For the last 11 years, since the realignment of the 13th region, the 49th district tournament has belonged to Clay County in both boys’ and girls’ play.
Tonight, that may all change as many predict North Laurel will walk away with their first-ever district titles in the 13th region.
Since 2006, the Lady Tigers and Lady Jaguars have met nine times with Clay winning all nine. Clay won twice in overtime (2008, 2010) and last season by three points in an upset.
The two teams split the season series this year with each winning on the other’s home court.
North is without their leading scorer Madison Sheppard due to injury, but have changed their style of play with the addition of transfer center, 6-4 Raegan Hubbard.
Lady Tiger coach James “Ivy” Burchell says North may be the most versatile team in the region.
“They went from an up-tempo style of play with Sheppard on the floor to now a more convention offense with the addition of Hubbard to their lineup,” he said. “That makes them a dangerous team, very dangerous.”
Many considered this as a rebuilding year for the Lady Tigers, but North coach Eddie Mahan feels the rebuilding came a year early.
“They have good players and they accept their roles,” he said. “What is impressive about them is the whole is better than the sum on their part. I’ve coached against Ivy Burchell for six or seven years and I think this is as good of a coaching job as I have seen him ever do.”
Mahan said he nor his players has forgotten the sting of last year’s loss when they entered the tourney as the top seed and predicted favorite.
“Last year’s heartbreak is with us as well,” he said. “That’s probably the toughest game I’ve had in my coaching career to accept when you are up three with 18 seconds left.”
Clay won 59-56 for the championship at Jackson County.
Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. at CCHS.
Even though North Laurel hadn’t completed their game with Oneida Baptist Institute at the time of this story, we predict they’ll win and face the Tigers for the 8th time in the 49th district finals since 2006’s realignment.
From 2009 to 2013 the two teams played four consecutive times with Clay winning all four. As a matter of fact, North has never beaten the Tigers in the championship game losing last year 72-64 in the finals.
The two teams split the season series this year with each winning on their home court. North had been playing as one of the top teams in the region until a humiliating loss Friday night to Knox Central, 105-84.
Clay is coming in after a hard-fought win over Jackson County Monday night.
Tiger coach Glenn Gray says he knows his team has a tough task ahead of them.
“This game will boil down to execution, heart and desire for us,” he said. “Those three things are the key to our success.”
Expectations have been high for the Jaguars all season long while the Tigers where facing a rebuilding year entering the season.
North coach Brad Sizemore told his team that 22 wins this season is great, but their expectations are higher.
“Us having a good record, like I told them a couple of weeks ago, that’s good,” he said. “We did that last year and there are some things that we learned in the post season. Our expectations are a lot higher than they were last year just because we have so many kids back.”
Tip-off for the championship game will be at 7:45 p.m. Thursday.