Jakob Begley (4.7, 3.1) is back for his junior season at guard. Sophomores Tate Farmer, Raven Abner and Wayne Estep are also expected to see extensive action.

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Once the center of the basketball universe in Kentucky girls basketball when Roy Bowling was leading Laurel County High School to multiple state titles in the 1970s, South Laurel has watched other schools dominate the 13th Region in recent years. But after three straight losses in the semifinals, including an epic showdown last year against eventual champ Harlan County, the Lady Cardinals find themselves as the solid favorite with four starters returning.

South Laurel received 11 of 12 first-place votes in the annual Cats Pause coaches poll and finished with 55 points. Harlan County and Clay County finished tied for second with 36 points each. North Laurel was fourth with 33 points and an improving Knox Central finished fifth with eight points. Williamsburg, Whitley County, Jackson County, Lynn Camp and Corbin rounded out the top 10.

South Laurel (26-6) — With four of the region’s top 10 players in its starting lineup, South Laurel is a clear-cut favorite. Junior guards Ally Collett (19.6 points per game last year, 2.6 rebounds) and Amerah Steele (15.4, 4.0) gave the Lady Cards the region’s best backcourt last year, and the addition of Sydni Hall from Perry Central makes the group one of the state’s best. Dianna Morgan (11.0, 8.6), a 5-11 senior, is the region’s strongest player and a force around the basket. Senior forward Mariah Anders (4.2, 4.6) will round out the lineup, with 5-10 junior center Zoe Williams and sophomores Brianna Howard and Briar Cook providing what should be improved depth over the last couple of years.

Clay County (21-9) — With basically the same lineup for the third straight year, the Lady Tigers are confident they can make a deep run in the postseason this year after missing the regional a year ago for the first time in school history. Junior guard Kaylee Mathis (18.3, 4.3) is a Division I recruit and five-year starter, leading a lineup that also features sophomore point guard Taylor Asher (8.8), senior guards Shelby Phillips (10.6, 3.5) and Kimberlyn Mills (4.0, 3.5) and 5-9 senior forward Summer Parker (9.2, 5.8). Sophomore center Alexis Lewis (2.2) and sophomore guards Edwina Hacker (2.4) and Allie Rose Phillips provide depth.

Harlan County (28-3) — Blair Green is now at the University of Kentucky after leading Harlan County to its first regional title. The Lady Bears also lost standout forward Lainey Cox, but HCHS should remain strong with a four-girl senior class that has played a big role in three straight trips to the 13th Region finals. Phebe McHargue (8.1) is back at point guard, with K.K Johnson (7.5, 3.3) and Reanna Middleton (3.9) on the wings and Breann Turner (4.9, 4.2) inside. Shelby McDaniel (6.6, 2.3) returned to Hawaii, which means Hannah Wood and Morgan Blakley will be In the mix for the final starting job.

North Laurel (27-8) — A run to last year’s regional finals has pushed the Lady Jaguars’ confidence to a new level. Three starters are back, including junior guards Gracie Jervis (11.2, 3.2) and Isabel Gray (7.6, 5.6) and senior guard Courtney Carroll (4.2). The return of 6-4 senior center Raegan Hubbard, almost 100 pounds lighter than when she played as a sophomore, should be a big boost on defense and in post scoring. Junior forward Taylor Combs (4.4, 2.6) and freshmen Emily Sizemore (5.9, 4.3), Hailee Valentine (3.5, 2.2) and Katie Bruner (2.4) will also see extensive action.

Knox Central (12-15) — With the emergence of sophomore guard Presley Partin (17.3, 2.3) as one of the top young players in eastern Kentucky, the Lady Panthers were the region’s most pleasant surprise in Jamie Sowders’ first year as coach. Senior forward Emily Davis (12.2, 9.3) and 5-10 junior center Ryleigh Swafford (5.7, 4.7) return in the frontcourt. Junior guard Morgan Warren (3.3) and freshmen Calyn Mills (10.8, 2.9), Zoey Liford and Katie Broughton are also in the picture for starting spots.

(The full story can be viewed online at harlanenterprise.com)