The Harlan Lady Dragons will have a chance to avenge a loss and advance to the second round of the 13th Region Tournament for the first time since 2008 when they take on Barbourville in the opening round on Wednesday at 6:30.
Harlan (18-12) fell 78-70 at Barbourville on Feb. 1, the first of three straight losses for the Lady Dragons during their post All “A” Classic slump. The Lady Dragons had struggled the night before in a win at Knox Central, only two days after falling to University Heights in the first round of the small school state tournament.
“We had played Friday night at Knox Central and then played Barbourville the next day without Torri. They jumped on us early and we couldn’t stop them and gave up 78 points,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said. “They are very capable of doing it again. Harlan earned a trip to the regional tournament by knocking off Harlan County in the 52nd District Tournament before falling 68-56 to Bell County in the finals on Thursday The Lady Tigers enter the tournament as champions of the 51st District for the second straight year. Barbourville defeated Pineville 91-62 and Lynn Camp 58-46 to capture the district title.
Barbourville (16-12) is among the region’s most experienced teams with an all-senior starting lineup led by the Erslan twins, Kara and Kelsey, both 5-foot-10. Amber Mills is a scoring threat on a wing and K.K. Liford has started all four years of high school at point guard. Laken Woolum, a 5-5 guard, rounds out the starting five.
“I think they have four averaging in double figures, we have only two, so they can hurt you in different areas. We have to buckle down and guard everybody,” said Akal, who admits that Barbourville’s experience will also present a problem.
“That’s one of the things that concerns me,” Akal said. “They are seniors and are very experienced. They have played at The Arena before. Jourdan Ledford is the only person we have who has played there before, so that’s also a concern.”
Ledford was a member of the 2011 Harlan team that fell 40-37 to Corbin in the opening round of the regional in the Lady Dragons’ last trip. This year’s Harlan lineup features two freshmen, point guard Jordan Brock and center Emma Bianchi, along with junior guard Masie Charles and sophomore forward Kaitlin Jenkins. Mitchell will also see extensive action as the region’s best sixth man.
The Lady Dragons avoided the regional favorites in the first round with Bell County and Corbin in the upper bracket and either Whitley County or Clay County awaiting in the semifinals, but Akal knows his team will have to play well to make it to Friday’s final four.
“Our girls still feel the sting of that loss, and they know they are very capable of beating us again because they have done it once,” Akal said. “We know they will come out with confidence, and we have to prepare for them just like we would for Bell or Whitley or Corbin or Clay or anybody we could face in the tournament.”