A lockdown defensive effort in the third quarter was enough to lift Harlan County to a 45-38 victory over Harlan in 52nd District action on Thursday. The Lady Bears forced Harlan into more turnovers than points in the third, to break open a halftime tie and secure at least a share of first place in the district.
“The kids are learning what that toughness is. Anybody can beat anybody on any given night if you are not tough enough to learn how to win,” said Harlan County coach Anthony Nolan.
Freshman Brooklyn Massingill put Harlan County in front early with nine points in the opening period. Massingill had a pair of 3-pointers in the first quarter and scored the Lady Bears’ final five points as they took a 12-9 lead.
Despite outrebounding the Lady Dragons 9-1 in the second quarter, Harlan County was unable to extend the lead. Instead, Harlan went to its two veterans to pull even. Senior Kelly Cox and junior Jourdan Ledford each had five points, including a trey, in the period to tie the game at 21.
A Kaitlyn Stittums leaner off the glass gave Harlan County its largest lead of the first half at 17-12, but Ledford answered with a 3-pointer and Torri Mitchell followed with shot off the glass to make it 17-17. The teams traded baskets from that point.
A pair of free throws by Mitchell gave the Lady Dragons a brief lead to start the second half, but Harlan County began to take control from that point. Two straight baskets from Sarah Evans sparked 12-2 run that put the Lady Bears up by nine. Evans, Stittums and Massingill each had 10 points to lead the Lady Bears.
“At halftime, we talked about coming out with a little more intensity. I thought we were too safe in the first half,” Nolan said. “Normally, we are in foul trouble, and I would rather be in foul trouble and be aggressive. We came out much more aggressive in the third quarter.”
Harlan County limited the Lady Dragons to just one make on eight attempts, while forcing five turnovers in the period to make it 34-25.
“Our inability to score in the third quarter killed us. We talked about how important those first four or five minutes were. I don’t know if this being our third game in four nights hurt, but that third quarter broke our back,” said Harlan coach Derrick Akal.
Harlan County extended its lead to as much as 13 early in the fourth quarter. The lead was at 11 with less than a minute remaining, but Shanae Thomas came off the bench with five points in the final 24 seconds to make it a seven-point final margin.
“We fought. We have shown that we will fight this year. I think our defense is good enough to allow us to stay in games, but we have to put the ball in the bucket,” Akal said.
The Lady Bears were just three-of-10 from the free throw line in the final period as they attempted to extend the lead, and went 11-for-24 in the game. That is an area Nolan would like to see improve.
“We have to do a better job at the free throw line and making some layups. We are still missing some easy shots,” he said.
Harlan County (21-3 overall, 5-1 district) returns to action today at home against McCreary Central, while Harlan (10-13) overall, 2-4 district) will host Williamsburg.
Harlan County (45) – Kaitlyn Stittums 10, Brooklyn Massingill 10, Lauren Lee 4, Madison Cornett 8, Sarah Evans 10, Keisha Mimes 0, Bella Noe 3, Shauntae Lewis 0.
Harlan (38) – Jordan Brock 10, Kelly Cox 6, Jourdan Ledford 5, Torri Mitchell 7, Masie Charles 0, Katie King 0, Kaitlyn Jenkins 2, Callie Wilson 0, Emma Bianchi 3, Shanae Thomas 5.