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It was a nail-biting, hard-fought contest that has come to typify border disputes between high school basketball teams in north central Kentucky.
The Carroll County Panthers and Trimble County Raiders met in Carrollton Thursday to test each other’s mettle in the new, 2010-11 hardwood season. It was Carroll’s home opener after defeating Williamstown on the road earlier in the week. It was the season opener for the Raiders who will play six more road games before their Dec. 17 home opener with Oldham County.
After 32 minutes of exhaustive action, eight lead changes and numerous muscle cramps, Carroll remained standing at the end of the fight (literally) and survived the raid of the visiting boys clad in blue and gold by a 56-51 score.
Both Raider head coach Bob Lauster and Panther head coach Carroll Yager were extremely upbeat after the contest.
“There’s got to be a winner and a loser,” Lauster said. “Unfortunately, we ended up on the wrong side tonight but we’ve got a lot of positives from this effort.”
“Both teams really played hard,” Yager said. “Trimble from the start really played hard and I was really proud of the way our guys played hard from beginning to end as far as effort.”
The Panthers fronted 7-0 early in the game before Trimble got on the scoreboard. The Raiders slashed their way to a 17-16 advantage late in the first quarter before Carroll regained the lead to close the period.
Junior forward Skiler Alexander put the Raiders back on top with a layup early in the second quarter. But Carroll County answered with eight straight points to take a 26-19 advantage. Not to be outdone, the Raiders battled back with eight points of their own on the strength of three-pointers by Daniel Haney and Zack Adair and a couple of free tosses by Adair at the charity stripe. At 4:10 remaining in the half, the scoreboard showed Trimble up, 27-26. Carroll County charged back into the lead and fronted 30-29 at halftime.
“I thought early our passing was really good,” Yager said. “They were pressing us and we were moving the ball really well. Early on that was real big for us.”
Lauster had praise for his team’s ability to pressure the ball. “I thought our kids just really scrapped,” he said. “I thought our defensive effort was really as good as it’s been since I’ve been at Trimble County. We put a lot of pressure on the ball and created a lot of turnovers.”
The Raiders enjoyed their last lead with their first basket of the third quarter. Carroll County edged out to a 40-35 advantage late in the quarter before Adair converted a three-point play to pull Trimble to within two at 40-38 with 2:05 to go in the third stanza.
Alexander began having leg cramps late in the quarter and had to go out of the game for stretching and rubdown therapy twice before the buzzer sounded to close the third period. He collapsed on the floor a third time a little over 30 seconds into the final eight minutes of play. Later, senior forward Justin Webb suffered cramps as well. Lauster was forced to shuffle the lineup frequently during the final 10 minutes of play to give both players frequent breaks. At game’s end Carroll players helped Webb back to the Trimble bench after he collapsed on the floor.
“We’re definitely going to put bananas and water in our pregame routine as we go forward,” Lauster said. “That’s definitely going to be on the menu.”
Carroll County pulled out to a 52-45 advantage with a little over two minutes left to play. The Raiders roared back to within 52-50 and trailed 53-51 with 13.6 seconds on the clock before Carroll’s Dallas Gibson sank three of four free throws in two trips to the line to seal the final advantage.
“I thought the difference in this one was they hit some free throws down the stretch and made a few more plays than what we did,” Lauster said. “I thought our kids played with a lot of energy. We just had some critical turnovers at points in the fourth quarter that really cost us the game opportunities to score.”
Yager agreed that his team’s ability to convert what he called “critical” free chances at the charity stripe was a factor late in the game. The Panthers sank eight of 12 free throw opportunities in the final quarter while Trimble hit only three of eight tries during the same stretch.
“Those free throws were big because that gave us just a little bit of breathing room,” Yager said. “I mean they were right there breathing down our backs. Stepping up to the line and knocking some of those down helped.”
Both teams enjoyed a balanced scoring attack. Alexander led all scorers with 16 points for Trimble. Adair added 14, Webb 13, point guard Haney had five, Dylan Staples added two and Craig Ward one for the Raiders.
“Our kids have really bought in to sharing the basketball and playing unselfishly,” Lauster said. “We try to do a lot of things through Justin (Webb) who draws a lot of attention from the opponent and he sees the floor well enough and is able usually to find open shooters.
“We had some open looks that normally we knock down,” Lauster said. “They just didn’t go in the basket tonight. It’s early in the season. We’ll improve and start knocking those shots down.”
Senior Ethan Stewart topped Carroll’s scoring with 13 points, sophomore Trey Boles added 12, Gibson scored nine, Wise eight, John Perry six, Tyler Grant had five and Evan Mefford added three.
“Everybody that played had a contribution, and we keep talking about contributions other than looking at the score book,” Yager said of his Panthers. “The effort is what has me so excited right now.”
Yager said he was pleased that his team came to play for 32 minutes, fighting through fatigue to keep making plays.
“It was an exciting game,” Yager said. “It’s good when you can have a rivalry like that and it’s good, clean and hard play. Even though they played really, really hard and there were a lot of loose balls and some plays where I thought both teams showed really good sportsmanship. It was just a good high school basketball game. That’s what a lot of our fans were telling me as we were leaving the floor is that it was just a nice game to watch.”