Photo/James Pugh

Laurel entered less than familiar territory Tuesday night.

Since joining Class 5A in 2013, Laurel had won four straight Region 5-5A basketball titles, therefore earning a first-round bye to begin postseason play. With its 60-56 loss to Wayne County last Friday night in the Region 5-5A Tournament Championship game, Laurel was forced to play its first first-round playoff game since joining 5A.

Facing the uncharted territory, Laurel excelled. A total of 13 Tornadoes posted boards Tuesday night as Laurel knocked off West Harrison at home, 80-63, in the first-round of the MHSAA Class 5A playoffs.

Check the link to see a few highlights from the game:https://youtu.be/oPbeH25WIws

Laurel now faces a tough Forest Hill squad on the road Saturday. Both teams possess a 23-6 record on the season. The winner will advance to “The Big House” in Jackson next week.

“First of all I would like to give praise to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” said Laurel head boys coach Marcus Price. “Our guys came out and gave us a lot of energy. For our seniors, we knew it would be our last home game, so we wanted to be sure we sent them out of the right foot.”

Check the link to see our whole post-game interview with Marcus Price: https://youtu.be/DDro8o7pn2k

Two Laurel players finished in double-digits. Antwan Hatten scored a team-high 15 points, while Jaquez Fountain finished with 10.

Laurel started the game on fire. Following a free basket, Tyrese Pruitt and Rasaad Pettis buried back-to-back three-point baskets in finishing an opening 7-0 run.

 


 

West Harrison answered, closing out the first period on a 15-8 run to tied the game at 15 apiece.

“We had a few issues with missed assignments and not getting back in transition,” said Price. “It gave them [West Harrison] some early buckets and allowed them to stay around. Once we made the stops we needed too and got where we’re supposed to be on offense and defense, that’s when the game started changing.”

Turnovers doomed West Harrison in the second, which allowed Laurel several baskets in transition. Laurel outscored West Harrison by 10 points in the second period to end the first half on top, 36-26.

“That is one of our statements,” Price said of the forced turnovers. “One of the signatures of our team is high energy defense and forcing turnovers in transition. When we can do that, it makes the rest of our game easier.”

Laurel led by as many as 17 points in the third period.

“We wanted to be sure we won the first three minutes,” said Price. “That’s what we always try to do in the third quarter. [We want to] make sure we give ourselves every opportunity to put us in a position to win.”

Outscoring West Harrison for the third straight period, Laurel improved to 23-6 with the 80-63 win and advances to the second round.

“Forest Hill is one of the best teams in the state,” said Price regarding Laurel’s second-round opponent. “But by this point in the state playoffs, everyone is going to be good. They don’t give state championships away. You have to earn them. It will be a battle. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to travel to Jackson and face Forest Hill at their place.”