A much-anticipated matchup came to fruition Thursday night when the defending #1-team in Kentucky took on what many have called the state’s top player.
In the end, defending state champion George Rogers Clark (28-5) came out on top.
In front of an estimated 15,000 people at Rupp Arena, the Cards rode fast starts in the first and second half to a 62-54 victory over the 13th Region champion North Laurel Jaguars (25-11) and secured a trip to the Elite Eight.
They will take on Lyon County on Friday, March 17th at 8:30 p.m.
“[I’m] super, super proud of our guys,” said Head Coach Josh Cook. “They want to compete. They want to be here and…they want to play at a high level.”
The Cards were determined to come out and take control early on.
After North Laurel hit a three-point shot on their opening possession for a 3-2 lead, Sam Parrish – celebrating his birthday – delivered what might have felt like any ordinary two-point shot at the time.
However, it was to be the final lead change of the contest.
Highlighted by a 12-0 run, the Cards burst out to an 18-5 lead at the end of the first quarter, eventually leading 29-21 at halftime.
Parrish, who led the first-half charge, finished tied with Jerone Morton for a team-high 19 points and led the Cards with nine rebounds.
“I was feeling great”, said Parrish. “I just [thought] it was another day [and] another game we had to win.”
Coming out of the locker room for the second half, the story the Cards wrote felt much the same.
Behind three-point baskets from Reshaun Hampton and Tyleik Maxwell and a 3-point play by Morton, who made an acrobatic adjustment and delivered on a jumper as he was fouled, the Cards built a 22-point, 50-28 lead with just two minutes remaining in the third period.
However, led by UK commit and Kentucky Mr. Basketball candidate Reed Sheppard’s game-high 23 points, the Jaguars wouldn’t go quietly.
They went on their own 22-7 run to narrow the score to 57-50 with 2:50 remaining in the 4th quarter.
One minute later, Trent Edwards – who had previously been without a score – delivered his first points on what turned out to be a three-point play as he was also fouled and made the ensuing free throw.
“I just got the rebound, and just put it up”, he said.
Edwards would also deliver the game’s final points with two late free throws.
Statistically, the Cards also saw Reshaun Hampton finish with 16 points.
GRC shot 53% from the field and troubled the Jaguars by winning the rebound battle 34 to 20.
“A lot of times in games like this you fight back and you get close but rarely do you get over the hump”, said North Laurel Head Coach Nate Valentine. “[When] you get down [by] thirteen in the first quarter, it really puts you in a tough spot. For whatever reason, [we] didn’t rebound the ball the way we needed to.”
As mentioned, George Rogers Clark High School moves on to play Lyon County on Friday.
The Lions, who defeated Newport on Thursday afternoon, feature highly-recruited athlete Travis Perry.
Perry, a junior, became the state’s all-time leading scorer in Lyon County’s Saturday victory against Newport.