Lady Bears hold off North comeback

LONDON — An early-season showdown between two of the 13th Region’s best teams left both head coaches with some positives to build on and some talking points for future practices.

Harlan County, the 13th Region favorite, built a 17-point halftime lead with an impressive run late in the first half and then had to hold off a comeback by North Laurel before pulling away late to win 69-53 on Thursday in the Legacy Nissan Classic at North Laurel.

“It was a really good road win. It was the first time we’ve played at North and a big opening game for them, so there were some emotions,” Harlan County coach Debbie Green said. “I was pleased how hard we played the first half, but we didn’t shoot very well tonight. We did a lot of other good things though, especially on defense.”

Senior guard Blair Green scored 25 points and senior center Kaylea Gross added 18 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Lady Bears, even though both battled foul problems.

Madison Sheppard scored 14 to lead North Laurel (0-1). Hannah Lawson and Gracie Jervis added 11 each.

“We didn’t do a whole lot right tonight and it’s surprising we were right where we needed to be with about four minutes to go. We were down four and had two of their better players in foul trouble,” North Laurel coach Eddie Mahan said. “We are usually one of the better shooting teams in the area, but that wasn’t the case tonight. That’s what you get sometimes with nerves and the first game of the year against what I think is a top 10 team in the state. They might be ranked 11th, but I think they are pretty dang good.”

Led by three baskets from Green and one by Lainey Cox, HCHS built an 8-2 as the Lady Bears carved up the North press and prompted a change from Mahan.

“I thought our press and halfcourt trap helped us in the third quarter. I think they are team that can be pressed and trapped, even with their length and ball handling, but early on wasn’t the time to do that, and that was probably my coaching mistake,” Mahan said.

North responded with an 11-3 run led by Sheppard and Gray to go up by one. Rebecca Middleton provided a spark at that point as she hit a 3-pointer and a basket to put Harlan County back on top. A basket by Gross gave the Lady Bears an 18-15 lead after one period.

Harlan County led by only five midway through the second quarter when the Lady Bears went to a four-guard lineup with Shelby McDaniel in the game to join Johnson, McHargue and Green. Harlan County’s quickness wore down the tiring Lady Jaguars as Gross and Green scored inside, then McHargue and Johnson hit 3-pointers to cap a 15-3 run that put HCHS up 42-25 at the half.

“They did force some turnovers that led to transition buckets,” Green said. “We ran the floor well during that stretch and were able to finish. We were the aggressor, and that’s what we want to do.”

“Harlan County makes runs and we talked about that, but I think everybody saw we’re not in shape,” Mahan said. “We’re not where we need to be. I don’t think we’ve practiced hard enough. I hope this opened our eyes to show we can play with them and we have to work hard in practice every day to get ready to play them.”

Green picked up her third foul at the 5:36 mark of the third quarter as North pulled within 13. When Green was called for her fourth foul three minutes later and the HCHS coach picked up a technical right after that, the Lady Jags closed to within 10 and Lawson missed a chance to pull North within single digits when she missed both technical shots.

With Green and Gross on the bench, HCHS recovered as Breann Turner found Lainey Cox for a basket and McDaniel scored off a steal to help the Lady Bears built back a 12-point lead going into the fourth quarter.

A basket by Courtney Carroll and a 3 by Jervis cut the deficit to seven, then Sheppard made it 52-47 with six minutes to play as the HCHS offense continued to struggle. Lawson pulled North within four on two occasions and the Lady Jaguars missed chances to get even closer before Harlan County finally put the game away at the line with 10 straight free throws in a 10-0 run

“We finally settled down after we made some turnovers and hit some shots and free throws,” Green said.

Harlan County hit only four of 16 shots from the field in the second half for 25 percent.

The Lady Bears return to action Saturday at Henry Clay, taking on 5th Region favorite John Hardin at 3:45 in the Top Prospect Classic.

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Harlan County 69, North Laurel 56

HARLAN COUNTY (2-0)

Phebe McHargue 1-3 2-2 5, K.K. Johnson 2-6 0-1 5, Blair Green 6-15 11-12 25, Lainey Cox 2-4 1-1 5, Kaylea Gross 6-14 6-9 18, Rebecca Middleton 2-8 1-4 6, Breann Turner 0-0 0-0 0, Shelby McDaniel 2-4 0-0 4. Totals: 22-53 21-29 69.

NORTH LAUREL (0-1)

Isabell Gray 2-7 3-3 7, Gracie Jervis 2-6 6-8 11, Madison Sheppard 5-12 4-4 14, Courtney Carroll 2-6 0-0 4, Hannah Lawson 3-12 5-8 11, Taylor Combs 1-5 2-2 4, Emily Sizemore 1-2 3-4 5. Totals: 16-50 23-33 56.

Harlan County 18 24 8 19 — 69

North Laurel 15 10 10 21 — 56

3-point goals: Harlan County 4-17 (Johnson 2-5, McHargue 1-2, Middleton 1-5, McDaniel 0-1, Green 0-4), North Laurel 1-16 (Jervis 1-3, Sheppard 0-1, Sizemore 0-1, Lawson 0-3, Carroll 0-3, Gray 0-5). Rebounds: Harlan County 39 (Gross 15, Johnson 6, Cox 5, Green 4, McHargue 3, Middleton 3, McDaniel 2, Turner 1), North Laurel 21 (Sheppard 8). Turnovers: Harlan County 16, North Laurel 15. Fouled out: North Laurel (Sheppard). Technical fouls: Harlan County (bench).