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MUNFORDVILLE – Coach Paul Childress isn’t going to stand for any more near-epic collapses.
He’s making sure the LaRue County Hawks understand that, too.
LaRue County hung on for a 61-57 victory Friday at 18th District rival Hart County, not making a field goal for the final 6:36 and nearly letting a 21-point lead slip away.
Childress was so frustrated with the Hawks’ fourth quarter performance that he spent 30 minutes talking to them in the locker room and made all players ride the bus home afterward.
One by one and dressed in shirts and ties, players silently walked to the bus. There was no celebration after the Hawks (1-2 overall, 1-0 district) recorded their first win.
“The past two games, we’ve had good leads on each team,” said senior guard Kelton Ford, who scored a game-high 24 points. “We’re playing not to lose instead of playing to win and we’re playing too passive and we quit attacking and that’s when turnovers and mistakes start happening.”
After being outscored by nine points in the fourth quarter Tuesday night in a 58-56 loss at Breckinridge County, the Hawks almost blew another large lead.
Trailing 58-37 with 6:37 left, Hart County (1-3, 1-2) made one frenetic rally. The Raiders scored 17 straight points to cut the deficit to 58-54 after sophomore reserve guard Alex Roten, who was 4-for-4 from 3-point range, buried a 3 with 59.2 seconds to go.
But Ford and senior reserve guard Gabe Shirley came to the Hawks’ rescue.
Shirley, who scored 12 points, hit 1-of-2 free throws to put the Hawks up 59-54 with 51 seconds left before Roten buried another 3 with 32 seconds remaining.
Just 1.8 seconds later, Shirley was fouled and made up for his miss earlier – sinking both free throws to put the Hawks up 61-57 with 30.8 seconds to go.
“I always think that I’m going to make it no matter what,” said Shirley, who hit 5-of-6 foul shots. “You’ve just got to block out the fans. They can’t bother you and you’ve just got to focus on making your shot. It’s mental more than anything else.”
Raiders coach Matt Romance thought his team should’ve gone for a steal or forced Shirley to give up the ball. Instead, one of the Hawks’ top foul shooters followed through.
“I thought we fouled a little early. We fouled a good free-throw shooter in the Shirley kid. I think that kind of hurt us right there,” Romance said of Shirley, who’s made 75 percent of his foul shots this season. “I was out of timeouts and the kids were just playing hard. But I think in that situation I really don’t think we had to foul that early and I don’t think we needed to foul that particular player.”
Then, it was Ford’s turn.
After sophomore forward Caleb Bunnell missed a short inside shot on the Raiders’ next possession, Ford grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 17.2 seconds left. But he missed both foul shots, giving the Raiders another chance.
Sophomore forward Ross Thompson missed another inside shot and Bunnell grabbed the rebound with 8 seconds left. But Ford stripped him and launched a deep pass past halfcourt to Shirley who dribbled out the clock for the win.
“I was just trying to get it out of there and kill the clock cause I knew we had to sneak out of here with a win and go ahead and get it over with,” Ford said.
Shirley and Ford had already helped the Hawks hang on during the Raiders’ third period rally. Hart County trailed 39-21 in the quarter and went on a 14-2 run to cut its deficit to 41-35 with 3:02 left. But in the final 1:30, Shirley buried a 3 from the left wing, recorded a steal and made a layup and Ford hit two free throws to give the Hawks a 50-37 lead going to the fourth.
“As a team we’re struggling playing with each other,” Shirley said. “You’ve just got to pick it up in practice. Then we can worry about games after we worry about practice.”
Senior guard Dustin Coulter added 10 points for the Hawks, who were outrebounded, 39-29.
Junior forward Stewart Nichols scored nine points, while Bunnell had eight points and 10 rebounds for the Raiders. Hart County committed 15 turnovers in the first half, but had only five in the second half.
Before embarking on the long bus ride home, Ford said the Hawks learned a lesson: they have to finish opponents off.
“(We have to) pretty much just play a whole game instead of getting these big leads and playing passive,” he said. “Just keep doing what we’re doing and build up on the lead – making shots, attacking the rim, hitting free throws, doing all the little things just to keep our lead. And bury a team instead of giving them second life.”
LARUE COUNTY 61, HART COUNTY 57
LaRue County 19 18 13 11—61
Hart County 11 10 16 20—57
Kelton Ford 24, Gabe Shirley 12, Dustin Coulter 10, Jackson Venegas 6, Micah Wiseman 3, Tyler Howell 2, Kody Key-Close 2, Caleb Sheffer 2. FG: 19-51. FT: 15-24. 3-pointers: 8-22 (Ford 4-10, Coulter 2-4, Shirley 1-2, Wiseman 1-3, Howell 0-1, Key-Close 0-2). Rebs: 29 (Ford 8, Howell 5). Assists: 10 (Ford 4, Key-Close 2, Shirley 2). Steals: 9 (Ford 5, Harman 2).
Alex Roten 14, Stewart Nichols 9, Caleb Bunnell 8, Trey Johnson 7, Steven Green 7, Tailor Lile 6, Ross Thompson 6. FG: 21-50. FT: 9-16. 3-pointers: 6-17 (Roten 4-4, Johnson 1-2, Green 1-4, Thompson 0-1, Lile 0-6). Rebs: 39 (Bunnell 10, Nichols 9, Green 5). Assists: 8 (Lile 3, Green 2). Steals: 7 (Green 3).
UP NEXT: LaRue County hosts North Hardin at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
John Groth can be reached at (270) 505-175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.