Cougars out-muscle Rebels in season opener
Brandon Miniard, Sports Writer, [email protected]
Elizabeth had a similar feel to Times Square on Tuesday night as spectators from all over Harrison County descended upon South Central Junior-Senior High School for the much-anticipated opening night of boys’ basketball.
There’s no better way to kick off hoops than with a confrontation of county rivals as the host Rebels welcomed reigning Harrison County and Mid-Southern Conference-champion North Harrison for a battle between a young, inexperienced Rebels team and an experienced, athletic Cougars squad.
In a matchup that was a mixture of old-school physicality in the paint and new-age floor spacing and transition, it was the visiting Cougars who prevailed by way of a 59-45 victory.
“As far as we’re concerned, we want to run a nice, sharp, strategic offense and get a good shot every time, then get some offensive rebounding opportunities,” Cougars’ skipper Lou Lefevre said. “I’m not sure either of those things were carried out the way we like it to be, but (South Central) did a nice job of getting their shooters open and disrupting our offense so we couldn’t get an easy shot.”
The Cougars’ early offense was powered primarily by senior guard Logan McIntire, who scored 11 of the Cougars’ 17 points in the period. Junior guard Sawyer Wetzel followed with a pair of free throws alongside a bucket from senior center Ethan Oakley.
After junior Ty Jones notched the Rebels’ first bucket of the new season, the remainder of the hosts’ offense came courtesy of freshman guard Cole Thomas. Thomas’ high school career got off to a solid start with three buckets, including his first career triple. With a slim 12-9 lead, the Cougars pushed ahead with a Wetzel three followed by a McIntire put back just before the buzzer to end the period with a 17-9 edge.
The second quarter started similarly to the first as Wetzel knocked down a free throw before Rebels’ junior Jack Schmelz and McIntire exchanged threes. The Rebels’ offense was kept relatively in check aside from buckets from Jones and Thomas and a Christian Kiper triple. The Cougars countered with more long-range strikes from McIntire and Wetzel alongside a field goal from junior forward Brody Fessel before retreating to the locker room with a 29-19 half-time edge.
“We were, maybe, a little shell shocked because (North Harrison) played a lot more physical than we did for a while,” Rebels’ skipper Greg Robinson said. “We woke up a little bit in the second half and got after it a little better. Their size was gonna hurt us, and it did because they got some putbacks earlier in the game.”
Schmelz and Jones did all they could to close the gap to begin the second half, each knocking down a triple en route to each junior notching five points in the third quarter. Despite Rebels’ junior Joe Cundiff adding a bucket of his own, McIntire helped the Cougars keep pace with three more field goals and a pair of freebies. Oakley and junior guard Kaleb Kellems each added four points, while junior guard Riley Schneider and sophomore center Gavin Bigham chipped in a bucket to bring the Cougars’ advantage to 49-31 to end the period.
The Rebels’ offense finally began to come alive in the final quarter as Kiper scored nine of his team-high 12 points in the frame, including a three pointer and two free throws. Schmelz added his third triple of the contest, while Cundiff added another bucket.
“(North Harrison) was very tough because they’re tall, athletic and a lot taller and longer than us,” Kiper said. “We were trying to stay as big as we could in the post and try to put our bodies into everybody, trying to be aggressive.”
The Cougars felt their offense began to falter in the period as they managed only one field goal, courtesy of McIntire. The remainder of the Cougars’ points came at the charity stripe as McIntire, Wetzel, Schneider and Kellems combined to go 8 for 15 at the free-throw line. While not the best numbers in a quarter, it was enough to keep the Cougars ahead to secure their first victory of the year, 59-45.
“(South Central) usually likes to play their zone defense, but, in the second half, they like to do that press defense they always use,” McIntire said. “We struggled with that press for a little bit, but we got with it and started breaking (the press) a little bit.”
McIntire shined brightest in the season opener as he led the Cougars with a game-high 29 points, followed by 11 points courtesy of Wetzel. Alongside Kiper’s 12 points, Schmelz had 11 while Jones and Thomas each chipped in nine. Cundiff rounded out the Rebels’ offense with four points.
“We needed to know where the guy who had all the points was, so we told our kids that McIntire was gonna get his because he’s a really good player, so our thing was to try and make it tough for the other guys,” Robinson said. “Until we lost our way on offense in the third quarter, I felt like we were accomplishing that.”
“Some of these (South Central) kids were playing their first varsity game, but there were parts of the game where they almost turned it around,” Lefevre said. “They made us look flustered (in the fourth quarter) while they had poised as if they were the experienced team. They did a nice job at disrupting us on both sides of the ball.”
Both teams returned to action Saturday, with the Cougars taking care of Heritage Hills 39-25 in their home opener. The Rebels traveled to Crawford County and scraped by the Wolfpack 57-48 for their first win of the young campaign.
The Rebels started the new week with a trip across the Ohio River to take on Holy Cross in Louisville yesterday (Tuesday). Their next trial will come almost two weeks later when they host Southern Athletic Conference rival Borden on Dec. 10.
Across the county, the Cougars will get plenty of time to rest after their 2-0 start before starting Mid-Southern Conference play on Friday when they host county rival Corydon Central in the hardwood edition of the Big Cat Classic. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
North Harrison 17 12 20 10 – 59
South Central 9 10 12 14 – 45
North Harrison (1-0) – McIntire 29, Wetzel 11, Oakley 6, Kellems 5, Schneider 4, Bigham 2, Fessel 2.
South Central (0-1) – Kiper 12, Schmelz 11, Jones 9, Thomas 9, Cundiff 4.
3-point goals – North Harrison 5 (McIntire 3, Wetzel 2); South Central 7 (Schmelz 3, Kiper 2, Jones 1, Thomas 1).