Lady Bears rout Middlesboro in opener

Facing the state’s 11th ranked team on the road, Middlesboro coach Ron Edwards knew his Lady Jackets’ season opener Monday would probably be a learning experience.

Edwards soon discovered he was right as the Lady Bears scored the game’s first 18 points on the way to a 68-23 victory Monday. Harlan County’s press led to nine first-quarter turnovers as Middlesboro was not able to get comfortable, at least not until the game was already decided. The Lady Jackets shot only 19 percent (six of 32) from the field and turned the ball over 24 times.

“They’re the No. 9 or 10 team in the state, and they probably shot 75-80 percent from the field,” Edwards said. “They are a very good team. We tried to throw over the top against the press and you can’t do that because of their size.”

“I thought our defense was really good,” Harlan County coach Debbie Green said. “We have a lot of kids who can come at you with a lot of pressure. We got in the passing lanes and made the extra pass. I thought we played real well.”

Senior guard Blair Green, playing her first game since officially signing with the University of Kentucky and with UK assistant Kyra Elzy in attendance, showed why she is considered a frontrunner for Miss Basketball with a 23-point performance that included 17 points in the first half on seven-of-nine shooting with four 3-pointers. Junior guard K.K. Johnson added three more 3-pointers in an 11-point effort as HCHS finished with eight 3-pointers for the game.

“We were trying to lay back a little, and they were bombing 3s. It’s a tough matchup. If you try to take the 3, then (Kaylea) Gross kills you,” Edwards said. “Then (Johnson) warmed up and starting hitting shots also.”

“K.K. Is playing really well and shooting it, and Blair has worked hard on her 3,” Green said. “If they will give it to them, they will knock it down. People will lay on Kaylea a little front and back, so we have to hit those shots.”

Gross, a senior center, finished with points and nine rebounds.

Green hit a pair of 3-pointers sandwiched around a couple of Phebe McHargue baskets off turnovers for a 10-0 lead only 100 seconds into the game. A basket by Kaylea Gross followed by treys from K.K. Johnson and Green stretched the lead to 18 before Hannah Warren broke the MIddlesboro drought with 4:30 to play in the opening period.

Another 3 by Johnson and a basket by Gross off a Green feed pushed the HCHS advantage to 23-7 after one quarter.

Baskets by McHargue and Green off turnovers stretched Harlan County’s lead to 20 early in the second quarter as the HCHS defense continued to dominate, limiting Middlesboro to only basket in the second quarter.

Green and Johnson hit back-to-back treys again, then Green and Gross had consecutive three-point plays before Lainey Cox scored off a turnover for a 30-point lead. A Grace Gent free throw cut the deficit to 41-12 at halftime.

Harlan County hit seven of nine shots in the third quarter, including three baskets by Green, as the Lady Bears started a running clock when Gross scored to make it 50-15 with 4:30 left in the period. HCHS closed the quarter with a 14-2 run, capped by a Johnson basket off a steal and pass by Shelby McDaniel, to take a 58-17 lead into the final period.

Green, McDaniel, Lainey Cox, Hannah Wood and Macie Napier had baskets for the Lady Bears in the fourth quarter as Harlan County rolled to the 45-point win.

Warren, a senior guard, led the 0-1 Lady Jackets with eight points.

“I saw some bright spots once we settled down, but they are well coached and a veteran team,” Edward said. “We were able to get our young ones some playing time, so we want to find some positives from this and learn from it.”

Harlan County returns to action Thursday at North Laurel in the Legacy Nissan Classic. The Lady Jackets travel to Knox Central on Tuesday.

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Sophomore guard Morgan Blakley scored 15 points as the Harlan County junior varsity team opened its season with a 39-25 victory.

Emily Long added six for the Lady Bears. Kelly Beth Hoskins and Jayce Lewis scored five each. Kassy Owens tossed in four. Hannah Wood and Haley Middleton scored two each.

Lakin Burke poured in 20 points to lead the Lady Jackets. Tenley Jackson and Amber Mullins scored two each. Kennedy Larew added one.