If people around the 13th Region hadn’t noticed Harlan County’s 8-0 record before Monday they are likely paying attention to the Lady Bears now. Harlan County turned a dominant first quarter into a 50-33 rout of regional power Bell County in a 52nd District showdown.
“This is just the first battle. We are going to see them again in a month and maybe again after that in a month. This is not the war. I told them just to take care of each battle and move on,” said Harlan County coach Anthony Nolan. “But, this is a big win. I think there were a lot of doubters with this team, and we had a lot of unsure people about whether they would be confident to step up in these big roles.”
Harlan County got off to a near perfect start, outscoring the Lady Cats 22-3 in the first quarter. Junior Kaitlyn Stittums had 12 points and six rebounds in the opening period to pace the Lady Bears.
“She orchestrated everything – especially early. She got the ball where it needed to be,” said Nolan. “Kaitlyn has always been a good defensive player, and she got those 50/50 balls tonight. She limited their shots with that effort, and that is what we need out of her.”
Harlan County turned in a trademark defensive performance in the first. The Lady Bears limited Bell to just one field goal on 11 attempts. The Lady Cats finally got on the scoreboard with 3:53 remaining in the period, when Kelli Smith hit a free throw. A jumper from Morgan Garnett made it 15-3 with just over a minute remaining, but Harlan County added to the lead with a 7-0 run to close the period.
“We dug ourselves a hole there. Harlan County came out with a lot of energy, and I thought we were ready to go ourselves before the game. They come out making some shots, and we came out struggling,” said Bell County coach David Teague. “They got rolling and just took it to us. We never recovered.”
The Lady Cats threatened to come back in the second quarter. Bell outscored Harlan County 15-9 in the period to cut the deficit to 13 points. Kelli Smith, Jessica Sanders and Katrina Johnson each drained a trey in the quarter to power the Lady Cats’ comeback bid. A pair of free throws from Maci Morris closed the gap to 11 with under one minute in the half, but Sarah Evans drained a pair of free throws to push it back to 13 at the break.
Evans was impressive on both ends of the floor. The senior center finished with nine points, 12 rebounds and several blocks.
“Sarah did a real good job. That is what we worked on in practice. We wanted to get out on the shooters and for her to control the paint once they put the ball on the floor,” Nolan said.
Bell County continued to close the gap in the third quarter. Morris had six of her team-high 10 points in the period, as the Lady Cats closed to within 10.
Harlan County ended the threat with a start to the fourth quarter that was nearly as impressive as the first. The Lady Bears opened the final period with nine straight points and held Bell County scoreless for the first 4:35. Freshman Brooklyn Massingill drained a trey to close the run and push the lead to 19 points. After a basket from Johnson, Lauren Lee hit a 3-pointer to make it 47-27. The Lady Cats responded with a basket and a free throw before Massingill closed the scoring for Harlan County with another trey. Lee had 14 points, while Massingill added 11 in the win.
“Harlan County has a nice team. They are going to be a very good basketball team throughout the year. We can learn from this and continue to grow and bounce back,” Teague said. “Hopefully, something like this will help us in the long run and we will continue to improve from it.”
Harlan County (9-0) returns to action Thursday against Signal Mountain, Tenn., in the Smoky Mountain Classic. Bell County (7-1) will travel to Danville on Thursday to meet Boyle County in the Lady Ads Christmas Tournament.
Harlan County (50) – Kaitlyn Stittums 14, Brooklyn Massingill 11, Lauren Lee 14, Keisha Mimes 0, Sarah Evans 9, Bella Noe 2, Madison Cornett 0, Shauntae Lewis 0, Bridgette Bennett 0, Becky Freeman 0, Lauren Smith 0, Lindsay Branson 0.
Bell County (33) – Jessica Sanders 6, Morgan Garnett 2, Maci Morris 10, Kelli Smith 4, Paige Robbins 0, Katrina Johnson 7, Jamie Boatright 2, Sarah Collins 1, Courtney Cinnamon 1, Kaitlyn Taylor 0, Allison Howard 0.