Southwestern High School junior Justin Epperson (right) drives into the lane as Pulaski County seniors Alex Abner (left) and Jake Bales defend in the ‘Out-of-Town Cross-Town Rivalry Game’ in the second round of the Monticello Banking Company Holiday Classic at Wayne County High School. Pulaski won the game 57-44.

If last night’s second round of the Monticello Banking Company Holiday Classic from Wayne County High School is a sign of things to come, then you can expect the rivalry that exists between the Pulaski County Maroons and Southwestern Warriors to become even stronger as the 2010-’11 basketball season moves along.

On Tuesday night, these two county foes battled for four quarters in a game that had a little bit of everything — three-point shooting, spurts and runs by both teams, and oh yes, a little good-natured trash talking as well.

However, thanks to a 10-0 spurt by Pulaski County that broke open a 7-7 tie early in the first period, it was Al Gover’s Maroons taking round one this season between the two with a hard-fought, 57-44 victory.

“Our defensive intensity was a lot better tonight,” pointed out a very happy Gover after watching his team improve to 7-2 with the win.

“Coach (Dave) Schulz is an intense coach, and any time you play Southwestern you had better be ready,” continued the Maroon head coach. “I thought our kids were ready and stepped up pretty well. We went on a little run there in the first quarter, and we got it up to I believe 13 there in the first half, and then we let up a little bit and let them (Southwestern) cut it to seven by halftime.”

Early on, the lead see-sawed back and forth, and when Southwestern’s Justin Schulz drilled a trey for his only points of the night, the Warriors had knotted this game up for the only time of the contest at 7-7.

That’s when PC took control by going on a 10-0 spurt.

Kody Johnson hit back to back three-point baskets after the Schulz basket, and Alex Abner followed those buckets with a pair of hoops on his own, extending the lead out to 10 points at 17-7.

Abner scored all eight of his points in the first quarter, and it was his physical play underneath the basket that set the tone for the evening for the victorious Maroons.

“I thought Alex Abner was the player of the game, especially in the first half,” stated coach Gover.

“I looked at him in the fourth quarter and asked him if he had played any in the fourth quarter, and he said, ‘No, but that’s OK coach because all I want to do is win’. I told him not to ask me why he hadn’t played, because I didn’t know why myself.”

Southwestern was able to keep things close in the opening half of play, thanks to some red-hot shooting from downtown thanks to a pair of players — Daulton Marlow and Justin Edwards.

While Cody Epperson, Justin Epperson, Robbie Lewis, Justin Schulz, and Brannon Bellar scored a combined 15 points for the game, Marlow and Edwards picked up the slack to keep their club in this one — for a while at least.

Marlow and Edwards each scored seven points in the first half, keeping the Warriors within striking distance at 29-22, but coach Dave Schulz noted after watching his team fall to 3-4 on the season with the 13-point loss that problem number one right now for his club is the fact that it has absolutely no leadership out on the floor.

“We’re so far away from being in mid-season form right now that it’s ridiculous,” stated the SWHS head coach following the contest.

“We’re not even close — we’re still implementing a lot of stuff in our system,” continued Schulz. “We’re not absorbing it very quickly either. The only thing I’m concerned about right now is our grit, our toughness, and our attitude when we are down 10. We have yet to have one player step up as a leader on our team. There’s not a leader on this team. We have a bunch of followers right now, and nobody is willing to step up and accept the role of ‘I will lead this team’. That doesn’t mean he has to be the go-to guy. It just means that he vocally accepts the role of inspiring his teammates — that’s the weakness of our team right now.”

Early in the third period, Southwestern trimmed the deficit down to as little as four points, but that’s when Pulaski got it going from just about everybody on the court in a white and maroon uniform.

Johnson led the Maroons with 17 points, Taylor Gover scored nine of his 13 points after the intermission, and Jake Bales played a very solid game in the low post for PC, scoring 12 points while ripping down a game-high 10 boards.

In other words it was a complete team effort from the Maroons.

“We pride ourselves on playing as a team,” stated Gover. “We’ve got some weapons on this team.”

“Kody (Johnson), Jake (Bales), Alex (Abner), and when Zach (Eastham) gets in shape, we’re going to be even that more deeper,” stated the PC coach. “And, we can bring some guys off the bench like Tyler Goins — I mean we’ve got some weapons. I thought Taylor (Gover) did an outstanding job of taking care of the basketball once again, and when we’ve got all of those guys working together, we’re a tough team.”

With the win, the Maroons advanced on in the winner’s bracket of the tournament, where they will face Glasgow tonight at 7 p.m. in the semi finals.

Southwestern meanwhile will face McCreary Central today at 2 p.m. as coach Schulz is still searching for answers in this early part of the season.

“We have a bunch of good kids and they’re competitive kids, but they just do not show enough emotion at times when it’s needed to inspire their teammates to play harder,” pointed out Schulz. “And, until we do that, and until someone steps up and shows that vocal leadership, we’ll struggle every time when we are behind the eight ball.”

Justin Edwards led the Warriors in the loss with 16 points on the strength of three treys, while Daulton Marlow chipped in with 13 points, hitting a team-best four three-pointers.

SW 11 11 12 10 — 44

PC  18 11 14 14 — 57

SOUTHWESTERN — Edwards 16, Marlow 13, C. Epperson 4, Lewis 4, Schulz 3, Bellar 2, J. Epperson 8.

PULASKI CO. — Johnson 17, Gover 13, Bales 12, Abner 8, Goins 4, Eastham 3.


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