BARBOURVILLE — After leading three teams at Harlan to the small school state tournament, Harlan coach Derrick Akal is familiar with what he calls the “All “A” hangover,” and he wondered if he would see it from his Lady Dragons in their first game since returning from the tournament on Thursday.
Harlan avoided the letdown for one quarter Friday at Knox Central, racing to a 21-5 lead with the help of five 3-pointers. The Lady Dragons appeared to turn it on cruise control from there as they coasted to a 46-31 win at Knox Central.
“We talked about the All ‘A’ hangover before the game,” Akal said. “We didn’t have any games between Pineville (the All “A” regional finals) and the University Heights (All A” state tournament) game. From the Jackson County game on for three weeks has been the All ‘A’ hype. I think the fact that we played these guys in the panorama and beat them pretty good and beat them in the Leslie County tournament kind of led us to look ahead to our district opponents next week. I told them that I thought Knox Central played harder. I think once we got up we were ready to get through the game and get home.”
“That first quarter got us in a hole,” Knox Central coach Darren Mills said. “This late in the year I don’t want to use youth as an excuse, but we are young. Harlan is young, too, but they have some veteran players. Coach Akal does a really good job with them.”
Guards Jourdan Ledford and Jordan Brock each scored 11 to lead the Lady Dragons. Ledford got the Lady Dragons off to a fast start with eight points in the first quarter, including two 3-pointers. Torri Mitchell, who left the game in the second half with an apparent shoulder injury, also added two 3-pointers. Brock contributed one.
“We missed some easy shots and we didn’t rotate out on Ledford in the first quarter and she busted some 3s,” Mills said. “I think they hit five 3-pointers in the first quarter, and I knew from that point it would be a challenge. For three quarters, we played decent tonight. If we can do a better job of getting some shots to go down we can be competitive. We had them tonight, but we didn’t make them. I feel good about the effort of our team and the directions we’re going right now.”
The Harlan defense took over from there, limiting the youthful Lady Panthers to only 14 points in the first half. Harlan scored only eight points of its own in the second quarter and took a 29-14 lead into the break.
A couple of baskets by Brock midway through the third quarter stretched the Harlan lead to 20, at 37-17. Seventh-grader Toni McCombs had two free throws and a basket for Knox Central, cutting the deficit to 42-25 by the end of the period. Masie Charles carried the Harlan offense in the final four minutes with a basket and a 3-pointer.
Emma Bianch and Brock had the only baskets for Harlan in the fourth quarter as Knox Central outscored Harlan 6-4 in the final period. McCombs had two baskets for KC while senior center Tyra McNiel added one.
Harlan was unable to complete the weekend Knox County sweep as Barbourville, the preseason favorite for the regional All “A” crown, knocked off the Lady Dragons 78-70 despite a 43-point performance from Brock.
Senior forward Kayla Erslan poured in 30 points to lead the Lady Tigers. Amber Mills, a senior guard, added 18 points. Kelsey Erslan and Laken Woolum contributed 13 and 11 points, respectively.
Harlan (14-8) will have a busy week against district opponents, beginning Monday at Bell County. The Lady Dragons travel to Harlan County on Tuesday and play host to the Lady Bears on Thursday in the first game of a girls/boys doubleheader.
Jordan Brock 3, 1, 2-2 11, Jourdan Ledford 2, 2, 0-0 11, Masie Charles 1, 1, 0-0 5, Emma Bianchi 2, 0-2 4, Kaitlin Jenkins 2 1-4 5, Torri Mitchell 1, 2, 0-0 8, Mackenzie King 1, 0-0 2, Katie King 0, Leah Evans 0, Shanae Thomas 0, Madelynn Henson 0. Totals: 12, 6, 4-9 46.
KNOX CENTRAL (4-18)
Mariah Barrett 2, Taylor Patterson 0, Cassie Hale 6, Megan Wagers 2, Melanie Gregory 6, Tyra McNiel 5, Cammie Bargo 0, Toni McCombs 8, Rebecca Brown 2. Totals: 8, 3, 6-14 31.
Harlan21 8 13 4 — 46
Knox Central 5 9 11 6 — 31
Jourdan Ledford 7, Jordan Brock 43, Masie Charles 1, Emma Bianchi 8, Mackenzie King 4, Shanae Thomas 3, Leah Evans 4, Kaitlin Jenkins 0, Katie King 0, Madelynn Henson 0, Bethany Day.
K.K. Liford 6, Kelsey Erslan 13, Kayla Erslan 30, Amber Mills 18, Laken Woolum 11.
Harlan10 15 19 26 — 70
Barbourville 10 23 21 24 — 78