CORBIN — New coach. Same result.
After inheriting a team that returned four starters from a 13th Region championship squad, Jason McDaniel knew his first season at the helm would only be considered a success in some circles if he could get his Corbin Lady Hounds back to Bowling Green and the Sweet Sixteen.
McDaniel and the Lady Hounds punched their return trip ticked Sunday with a 59-40 win over Harlan, completing a postseason run through several of the region’s top teams. Corbin defeated Whitley County in the 51st District finals. After fighting off an upset bid by North Laurel in the first round of the regional, the Lady Hounds knocked off top-ranked Bell County and 2015 Miss Basketball favorite Maci Morris in the semifinals and then cooled off a young and talented Harlan team that had found its way to the finals sooner than most thought possible.
“I accept those challenges. That’s the way I was raised. I’ve been very lucky playing for great coaches myself and having the long ride with (Corbin boys) coach (Tony) Pietrowski. You have to accept those challenges. If you’re not challenged you can’t grow,” McDaniel said. “They were big shoes to fill. At times, I felt pressure. But that’s when you work harder. These girls accepted me, and they are a tremendous group of kids. It was tough early. It was an adjustment for all of us, but the character these kids have is impressive.”
Corbin followed a familiar pattern in the championship game, grabbing the lead with good defense and shooting and then pulling away by putting the ball in the hands of their senior guards — Kayla Wilson, Miranda Wilson, Sarah Ashley and Brooklyn Ashurst.
“We made free throws for one thing,” McDaniel said. “We have a lot of good leadership, and they don’t get rattled. They know when to put the brakes on and know how to handle challenges like that.”
Harlan was limited to 33 percent (13 of 40) shooting from the field.
“I have to give Corbin credit. A lot of our misses were due to Corbin’s defense,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said. “But I’m proud of my girls. I thought they fought to the very end.”
Kayla Wilson scored 14 and Miranda Wilson and Ashley added 13 each as the Lady Hounds improved to 26-7
Freshman center Emma Bianchi scored 12 to lead Harlan. Torri Mitchell came off the bench to add 11. Freshman guard Jordan Brock was limited to 10 points after exploding for 20 in the semifinal victory Saturday over Clay County.
Brock had eight of Harlan’s 10 points in the first quarter, but the Lady Dragons trailed by two at the end of the period as five Lady Hounds had field goals.
Corbin began to pull away in the second quarter as Kayla Wilson opened with a 3-pointer and Miranda Wilson followed with back-to-back baskets for a 19-10 advantage. The Lady Hounds maintained that nine-point lead at halftime.
The Lady Hounds’ lead was down to seven midway through the third quarter when Ashurst reeled off five straight points on a trey from the corner and a jumper in the paint to make it 34-22 with 3:50 left in the period. Mitchell’s 3-pointer was the only basket for Harlan in the final five minutes of the quarter as Corbin built a 38-25 lead.
Harlan’s offensive problems continued into the fourth quarter with only one basket in the opening three minutes. The Lady Dragons were forced to chase and foul Corbin’s guards at that point, an almost certain recipe for defeat against the experience of the Lady Hounds’ backcourt. Corbin hit 21 of 26 at the line.
“They’re experienced. They’ve been here before,” Akal said. “They did an excellent job of handling the ball. Corbin has a tough group of girls.”
The game marked the end of an outstanding high school career for Harlan’s only senior, Jourdan Ledford, a five-year starter.
“When she walked off the floor I told her she had a great career,” Akal said. “She had a lot of team and individual accomplishments. My hat is off to Jourdan Ledford.”
Harlan will be among the region’s top teams coming into the 2014-15 season with everyone else on the roster coming back.
“I think the program is going in the right direction,” Akal said. “It’s a great experience going forward. We should have more confidence in these types of games.”
“Harlan has an outstanding team,” McDaniel said. “They are going to be a team to deal with in the future with Brock and Bianchi and the others. Coach Akal does a great job with them.”
Jordan Brock 4-11 1-2 10, Jourdan Ledford 0-6 4-4 4, Masie Charles 0-2 1-1 1, Emma Bianchi 4-9 4-6 12, Kaitlin Jenkins 1-1 0-0 2, Mackenzie King 0-0 0-0 0, Torri Mitchell 4-10 0-2 11, Shanae Thomas 0-0 0-0 0, Madelynn Henson 0-0 0-0 0, Katie King 0-0 0-0 0, Callie Wilson 0-0 0-0 0, Leah Evans 0-1 0-0 0, Bethany Day 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 13-40 10-18 40.
Miranda Wilson 4-12 4-7 13, Kayla Wilson 4-5 5-6 14, Brooklyn Ashurst 2-5 0-0 5, Sarah Ashley 2-5 9-9 13, Jaclyn Jewell 2-2 3-4 8, Meghann Blackburn 0-2 0-0 0, Kaitlyn Waddle 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 17-39 21-26 59.
Harlan 10 8 7 15 — 40
Corbin 12 15 11 21 — 59
3-point goals: Harlan 4-14 (Mitchell 3-5, Brock 1-4, Charles 0-1, Ledford 0-4), Corbin 4-10 (Kayla Wilson 1-1, Jewell 1-1, Ashurst 1-2, Miranda Wilson 1-5, Ashley 0-1). Rebounds: Harlan 22 (Brock 5, Ledford 5, Bianchi 4, Charles 3, Mitchell 3, M. King 2), Corbin 26 (Gallagher 7, Kayla Wilson 6, Miranda Wilson 5, Ashley 4, Jewell 2, Blackburn 2). Turnovers: Harlan 15, Corbin 13. Fouled out: Harlan (Mitchell), Corbin (Gallagher).