As play begins in the Christmas Holiday Season, Cougar coach Caleb Smith finds himself in a difficult position.
It is hard enough to come into an unfamiliar situation, with unfamiliar players trying to understand the system of the new coach. But when injury and illness are added to the equation, things begin to spin off in uncharted directions.
After senior Ethan Saltsman was injured in the first period of last week’s game against Breckinridge County, he stayed in the game. But after he shot two second-quarter free throws left-handed, Smith took him out of the game and he never returned.
It was later determined that Saltsman had broken a bone in his right forearm. He figures to be out until at least the end of January.
As the team headed out for the long trip to Stearns, and McCreary County Central High School’s Arby’s/KFC Christmas Classic, senior Rance Whobrey was battling an illness which kept him out of the starting lineup in Wednesday’s opener against Taylor County.
Whobrey tried to play in the second half, but was only in for a couple of minutes before coming out again.
With the loss of those two, it was seemingly inevitable that the Cougars would struggle against the Cardinals, and that’s just what happened. Taylor County (4-3) went on a 13-0 run near the end of the second period and went on to take a 59-34 decision over the struggling Cougars (2-5).
When asked before the game if he was reverting to Plan B, Smith quipped, “I think we’re on Plan D.”
The Cougars came out scrapping in the first period to stay with the taller Cardinals. Sophomore Talon Gary scored five of his team-high 20 points in the first three minutes and the Cougars took an early 9-7 lead with 4:08 left to play.
But the Cardinals responded with nine unanswered points closing out the period and led by seven, 16-9 as the second quarter began.
Gary scored on back-to-back possessions opening the second period to bring the Cougars to within five points, 18-13 with 7:00 left in the first half, but they would never be that close again.
Taylor County reeled off 13 straight points to lead by 18, 31-13 with 3:23 left to play. Grayson County still trailed by 18, 35-17 at the half. Taylor County’s Caleb Wiggington scored 18 of his game-high 27 points in the first half, including seven in the 13-0 run.
Things did not get any better in the second half. The Cardinals scored the first six points of the third quarter to increase their lead to 24 points, 41-17 at the 5:54 mark.
A Gary three-pointer at the 4:22 mark cut it back to 21 points, 43-22, but the Cardinals scored the last seven points of the period to lead by 28 points, 50-22 as the fourth quarter rolled around.
Taylor County led by as many as 35 points in the fourth quarter before the Grayson County subs outscored the Taylor County subs 12-2 in the closing three minutes to make the game a bit more respectable.
Wiggington was joined in double figures by teammate Quentin Goodin, who finished with 18 points.
In addition to his 20 points, Gary added three rebounds and two steals. Sophomore Dylan Woodcock came off the bench in the fourth quarter to throw in seven points, while senior Braxton Williams scored four. Wyatt Skaggs had three points, while Lane Decker and Dustin Crain had two each to round out the Cougar scoring.