Seniors lead North into semifinals
CORBIN — Two North Laurel senior guards who are determined to play for their first 13th Region Tournament title helped end Harlan’s amazing run of success in regional tournament play on Tuesday in a first-round game at The Corbin Arena.
Madison Sheppard scored 30 points and Hannah Lawson added 23 as the Jaguars advanced to Friday’s semifinals with a 71-52 win over Harlan, the two-time defending champion.
“I have two great seniors who aren’t wanting to go home right now,” North Laurel coach Eddie Mahan said. “Any time you have two seniors who are motivated like that you have a chance of making a good run. We need some other kids to step up in order to win a championship this year.”
Harlan (16-16) was led by senior forward Mackenzie King, who ended her memorable career with a 28-point, 10-rebound performance. King, who scored over 1,500 points with the Lady Dragons, was one of five seniors (Noah Canady, Taylor Simpson, Brandi Haywood and Katelyn Burkhart) on the Harlan roster. That group, along with 2017 graduate Jordan Brock, helped lead Harlan to the regional championship game each of the past four seasons.
“These seniors have won a ton of games, including back to back regional champs, so I feel my younger kids have had a great example to look at,” said Harlan coach Tiffany Hamm said. “As good as it was for me to have a senior team, I felt it was more important for my sophomores and freshmen to see how they go about their business every day. I feel it will lay us a good foundation.”
The Lady Dragons played well early, closing the first quarter with a 10-4 run to build a 22-13 lead. Natalee King and Charles each hit 3-pointers and Katelyn Burkhart and Brandi Haywood added baskets as Harlan went up by as many as 11 points.
“You have to expect anything and everything from a team that has been so successful on this floor the past few years,” Mahan said. “I know people, because they don’t have Jordan Brock, pushes them off to the side, but they are experienced and King is a battler. I’m not surprised by it but I wish we came out a little stronger in the first quarter. That’s been typical for us. You may beat our press in the first quarter but eventually we’re going to wear you down.”
“We’ve started really well, going back to the Harlan County game (in the district finals),” Hamm said. “We just get fatigued and teams who can run a lot of players in an out wear on us. Our depth is a little bit of an issue. It’s hard for us to maintain the energy we need for four quarters. We’re just not very deep. Teams that can run in eight or nine and not have much difference with their starters are causing us some problems.”
Harlan went cold in the second quarter, missing nine of 11 shots in the paint as North Laurel fought back behind Lawson and Sheppard. The Lady Jaguars closed the half with a 16-4 run to build a 40-30 lead at the break.
“You have to give credit to North Laurel. They trap all over the floor and don’t allow you to set up anything,” Hamm said. “I thought we had a huge advantage in the paint and Mackenzie had a big game, but they did a good job of getting us out of rhythm with the traps. It’s a credit to them.”
North Laurel 71, Harlan 52
Noah Canady 1-9 0-0 2, Payeton Charles 2-8 0-1 5, Taylor Simpson 1-3 2-2 4, Mackenzie King 7-16 10-15 28, Brandi Haywood 1-2 0-0 2, Natalee King 4-4 0-0 9, Katelyn Burkhart 1-1 0-0 2. Totals: 17-43 12-18 52.
NORTH LAUREL (26-7)
Madison Sheppard 10-16 9-11 30, Isabel Gray 1-7 0-2 2, Taylor Combs 1-3 2-2 4, Courtney Carroll 0-6 0-0 0, Hannah Lawson 8-14 7-9 23, Gracie Jervis 3-4 0-0 6, Emily Sizemore 2-8 0-0 4, Hailee Valentine 1-2 0-1 2, Kaleigh Collett 0-0 0-0 0, Maylee Philpot 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 26-60 18-25 71.
Harlan 22 8 8 14 — 52
North Laurel 13 27 9 22 — 71
Harlan 6-12 (M. King 4-6, N. King 1-1, Charles 1-3, Canady 0-2), North Laurel 1-12 (Sheppard 1-1, Sizemore 0-3, Carroll 0-4, Gray 0-4). Rebounds: Harlan 31 (M. King 10, Canady 6, Simpson 4, N. King 4, team 4, Haywood 3), North Laurel 34 (Sheppard 8, Lawson 7, Gray 6, Sizemore 4, team 4, Jervis 2, Valentine 2, Carroll 1). Turnovers: Harlan 19, North Laurel 10. Assists: Harlan 10 (Charles 4, Canady 3, Simpson 2, M. King 1), North Laurel 10 (Lawson 3, Sizemore 3, Sheppard 1, Combs 1, Jervis 1, Valentine 1). Fouled out: Harlan (Simpson).