FRANKFORT — Very few high school basketball players are as fearless as Harlan’s Jordan Brock, who established herself as the 13th Region’s best freshmen this season by her willingness to take the ball to the basket against anyone.
But even Brock, like the rest of her teammates, saw a STOP sign on the jersey of University Heights center Meg Starling in the state All “A” Classic at the Frankfort Civic Center.
Starling, who averages a triple double, including 14 blocked shots a game, owned the paint in a 65-58 win Wednesday over Harlan. The Lady Dragons made it clear from the start that they wanted no part of the 6-foot-5 senior center headed for Ball State on a volleyball scholarship.
“I knew before the game that I would have to shoot the pull up jumper more than usual,” said Brock, who led the Lady Dragons with 18 points. “It got a little easier as the game went on. I knew I had to pull up and couldn’t go inside like I usually do.”
“It was different,” admitted 6-foot Harlan center Emma Bianchi. “I was really cautious to shoot it because I thought I was going to get swatted a couple of times.”
Harlan’s offense was based on 3-pointers as the Lady Dragons attempted 31 shots from beyond the arc and only 29 from inside the line. The Lady Dragons didn’t challenge Starling until the 5:06 mark of the second quarter when eighth-grade center Mackenzie King drew a foul. Brock was the first to score over the University Heights center by hitting a short jumper with 2:30 left in the first half.
“They did a good job defensively. I don’t want to take anything away from them,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said. “They were quick and had the big girl inside. She clogged up the paint. Any time you have a big girl like that it makes it tough to score around the basket. Her presence made a big difference, but I thought Mackenzie did a good job of battling against her and going in there for some rebounds.”
Harlan scored 30 points on 3-pointers, more than half of the total points for the game.
“They hit 10 3-pointers, which is excellent,” University Heights coach Taylor Sparks said. “WIth Meg controlling the inside, they really didn’t have an option. We like to funnel people inside toward Meg, which is the opposite of what most teams do. We know we have her there if they penetrate.”
University Heights (17-1) also featured an athletic backcourt led by 5-9 junior guard LeeLee Grubbs, who scored a team-high 18 points and caused the Lady Dragons problems out front, especially early in the game, with her quickness and strength. DeNayia Holmes, also a junior guard, added 15 points. Starling contributed 14 points, all but two in the second half. Senior guard Demetria Snorton tossed in 12, hitting six of seven at the line, including five in the fourth quarter when Harlan got as close as five.
Senior guard Jourdan Ledford, playing in her fourth state All “A” Classic, added 11 points for the 13-7 Lady Dragons. Sophomore guard Shanae Thomas also scored 11, providing a big lift off the bench with three 3-pointers.
Harlan fell behind 9-0 before a Brock 3-pointer with 4:10 left in the opening quarter finally put the Lady Dragons on the board. A Ledford jumper was the only other basket in the period for Harlan, which trailed 18-5 by the end of the period.
“We struggled offensively in the first quarter, and I thought they got to the 50-50 balls,” Akal said. “I thought we calmed down the second quarter on and played pretty good.”
The Lady Dragons improved offensively each quarter, scoring five points in the first quarter, 14 in the second, 16 in the third and 23 in the fourth.
“I thought we competed after the first quarter,” Akal said. “We’ll learn from it. I thought we had heart and fought back.”
The University Heights lead grew to 27-11 on 3-pointers by Gabrielle Kaye and Mykalia Hebert before Thomas brought the Lady Dragons back to within eight by halftime with back-to-back 3-pointers in the final 1:25.
Harlan got as close as five on three occasions in the third quarter, first on a 3-pointer by Torri Mitchell with 6:13 left, then on a trey by Ledford with 3:58 remaining and finally on a jumper by Bianchi with 3:15 left. Starling had four baskets in the period as the Lady Blazers took a 42-35 lead into the final period.
The Lady Dragons closed to within five points two more times in the fourth quarter, the last with 3:40 left when King went to the floor for a loose ball and found Ledford for a 3-pointer.
“To their credit, they didn’t quit,” Sparks said. “You see some teams when they get down like that kind of let their shoulders drop.”
Harlan may have closed the gap more if not for some clutch free throw shooting by the Lady Blazers as Snorton and Holmes combined to hit 10 straight over the next three minutes as the lead expanded to 11 points.
“Snorton hit some big free throws down the stretch,” Sparks said. “I always tell them it makes it hard for teams to come back if you can just hit one of two in those situations, and we did better than that.”
Harlan made its eighth appearance in the 24 years of the girls All “A” Classic and will likely be a favorite the next three years with a strong freshmen class led by Brock and Bianchi.
“This was a good experience for our girls. We only have one girl with experience in this tournament,” Akal said. “We have a bunch of freshmen and sophomores. This will be good experience for them.”
“It’s a very good experience. I really enjoyed playing in this big gym. I think I learned from it,” added Brock.
The Lady Dragons return to action Friday at Knox Central.
Jordan Brock 8-20 0-0 18, Jourdan Ledford 4-15 0-0 11, Masie Charles 1-4 0-0 3, Kaitlin Jenkins 0-0 0-0 0, Emma Bianchi 1-2 0-0 2, Torri Mitchell 2-8 3-4 8, Katie King 0-0 0-0 0, Mackenzie King 1-4 3-4 5, Shanae Thomas 4-7 0-0 11. Totals: 21-60 6-8 58.
UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS (17-1)
DeNayia Holmes 4-15 7-8 15, LeeLee Grubbs 6-15 4-8 18, Demetria Snorton 3-7 6-7 12, Gabrielle Kaye 1-1 0-0 3, Meg Starling 7-12 0-0 14, Mykalia Hebert 1-2 0-0 3. Totals: 22-52 17-23 65.
Harlan 5 14 16 23 — 58
University Heights 18 9 15 23 — 65
3-point goals: Harlan 10-31 (Thomas 3-5, Ledford 3-11, Brock 2-7, Charles 1-4, Mitchell 1-4), University Heights 4-13 (Grubbs 2-7, Kaye 1-1, Herbert 1-1, Holmes 0-4). Rebounds: Harlan 40 (Mitchell 8, M. King 8, Ledford 6, Charles 4, Bianchi 4, Thomas 2, Brock 1, K. King 1, team 6), University Heights 35 (Starling 12, Grubbs 8, Snorton 8, Holmes 3, Kaye 1, team 3). Turnovers: Harlan 13, University Heights 10. Fouled out: None.