Lee ignites Lady Bears’ comeback in win over Harlan
By John Henson Sports Editor
With her teammates taking turns grabbing most of the headlines in Harlan County’s 16-5 start going into Tuesday’s game against Harlan, Lauren Lee had become something of a forgotten player on one of the 13th Region’s elite teams.
The senior guard reminded everyone Tuesday why she’s been one of the Lady Bears’ key players for three years, rescuing Harlan County from a slow start that saw them facing a 14-point deficit with three minutes to play in the first half. Harlan was shooting almost 70 percent from the field at the time and still hadn’t turned the ball over. Lee hit a pair of 3-pointers in an 11-0 run the close the half as HCHS forced five turnovers in that stretch. Harlan County took the lead in the third quarter and pulled away in the fourth for a 66-53 victory.
“I have to credit our assistants for getting after her, because she hadn’t been playing like she is capable of. I think she decided she was going to assert herself like a senior should,” Harlan County coach Anthony Nolan said. “She made some big plays to help us grab the momentum. She is the one in the huddle who said ‘whatever it takes.’ We need that kind of senior leadership.”
“Right before the half we turned it over a few times and gave up some big 3s. Lauren Lee played a really big game, and she hurt us,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said. “We got focused on Brooklynn (Massingill), Katie (Stittums) and Bella (Noe) and lost track of Lauren Lee. She hit some big shots.”
Harlan County (17-5 overall, 3-1 district) followed its season long pattern of balanced offensive attacks with four in double figures, led by Noe with 15, Massingill with 14 and Lee with 12.
“That balance is what is special about this team,” Nolan said. “When we have that, we’re pretty tough to beat. We settled down and started executing like we should.”
“I’ve been kind of disappointed in our defense the last three games,” Akal said. “I thought for two and a half quarters we played real good defense. With a young team sometimes, after they moved it two or three times, we lost our assignments.”
With senior center Shannon Shackleford in early foul trouble, 6-foot eighth-grader Kaylea Gross also played a significant role in the win with 10 points and five rebounds.
“She has played huge for us this year,” Nolan said. “We want her to be aggressive and command the ball a little more. She has the ability to give us more than she has.”
Freshman center Emma Bianchi and junior guard Masie Charles each scored 13 points to lead Harlan (14-10 overall, 1-3 district). Jordan Brock added 12 points.
Bianchi had three baskets in the first quarter and Jourdan Ledford added two as Harlan built a 16-12 lead, hitting six of 10 shots by taking the ball to the basket against the Lady Bears. Charles took over in the second quarter, hitting three straight shots, including two 3-pointers, as Harlan built its lead to 31-17. A three-point play by Shackleford started the 11-0 run that brought the Lady Bears back.
“I think they were overly hyped,” Nolan said. “They had too much energy, then had a letdown and figured out Harlan could play and they had to execute. We were playing ourselves out of position. They’re a smart team, and they played well and shot well. We finally decided we had enough and guarded like we were supposed to.”
Harlan County took the lead midway through the third quarter with a 6-0 run on baskets by Stittums and Noe and two free throws by Gross. Harlan pulled even at 38 and 40 before Massingill’s two free throws gave the Lady Bears a 42-40 advantage going into the fourth period.
Harlan was still within four midway through the final quarter when Massingill reeled off nine straight points with two three-point plays sandwiched around a 3-pointer to bury the Lady Dragons. Harlan hit only six of 23 shots in the second half after shooting over 50 percent in the first half.
Harlan played without sixth man Torri Mitchell, who has suffered shoulder and ankle injuries in the past week and is expected to miss a couple of weeks. Akal said Mitchell’s absence contributed to Harlan’s offensive woes in the second half
“That’s where we miss Torri. She usually comes in at those times, like in the championship of the All “A”, and makes big plays,” Akal said. “She handles the ball and helps Jordan and helps out rebounding.”
Harlan and Harlan County will play again Thursday at Harlan in the first game of a girls/boys district doubleheader.
Sophomore guard Lindsay Branson scored 11 points as Harlan County improved to 8-1 in junior varsity action with a 45-37 win.
Eighth-grade guard Rebecca Middleton added eight for the Lady Bears. Noah Canady scored seven, followed by Kaylea Gross with six, Kaitlin Evans and Taylor Johnson with five each and Breann Turner with three.
Freshman forward Leah Evans scored 13 to lead Harlan (3-5). Shanae Thomas and Katelyn Burkhart contributed 10 each. Madelynn Henson added four.
Bell County defeated Harlan 37-29 in junior varsity action Monday. Miracle scored 13 and Collett added 12 to lead the Lady Cats.
Evans scored 10 and Katie King added nine for the Lady Dragons. Henson and Thomas contributed six and four points, respectively.
Jordan Brock 4-13 4-4 12, Jourdan Ledford 3-8 3-8 9, Masie Charles 3-7 5-6 13, Emma Bianchi 5-10 3-6 13, Kaitlin Jenkins 0-0 0-0 0, Mackenzie King 0-0 0-0 0, Shanae Thomas 1-4 0-0 3, Leah Evans 0-0 1-2 1, Madelynn Henson 0-0 0-0 0, Katie King 0-0 0-0 0, Bethany Day 1-1 0-0 2. Totals: 17-43 16-26 53.
HARLAN COUNTY (17-5)
Kaitlyn Stittums 2-4 4-10 8, Lauren Lee 5-7 0-0 12, Brooklyn Massingill 4-10 4-14 14, Bella Noe 5-7 5-8 15, Shannon Shackleford 1-1 1-1 3, Kaylea Gross 3-5 2-5 10, Lindsay Branson 1-3 0-0 2, Kaitlin Evans 0-0 0-0 0, Bridgett Bennett 0-0 0-2 0, Lauren Smith 0-0 2-2 2, Hannah Gaw 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 22-38 18-32 66.
Harlan 16 15 9 13 — 53
Harlan County12 16 14 24 — 66
3-point goals: Harlan 3-14 (Charles 2-4, Thomas 1-4, Brock 0-3, Ledford 0-3), Harlan County 4-11 (Lee 2-3, Massingill 2-6, Noe 0-1, Branson 0-1). Rebounds: Harlan 18 (Charles 5, Ledford 4, Bianchi 4, Brock 1, Jenkins 1, Thomas 1, K. King 1, Day 1), Harlan County 27 (Stittums 8, Gross 5, Lee 4, Noe 4, Massingill 2, Branson 2, Shackleford 1, Bennett 1). Turnovers: Harlan 12, Harlan County 17. Fouled out: Harlan (Bianchi), Harlan County (Shackleford).
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