MIDDLESBORO – Harlan County has been virtually untested through three games this season, but as coach Mike Jones said “sometimes you just have to survive.” The Black Bears did just that Friday holding off Middlesboro 70-59 in a rematch of last season’s 52nd District championship.
“They have a good ball club. We didn’t play well, but they had something to do with that. This was a good experience for us. We beat one of the better teams in the region on their home floor,” Jones said. “Sometimes you have to survive games, and we did that tonight.”
With their Bears facing the toughest test of the season in a hostile environment, Alex Sergent and Aaron Caldwell weren’t about to sit through a repeat of last season’s district tournament upset loss to the Yellow Jackets. The senior duo combined for 48 points in Friday’s win.
“Alex made some big shots and some big plays there,” Jones said. “I heard Aaron talking to the kids, and he did a really good job of (calming them down). Aaron is going to get to the point that he was at this summer, and that will just give us that extra offense.”
Middlesboro scored the game’s first 10 points to jump out to an early lead. However, Harlan County began to chip away from that point. Sergent had 11 of his game-high 26 points in the opening period as the Bears pulled even at 15.
Donnie Foister led the Jackets with eight points in the first quarter. Foister and Austin Poindexter each finished with 16 points to pace Middlesboro.
Caldwell had eight points in the second quarter as Harlan County appeared to take control. The forward hit four-of-five shots in the period as the Bears took a 35-26 lead into the half.
Harlan County dominated the glass in the first half, outrebounding Middlesboro 27-8.
“I really feel like if we limit them on their first shot opportunities and secure the rebound we have a game we are in more control of. But, credit Harlan County and their kids for really fighting and battling,” said Middlesboro coach Russell Thompson. “You can’t fault either team’s effort tonight. Both teams fought hard for their schools and left it all on the court.”
A bucket from senior Chad Massingill pushed the lead to 11 early in the third quarter, but the Jackets refused to go away. Poindexter had six points in the period as Middlesboro reduced the deficit to just three.
That was as close as the Jackets would get. Caldwell had six more points in the fourth quarter as Harlan County outscored Middlesboro 21-13 in the final period.
Harlan County (4-0) will host North Laurel on Wednesday. Middlesboro (3-1) travels to Harlan on Tuesday.
Harlan County (70) – Tyler Brewer 3, Alex Sergent 26, Chad Massingill 3, Aaron Caldwell 22, Tyler Miller 3, Zach Caldwell 5, James Bond 3, Cody Bumgardner 0, Fred Massey 3, Zack Wilson 2.
Middlesboro (59) – Michael Wilson 2, Donie Foister 16, Derek Smith 0, Zack Riddle 8, Boone Bowling 10, Blake Davis 7, Austin Poindexter 16, Major Edwards 0, Brandon Hale 0.