Two days after watching a 14-point lead evaporate in a 13-point loss at Harlan County, the Harlan Lady Dragons had to be more than a little worried when the visiting Lady Bears cut a 10-point deficit to three with 3:28 left in the rematch Thursday.
Harlan County was unable to complete the comeback a second time, due in large part to a frigid shooting performance. The Lady Bears shot 34 percent (18 of 53) from the field and 52 percent (14 of 27) from the line.
“We missed way too many shots, especially free throws, which kept us from getting in a defensive rhythm,” Harlan County coach Anthony Nolan said. “I think we tightened up on some shots in the second half. This game meant more to them than us tonight, and we’ll get a chance to do this again in a few weeks (in the 52nd District Tournament). They are a good team and they shot well tonight. I guess we got satisfied and thought we could turn it on at any time.”
“We talked about the last couple of games how we hadn’t been playing good defense. I think they focused more on defense tonight,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said. “I was impressed by our defensive toughness.”
The win was perhaps the biggest of the season for the Lady Dragons, who had struggled lately with three losses in four games.
“We still have a young team and for them to know they can do this is great,” Akal said. “I told them a minute ago that we still have games left. It’s good for confidence, but that’s it. We will probably see them again.”
Harlan (15-10 overall, 1-4 district) showed good patience on offense against the region’s top defense and continually worked for good shots, often finding matchup advantages.
Senior guard Jourdan Ledford scored 22 points to lead the Lady Dragons, hitting 14 of 17 at the free throw line.
“She didn’t settle for 3-pointers tonight. She attacked and got to the free throw line,” Akal said. “I also thought Masie Charles played well with some big rebounds and good defense.”
Torri Mitchell, a junior guard who missed Tuesday’s game due to an ankle injury, provided a lift off the bench with 12 points, hitting five of seven shots.
“Torri guarded the post tonight, she played post, she played wing,” Akal said. “She is a hybrid. It’s hard to guard her.”
Harlan County (17-6 overall, 3-2 district) was led by senior center Shannon Shackleford and sophomore guards Brooklyn Massingill and Lindsay Branson with 12 points each.
Harlan missed its first seven shots from the field but stayed close as Ledford hit five of six at the line. Shackleford had three baskets in the period as the Lady Bears took a 13-10 lead.
Mitchell took over midway through the second quarter, hitting three of four shots as the Lady Dragons reeled off nine straight points and took a 31-22 advantage into halftime.
Harlan County battled back to within four on baskets by Massingill and Lee before Mitchell came to the rescue again, hitting a 3-pointer and then scoring on a move inside to stretch the Lady Dragons’ lead back to nine, at 45-36, going into the fourth quarter.
Harlan led by 12 with 6:40 left when Ledford drew a foul on a 3-pointer for the second time and hit all three shots. The Lady Dragons maintained a 10-point advantage with five minutes left when HCHS made its final run. Massingill scored five straight points and Bella Noe hit a shot in the lane to cut the deficit to 56-53 with 3:28. Harlan County had three chances to get closer but failed to convert. Mitchell found Brock for a layup with 1:28 left to give Harlan a two-possession lead. Shackleford cut the deficit back to three and the Lady Bears regained possession, but an offensive foul gave Harlan the ball back with 30 seconds to play. Brock and Ledford each hit two free throws to put the game away.
“We’ve been in these situations before, and we showed some resiliency,” Akal said. “Harlan County is a good team and made a run, but Jordan hit some big free throws. I thought we held our composure and got stops.”
“We put ourselves in position at the end, but we don’t give 62 points, and we don’t give up 27 free throws,” Nolan said. “We didn’t get in any type of flow tonight.”
Both teams return to action tonight as Harlan County plays host to McCreary Central and Harlan travels to Williamsburg.
HARLAN COUNTY (17-6)
Kaitlyn Stittums 1-9 2-3 4, Lauren Lee 2-3 2-3 6, Brooklyn Massingill 2-14 7-13 12, Bella Noe 3-10 1-2 7, Shannon Shackleford 5-8 2-3 12, Lindsay Branson 4-7 0-2 12, Kaylea Gross 1-2 0-1 2, Bridgett Bennett 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 18-53 14-27 55.
Jordan Brock 4-8 3-4 11, Jourdan Ledford 3-10 14-17 22, Masie Charles 2-5 0-0 5, Kaitlin Jenkins 0-0 0-0 0, Emma Bianchi 3-6 2-5 8, Torri Mitchell 5-7 0-0 12, Mackenzie King 2-2 0-0 4, Katie King 0-0 0-0 0, Madelynn Henson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 19-38 19-26 62.
Harlan County13 9 14 19 — 55
Harlan 10 21 14 17 — 62
3-point goals: Harlan County 5-15 (Branson 4-5, Massingill 1-6, Stittums 0-1, Lee 0-1, Noe 0-2), Harlan 5-9 (Mitchell 2-2, Ledford 2-3, Charles 1-4). Rebounds: Harlan County 25 (Shackleford 7, Stittums 5, Lee 3, Massingill 3, Branson 3, Gross 3, Noe 1), Harlan 29 (Bianchi 10, Ledford 7, Mitchell 5, Charles 4, Brock 1, M. King 1, K. King 1). Turnovers: Harlan County 9, Harlan 14. Fouled out: Harlan County (Branson).