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CARROLLTON, Ky. – It was a hard-fought nail-biter of a contest on Thursday, Dec. 2, typical of most high school basketball games between the Trimble County Raiders and the Carroll County Panthers, long-time border rivals.
It was Carroll’s home opener after defeating Williamstown on the road earlier in the week, and the season opener for the Raiders, who will play six more road games before their Dec. 17 home opener against Oldham County.
After 32 minutes of exhaustive action, eight lead changes and numerous muscle cramps, Carroll remained standing, surviving the raid by the boys clad in blue and gold, 56-51.
Head coaches for both teams were were extremely upbeat after the contest.
“There’s got to be a winner and a loser,” said the Raiders’ Bob Lauster. “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,” said the Panthers’ Carroll Yager. “Trimble, from the start, really played hard, and I was really proud of the way our guys played hard from beginning to end.”
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 answered with eight straight points to take a 26-19 advantage. The Raiders battled back with eight points, with 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, Trimble had a one-point lead; by the end of the half, Carroll charged back to lead 30-29.
“I thought early our passing was really good,” Yager said. “[The Raiders] were pressing us and we were moving the ball really well. Early on that was real big for us.”
Lauster also praised his team’s ability to pressure the ball. “I thought our kids just really scrapped. 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 took the lead with a basket at the beginning of the third quarter, but that would be the last time. Carroll edged out to a 40-35 advantage late in the quarter; a three-pointer by Adair put the Raiders within two points with 2:05 left.
About that time, leg cramps sent Alexander out of the game twice for stretching and rubdown therapy. The third round struck just 30 seconds into the final quarter, and Alexander collapsed on the floor.
Senior forward Justin Webb suffered cramps as well, and Lauster was forced to shuffle the lineup frequently during the final 10 minutes 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” to prevent the leg cramps from striking his players again, Lauster said. “That’s definitely going to be on the menu.”
Carroll pulled out to a 52-45 advantage with a little over two minutes left.
But the Raiders weren’t rolling over, giving one last hoorah. They roared back to within two points of Carroll’s lead, but, with just 13.6 seconds on the clock, Panther Dallas Gibson sank three of four free-throws in two trips to the line, ending the game with the win.
“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.”
Yager agreed that his team’s prowess at the charity stripe was a factor late in the game. The Panthers sank eight of 12 free-throws in the final quarter, while Trimble hit just three of eight tries in 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, posting 16 points for Trimble, followed by Adair, 14; Webb, 13; point guard Haney, 5; Dylan Staples, 2; and Craig Ward, 1.
“Our kids have really bought into 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 ... is able usually to find open shooters. ... We’ll improve and start knocking those shots down.”
Senior Ethan Stewart topped Carroll’s scoring with 13 points, followed by sophomore Trey Boles, 12; Gibson, 9; Wise, 8; John Perry, 6; Tyler Grant, 5; and Evan Mefford, 3.
“It’s good when you can have a rivalry like that and it’s good, clean and hard play,” Yager said. “It was just a good high school basketball game. That’s what a lot of our fans were telling me ... it was just a nice game to watch.”