Lady Bears earn top seed with win over Middlesboro

The Harlan County Lady Bears capped a five-game-in-seven-day stretch with a 1-0 win over district foe Knox Central on Thursday.

The busy schedule appeared to have a dramatic impact on the Lady Bears as it appeared that they never really got going.

“We’ve had a really busy last couple of days and coming off the district matchup between us and Middlesboro, we just haven’t played with the fire that I like,” HCHS coach David Day said.

Harlan County started slow with the lone goal being scored by Madison Blanton off a deflected pass midway through the first half. Amber Allen got the assist.

“Our defense played well. We probably had possession of the ball 80 percent of the game. We have to put the ball in the net,” Day said.

Knox Central’s best scoring opportunity came late in the first half after a handball in the box. A penalty kick was taken and goalkeeper Hailey Gaw made the game-changing save as she recorded her third shutout of the year.

“If that ball gets by our goalie it is a totally different game the second half,” Day said.

Harlan County had several opportunities during the second half to convert but couldn’t put it in the back of the net. Knox Central got two shots on goal in the second half.

The Lady Bears traveled to Harrogate, Tenn., to take on J. Frank White Academy and left with a 2-0 win.

Madison Blanton and Hayley Key found the back of the net for the game’s only goals. Amber Allen and Emily Day got the assists.

The Lady Bears hosted Middlesboro in what proved to be the deciding game of the regular season district championship.

The Lady Jackets struck paydirt first with their leading scorer, Aubrey Sowders, finding just enough room to slip a ball past the diving goalie on a corner kick.

“We tried to mark (play man to man) on Sowders all night. She is a major weapon of theirs and we felt that if we slowed her down then we could slow the rest of the team down. She just slipped in behind our defender on the corner kick and drove it home,” Day said. “Abigail Middleton played her tough all night. Abigail was a difference maker in this game although it won’t show up in the stat line.”

Harlan County once again won the time of possession in this game possessing the ball about 75 percent of the game. That pressure finally cracked the Middlesboro defense late in the first half as pressure put on by Key caused the Lady Jackets into a handball in the penalty area. Junior right midfielder Taylor Rowe stepped up and put the ball by the keeper on the ensuing penalty kick.

Harlan County came out with pressure early in the second half as Key made a run by the defense and got on the back end of a pass from Emily Fultz to make the score 2-1. Several minutes later, Key once again got by the defense and was inside the penalty area when she was fouled from behind giving the Lady Bears yet another penalty shot. Rowe found the back of the net again.

Middlesboro put pressure on the Bears’ defense and Gaw got a hand on a hard shot by Baylee Woody and went off the crossbar. A handball was called on Harlan County on the rebound and Emily Barnwell beat Gaw on a penalty kick to make the game 3-2.

Harlan County quickly turned the tide and made the game 4-2 with less than 10 minutes to go as Amber Allen stole the ball at midfield and made a pass to Blanton who found a streaking Key for the goal.

“Our defense exhaled a little after our fourth goal and let Middlesboro get behind us,” said assistant coach Troy Gaw.

Middlesboro went on the attack quickly and found the back of the net on a goal by Barnwell.

“We stepped up big after their third goal for the final minutes of the game,” Gaw said.

“This was a hard fought game and I am proud of all our girls. A lot of things won’t show up in the stats, but everyone played their hearts out.” Day continued. “We are proud to be back to back regular season champions, now we just need to finish it in the district tournament.”

Harlan County started its busy schedule with a doubleheader against visiting Buckhorn.

In the first game of the doubleheader, HC won 10-0 with Cali Asher, Chelsey Caldwell, Allison Cook, Hayley Key, Hannah Sturgill and Elina Turner each scoring one goal apiece, while Madison Blanton and Abigail Middleton scored two each. Amber Allen, Cali Asher, Emily, Fultz, Hailey Gaw, Taylor Rowe and Hannah Sturgill each had one assist, while Emily Day had three.

In the second game of the doubleheader, Harlan County won 5-0 with Emily Fultz, Hailey Gaw, Hannah Pittman, Abigail Stephens and Angel Thomas each scoring one goal. Gracen Anderson, Elizabeth Ball, Angel Davenport, Emily Day and Hailey Gaw each had an assist.

Harlan County hosts Letcher Central on Tuesday, travels to Perry Central on Sept. 28 and travels to Whitley County on Oct. 3 to round out its regular season play.