MIDDLESBORO — “O-ver-ra-ted, O-ver-ra-ted.”
Maci Morris heard the chant from the Harlan student section in the third quarter of the 52nd District Tournament championship game Thursday as the Lady Dragons chopped a 16-point Bell County halftime lead to four.
That kind of attention comes with the territory for 6-foot all-state guards headed for the University of Kentucky, and Morris answered the best way she knows. After struggling offensively through much of the first three quarters, Morris took over in the fourth as she hit all five of her shots from the field and scored 13 of her game-high 26 points to lead Bell to a 68-56 victory.
“They are going to yell and try to get in my head, but it just motivates me to play harder. I’m just trying to win for my team and when it’s time to make plays you have to make plays, and that’s what I try to do,” Morris said.
“She is the best player in the region for a reason,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said. “She stepped up tonight and made some big shots. My hat is off to her.”
Morris was far from a one-woman show, which is one of the big reasons why the 24-4 Lady Cats have been the 13th Region favorite all season. Senior guard Morgan Garnett hit all three of her 3-point attempts to score 15 points. Jessica Sanders and Kelli Smith added 11 and 10 points, respectively.
“We lost sight of Garnett and Sanders a few times,” Akal said.
Harlan (18-12) was led by freshman guard Jordan Brock with 20 points. Eighth-grade center Mackenzie King provided a lift off the bench with 10 points and five rebounds.
Much like in the win over Harlan County on Tuesday, Brock sparked Harlan’s comeback in the third quarter as she had three baskets and outrebounded the entire Bell roster with six. The Lady Cats still had a comfortable 11-point lead with less than two minutes left when Torri Mitchell hit a 3-pointer to spark a 7-0 run that also included baskets by King and Brock to cut the deficit to 41-37 going into the fourth quarter.
Harlan had three opportunities to get even closer but couldn’t convert.
“Our youth might have kicked in a little and we got anxious and rushed some shots,” Akal said. “But I was proud of the fact our girls fought to get back in the game.”
“They started making shots and we started missing a few shots,” Teague said. “When that happens it’s not a good combination. I told our girls at halftime that Harlan wouldn’t quit. (Emma) Bianchi and Brock had sit for a while in that first half. She started making some plays. I don’t think we quit working, but we missed shots and Harlan did a good job capitalizing.”
Bell was just the opposite, hitting all six of its shots from the field in the four minutes of the period. Allison Howard, Garnett, Johnson and Morris had consecutive baskets in an 8-0 run over a 71-second span that put the Lady Cats back in control, up 53-41 with 4:44 to play.
“We didn’t want to quit attacking,” Teague said. “We wanted to move the basketball and keep moving ourselves. They had collapsed on Maci all night, and she had missed some shots she normally makes. That was her being a leader, going to the basket and making shots and finding people. That’s what you want out of your older kids.”
Harlan got as close as seven after that, but the Lady Cats answered each basket by hitting nine of 11 shots from the field in the period, including a back-breaking trey by Morris 1:53 to play.
“That’s a good shot for her. We wanted to use a little clock, but we weren’t completely wanting to stall out,” Teague said. “If she is open like that, she has the green light.”
Garnett, Morris and Sanders each hit 3-pointers in a 9-0 run in the opening two and a half minutes as the Lady Cats took a 9-2 lead. Baskets by Jourdan Ledford and Bianchi and a 3-pointer by Mitchell helped Harlan pull to within two as Bell went over four minutes without a basket before Sanders’ scoop shot made the score 15-11 after one period.
Harlan hit only two of 10 shots in the second quarter and turned the ball over six times compared to none for Bell as the Lady Cats began to pull away with both Brock and Bianchi out with two fouls. Bell went on an 11-1 run over the final five minutes to build a 32-16 halftime advantage.
Both teams advance to the 13th Region Tournament opening Monday at The Arena in Corbin. Bell County will play either Lynn Camp, Whitley County or North Laurel in the first round. Harlan will play either Barbourville, Corbin or Clay County.
The all-tournament team was led by Morris as the most valuable and also included Garnett, Smith, Jessica Sanders and Johnson. Brock, Jourdan Ledford, Bianchi and King represented Harlan. Shannon Shackleford and Brooklyn Massingill were selected from Harlan County. Morgan Thompson and Blair Green were picked from Middlesboro.
Harlan County won the cheerleading competition with Bell County placing second.
Jordan Brock 8-13 4-6 20, Jourdan Ledford 2-4 2-2 7, Masie Charles 2-8 0-0 5, Emma Bianchi 4-9 0-0 8, Kaitlin Jenkins 0-1 0-0 0, Mackenzie King 3-7 4-6 10, Torri Mitchell 2-7 0-1 6, Madelynn Henson 0-1 0-0 0, Shanae Thomas 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 21-51 10-17 56.
BELL COUNTY (24-4)
Jessica Sanders 4-7 2-2 11, Morgan Garnett 5-6 2-2 15, Maci Morris 8-17 8-8 26, Katrina Johnson 1-3 2-4 4, Kelli Smith 3-7 4-7 10, Sarah Collins 0-1 0-2 0, Kaitlyn Taylor 0-1 0-0 0, Allison Howard 1-2 0-1 2. Totals: 22-44 18-26 68.
Harlan11 5 21 19 — 56
Bell County 15 17 9 27 — 68
3-point goals: Harlan 4-17 (Mitchell 2-5, Ledfford 1-2, Charles 1-5, Thomas 0-1, Brock 0-4), Bell County 6-11 (Garnett 3-3, Morris 2-3, Sanders 1-3, Smith 0-1, Howard 0-1). Rebounds: Harlan 34 (Brock 8, Bianchi 6, King 5, Mitchell 5, Ledford 4, Charles 2, Jenkins 2, Henson 2), Bell County 22 (Smith 8, Sanders 6, Morris 5, Collins 2, Johnson 1). Harlan 13, Bell County 8. Fouled out: Bell County (Garnett).