BARBOURVILLE — After failing to win the 13th Region All ‘A’ championship for the first time since 2009 last year, the Harlan Lady Dragons weren’t going to go another year without the title they have become accustomed to defending. The Lady Dragons claimed their fourth All ‘A’ crown in five seasons with a 68-66 victory over Pineville at Barbourville High School on Friday.
“Our girls have a come a long way since last season. I’ve been to three (state All “A” Classics), but most of these girls haven’t experienced this, and I’m happy for them,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said. “I believe a lot of this is from the tough games we’ve played this year. They’ve been in these situations before. They executed down the stretch.”
Harlan led throughout the first quarter. Freshman Emma Bianchi had seven of her 11 points in the opening period as the Lady Dragons jumped out to a five point lead. Junior Torri Mitchell scored on a runout layup as the lead grew to as many as nine points with just 1:12 left in the quarter. Pineville closed the period by scoring six of the last eight points. Senior Devin Enix started the run with a pair of free throws.
The Lady Dragons appeared to take control again in the second quarter, but were unable to put the Lady Lions away. Freshman Jordan Brock hit a layup with 40 seconds left and Mitchell followed with a free throw to put Harlan up by seven with just 37 seconds remaining. Brock recorded 18 points to pace Harlan, while Mitchell added 17 points. Pineville’s Emily Mullins and Erica Gambrell each drained a 3-pointer to close out the half and make it 35-32.
Pineville took its first lead in the third quarter. Enix carried the load offensively for the Lady Lions. She hit a pair of treys and turned in 13 of her game-high 29 points to lead all scorers. An Enix free throw midway through the period gave Pineville its largest lead at 45-40. The Lady Lions maintained the advantage and took a 51-48 lead into the fourth quarter.
“What worried me last night was how they shoot the ball. Enix shot the ball well last night, and she made some tough shots tonight,” Akal said. “Pineville is a really good team. They played hard and smart. I think their coach has done an excellent job.”
The teams exchanged baskets throughout the final period, with five lead changes occurring in the fourth quarter. Mitchell pulled Harlan even with a 3-pointer just over one minute into the period. After a free throw from Pineville’s Sophia Knuckles, Harlan regained the lead when senior Jourdan Ledford drove to the basket for a layup to make it 57-56. Pineville went back up on the next possession, but Mitchell gave the Lady Dragons the lead for good with her second trey of the quarter. Mitchell later extended the lead to four points with a layup off of an assist from Brock with 1:17 remaining. Ledford and Mitchell each went one-of-two from the free throw line in the final minute to help preserve the lead.
“Tori handled the ball, she rebounded and hit some free throws. She filled the stat sheet,” Akal said. “When Jordan and Emma (Bianchi) go to the bench, I expect Tori to do that.”
Pineville had a final opportunity to tie, but was unable to get a shot off in the final seven seconds.
“To me, the score doesn’t tell you what my girls are. We played a heck of a game,” said Brenda Gambrel, who took over as Pineville’s head coach a month into the season. “We are turning around. We’ll be ready when the district rolls around. We’ll see this team again in two weeks.”
Harlan (13-6) returns to action Monday at Lynn Camp. Pineville (9-7) will travel to Oneida Baptist on Thursday.
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Harlan (68) — Jordan Brock 18, Jourdan Ledford 13, Masie Charles 5, Kaitlyn Jenkins 0, Emma Bianchi 11, Torri Mitchell 17, Katie King 2, Shanae Thomas 2.
Pineville (66) — Erica Gambrell 19, Devin Enix 29, Emily Mullins 14, Jill Enix 2, Rachel Barnes 0, Sophia Knuckles 2, Sarah Combs 0.