LEXINGTON — By posting a 19-2 summer record against junior varsity competition, including a trip to the AAU state tournament final four, the Harlan County freshman class set the bar high for what’s to come over the next four years.
Harlan County fell one game short of the state finals as Madison Central, the eventual champion, turned a five-point deficit into an eight-point lead with a 13-0 run in the closing minutes Sunday in the semifinals at the Kentucky Basketball Academy. The Indians downed Harlan County 59-51 before going on to beat Henry Clay 57-53 in the finals.
“We missed several easy shots when we had the lead that could have put the game away,” said Harlan County coach Gary Greer. “We also missed several defensive rotations that we could have taken charges on. That comes from being young.”
Junior guards Grant Brock and Terique Miller led Madison Central with 20 and 17 points, respectively.
Guard Drew Nolan scored 17 points and forward Lamar Burkhart added 15 to lead the Bears.
Burkhart got the Bears off to a strong start with 10 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, in the opening seven minutes as HCHS built a 14-8 lead. Madison Central stormed back to go up by eight before a late Harlan County run, capped by Nolan’s 25-foot jumper at the buzzer, cut the deficit to 31-29 at the break.
The Indians led by six early in the second half before consecutive baskets by Nolan, Burkhart and Paul Stapleton pulled HCHS even. Consecutive baskets by Austin Adams, Nolan and Tyrese Simmons sparked a 9-2 run that gave Harlan County a 47-42 lead with 4:39 left.
Harlan County went cold at that point, limited to only four points from Nolan the rest of the way, as Madison Central pulled away for the win.
Like most of the Bears’ opponents in the AAU tourney, Madison Central’s roster was dominated by older players. Four of the six Indians who scored will be juniors. All six Bears who scored will be freshmen when school begins.
“They had an outstanding summer, and they played extremely hard,” Greer said. “If they continue to listen and play hard, the sky is the limit for them.”
“That group grew up so much the past three weeks, and the good thing about them is they are just scratching the surface of what they’re capable of,” said Michael Jones, the HCHS varsity coach. “Coach ‘G’ did a great job with the JV. We felt like we had a chance to win the AAU tournament but just came up a little short. We couldn’t be prouder of their effort. The potential is there for them to do special things in the next four years. They just have to continue to improve and stick together as a family.”
MADISON CENTRAL (59) — Minter 6, Brockman 20, Miller 17, Rose 8, Begley 2, Richardson 6.
HARLAN COUNTY (51) — Paul Stapleton 6, Drew Nolan 17, Lamar Burkhart 15, Andrew Creech 6, Austin Adams 5, Tyrese Simmons 2.
Down by two points in the final minute, Harlan County made the plays down the stretch on both offense and defense to edge Grant County 45-42 and advance to the final four of AAU junior varsity state tournament.
Nolan converted a three-point play with 19.5 seconds left to put the Bears on top. After the Bears forced a turnover with seven seconds left, Adams caught a long pass on the out of bounds play for a layup that put the game away and earned the Bears a matchup with Madison Central in the semifinals.
The 19-1 Bears were led by Burkhart with 12 points. Nolan and Adams added 10 each.
HARLAN COUNTY (45) — Paul Stapleton 4, Andrew Creech 5, Drew Nolan 10, Austin Adams 10, Lamar Burkhart 12, Tyrese Simmons 4.
GRANT COUNTY (42) — Andrew Daniels 5, Zach Tuggle 12, Cole Donan 5, Bo Hammonds 6, Luke Adkins 6, Keenan Pelfrey 8.
LEXINGTON — Impressed and intrigued by his talented freshman class, first-year Harlan County coach Michael Jones was determined to find a fitting challenge for them in their three weeks of summer basketball.
Jones opted to have his freshman team play a junior varsity schedule, hoping the experience would help introduce the group to the tougher level of competition. The step up in class did not prove to be that difficult, however, as Harlan County (with a roster that featured nine freshmen and one junior) reeled off 17 straight wins going into the AAU junior varsity tournament.
It appeared that streak was going to end Saturday against a Henderson County squad that possessed a big advantage in size, strength and experience. The Colonels, led by muscular 6-3 junior forwards Antoine Calhoun and Karteeca Rollins, raced to an eight-point lead late in the first half, but the Bears fought back with their most gritty effort of the summer to win 54-49 and advance to the Elite Eight of the tournament.
Freshman guards Paul Stapleton and Austin Adams scored 14 points each to lead the 18-1 Bears, providing a potent 1-2 punch with Stapleton attacking the basket and Adams lighting it up from the perimeter. Freshman forward Lamar Burkhart held his own in the paint against the bigger Colonels and finished with 11 points.
Calhoun scored 19 and Rollins added 12 to lead the Colonels.
After four ties in the opening five minutes, Henderson County appeared to take control with an 8-0 run that made the score 23-15. A 3-pointer by Adams and a coast-to-coast journey for a basket by Tyrese Simmons helped the Bears pull within one at the break on a basket by Hunter Holland in the closing seconds.
Adams came out on fire to start the second half, hitting three straight shots to ignite an 11-5 run to put HCHS ahead to stay.
Henderson closed to within one midway through the second half before the young Bears again answered, this time led by Burkhart and Stapleton, who took turns scoring in a 9-2 run that put the Bears back in command. Drew Nolan, Adams, Stapleton and Simmons hit free throws in the final two minutes to put the game away, despite a 3-point onslaught from the Colonels that helped them get as close as three.
HARLAN COUNTY (54) — Paul Stapleton 14, Drew Nolan 6, Austin Adams 14, Andrew Creech 4, Lamar Burkhart 11, Tyrese Simmons 3, Hunter Holland 2.
HENDERSON COUNTY (49) — Jadal Fletcher 3, Cartel Gilbert 3, Spencer Buehle 4, Antoine Calhoun 19, Karteeca Rollins 12, Kordell Rollins 3, Wes Bugg 4.