If Clark County boys' basketball coach Scott Humphrey was waiting to see his team play up to its No. 6 pre-season rating, he finally got an eyeful Monday night.
The Cardinals' terrific play in the first half staked them to a 15-point lead, and they went on to hammer No. 10 Hazard 61-36 in the semifinals of the Republic Bank Holiday Classic at Lexington Catholic.
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The victory earned Clark County a showdown with defending tournament champion and ninth-rated Lexington Catholic in Tuesday's finals.
The host Knights, getting great play from their underclassmen, beat St. Xavier 57-46 in the first semifinal.
Humphrey couldn't have been happier with his team's overall performance.
"No question, that's our best four quarters of the year," he said. "I'd be hard-pressed to find anything to complain about."
Senior Robert Hatton led the way with 17 points and five steals. Sophomores Robbie Stenzel (14 points), Corey Rogers (12 points, eight rebounds) and Vinny Zollo (10 points, seven rebounds) were big contributors.
Clark County shot 64 percent in the first half and 52 percent for the game, but it was the Cards' defense that was the difference.
"You can see our kids developing some toughness," Humphrey said. "We have plenty of skill players and talent, but the one thing we've been beating into their heads is they have to play for each other on the defensive end."
They did as they held Hazard to 28 percent shooting.
"You don't hold a team like Hazard to 36 points and three single-digit quarters unless you have five guys on the court grinding defensively."
Hatton said that's now a top priority for the Cards.
"Offensively we're gonna progress, as the season goes on, but we buy into it on the defensive end now, we should be able to get things done."
Hazard didn't have anybody score in double figures. Josh Whitaker's nine points and four assists led the way.
Lexington Catholic 57, St. X 46: Senior star Vee Sanford had a fairly quiet night with eight points, but Lexington Catholic's supporting cast made plenty of noise.
The Knights' kiddie corps, including sophomores Scott Schuette and Taylor Martin, and freshman Jaylen Beckham, combined for 25 points in the second half as the hosts finally pulled away from stubborn St. X.
Schuette had 11 of his 13 points in the second half, including three three-pointers.
Martin finished with 12 points, seven assists, five rebounds and three steals.
Beckham's quickness gave St. X fits down the stretch. He wound up with seven points and four rebounds.
Senior Taylor Botkin contributed eight points, 11 rebounds and five assists.
"Absolutely a great team effort," Coach Brandon Salsman said.
"Vee would be the first to tell you he's tickled to death the young kids are stepping up when they need to and hitting some big shots."
Schuette, who was 0-for-4 on threes in the first half, hit three in the second half.
"If you're a shooter, you gotta remember the good ones and forget the bad ones," he said.
Lexington Catholic shot 28 percent in the first half, but its defense and rebounding enabled it to go into the locker room tied at 18.
The Knights' found their shooting eye in the second half, but kept doing the dirty work, too.
"I told the kids they were warriors on the boards tonight," Salsman said.
St. X fell behind by 11 early in the third quarter but rallied to tie. Lexington Catholic then opened a seven-point lead, but the Tigers came back again.
They cut the deficit to 48-46 with two minutes left, but the Knights blitzed them 7-0 the rest of the way.
Brian Gunter, a 6-foot-6 senior, led St. X with 14 points, 13 rebounds and four assists. Nick Jones and Dalton O'Brien had nine points apiece, and were a combined 6-for-10 on threes.
Lexington Christian 76, No. 7 Manual 72: "We needed this one," LCA Coach Tommy Huston said after the victory over a top 10 opponent. "We're closing in on being a pretty good team."
Branden Burdette led the winners with 20 points, including a go-ahead three-pointer with 34 seconds left. Will Evans sealed it by cashing four free throws in the last 10 seconds. Evans finished with 14 points and eight rebounds.
Jacob Jenkins had 19 points and five rebounds for Manual.
Lexington Catholic 57, St. Xavier 46
ST. XAVIER (5-5) — Gunter 14, Jones 9, Gray 5, Spalding 2, Butcher 4, O'Brien 9, Lorh 2, Rizenbergs 1.
LEXINGTON CATHOLIC (10-2) — Sanford 8, Martin 12, Schuette 13, Beckham 7, Botkin 8, Talbott 3, Peurach 6.
St. Xavier 8 10 16 12—46
Lexington Catholic 8 10 19 20—57
Clark Co. 61, Hazard 36
HAZARD (6-3) — Whitaker 9, Campbell 4, Martin 2, Warren 5, B.J. Combs 7, J.Combs 1, Jones 6, Kidd 2.
CLARK CO. (8-2) — Stenzel 14, Hatton 17, Rogers 12, Zollo 10, Williams 4, Daniel 4.
Hazard 11 9 8 8—36
Clark County 17 18 14 12—61