Bears edge South, advance to semis

Showing both adaptability and balance, the Harlan County Black Bears moved into the finals of the Legacy Nissan Dribble Drive Challenge with their most impressive win of the season, a 68-65 victory Thursday over tournament host South Laurel in a rematch of last year’s 13th Region Tournament semifinals.

One night after setting what is believed to be a school 3-point record with 14 in a win over Louisville DeSales, the Black Bears adapted to an entirely different approach against South. HCHS found success through quarters one, two and four by beating the Cardinals off the dribble, hitting shots in the paint or drawing fouls. The Bears connected on five fewer field goals than the Cardinals, but owned a big advantage on the free throw line by hitting 22 of 29, compared to nine of 14 for the Cardinals.

“We told the kids before the game and during every timeout that we wanted to attack, attack, attack,” Harlan County coach Michael Jones said. “We thought we had an advantage attacking them off the dribble and good things happened when we did that. When the kids bought into that, we did a pretty good job.”

Senior guard Andrew Creech, coming off a scoreless performance in a win over DeSales to open the tourney as he battled illness, bounced back with 17 points to lead the 11-1 Bears. Tyrese Simmons added 16 points, followed by Alex Pace with 15, Drew Nolan with 11 and Lamar Burkhart with nine.

“We play seven or eight kids who can put it in the hole, and I’m proud of the way our kids responded when we got down.”

Junior guard J.J. Ramey scored 21 points to lead the 9-2 Cardinals. Matt Cromer and Logan Madden chipped in with 15 and 14 points, respectively.

Harlan County advances to play North Laurel in the tourney finals on Saturday at 8:15 p.m. North advanced with a semifinal win over Simon Kenton.

The Bears led by three points (15-12) after one quarter and by two (28-26) at halftime in a hard-fought first half when both teams took turns making runs. South went on its best run in the third quarter, building a nine-point lead (43-34) with just under two minutes left in the period. A basket by Creech and three-point play by Pace cut the deficit to four going into the final period.

“We always have one (bad quarter), and we have to figure that out,” Jones said. “We want to eliminate that, but even when it happens our defense has carried us. We really locked down defensively the fourth quarter and we were able to come back and take the lead.”

The teams spent the first half of the fourth quarter trading baskets and free throws before Pace put the Bears ahead with two free throws at the 4:54 mark and ahead to stay with a 3-pointer at the 3:53 mark. Simmons reeled off six straight points on two free throws and two layups to give HCHS a 60-53. The Bears were still up by seven with 1:21 left when Creech missed twice. A three-point play by Ramey and a steal and layup by Ryan Anders cut the deficit to two with one minute remaining.

Creech came through with two on his next trip to the line, but the Cards got within two when Ramey scored again with seven seconds left. Simmons had a chance to put the game away at the line with 5.8 seconds to play, but he missed the first shot and hit the second. Cromer missed an off-balance 3 just before time expired.

South Laurel will play Simon Kenton in the third-place game at 6:30 p.m.


Harlan County 67, South Laurel 65


Andrew Creech 6-10 5-8 17, Drew Nolan 3-11 4-5 11, Alex Pace 4-9 5-6 15, Tyrese Simmons 5-10 6-7 16, Lamar Burkhart 3-7 2-3 9, Taylor Spurlock 0-0 0-0 0, Gabe Price 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 21-48 22-29 68.


Alex Hostetler 0-1 0-0 0, Matt Cromer 4-10 6-8 15, Ryan Anders 3-7 1-2 7, Logan Madden 7-9 0-0 14, J.J. Ramey 9-16 1-1 21, Clay Weaver 2-3 1-3 5, Sawyer Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Micah Anders 0-1 0-0 0, Brett Norvell 1-1 0-0 3. Totals: 26-54 9-14 65.

Harlan County 15 13 11 29 — 68

South Laurel 12 14 17 22 — 65

3-point goals: Harlan County 4-12 (Pace 2-4, Nolan 1-2, Burkhart 1-4, Simmons 0-1, Price 0-1), South Laurel 4-12 (Ramey 2-4, Norvell 1-1, Cromer 1-3, Madden 0-1, M. Anders 0-1, R. Anders 0-2). Rebounds: Harlan County 22 (Simmons 8, Nolan 5, Creech 2, Pace 2, Burkhart 2, Price 2, Spurlock 1), South Laurel 24 (Ramey 6, Madden 5, Weaver 5, R. Anders 4, Hostetler 2, Cromer 2). Turnovers: Harlan County 9, South Laurel 12. Fouled out: Harlan County (Pace), South Laurel (R. Anders).