MIDDLESBORO – A first set upset woke up the Harlan County Lady Bears in the opening round of the 52nd District Tournament on Monday. After falling in the opening game, Harlan County cruised in the next three sets to advance past host Middlesboro and into the district title game.
“I think they had some nervous jitters in the first game. They made some mistakes, but when you get into the district tournament the girls get nervous sometimes,” said Harlan County coach Donna Vicini. “Our serve was terrible in the first two games. But, we came out ahead, and I am proud of them.”
The Lady Jackets never trailed in the opening set, on their way to stunning top-seeded Harlan County 25-17.
Freshman Anajae Stephney scored the first point of the match on a tip. Savannah Miracle followed with an ace and a service point to quickly put Middlesboro up 3-0. The Lady Bears stayed close for much of the match, and trailed by just two at 14-12, but Middlesboro reeled off seven straight points to push the lead to nine and put the game out of reach. Harlan County closed the gap to six late in the set, but a return from Whitney Stevens was into the net, and Middlesboro’s Lauren Schneider delivered a spike to close it out on the next point.
“I have said all season long that we would probably peak at the end of the season, because we had such a young team,” said Middlesboro coach James Spradlin. “We had a little bit of peak in there, it just wasn’t high enough.”
With the game tied at three in the second set, Keisha Mimes and Breanna Dunson scored on two straight tips to put the Lady Bears up 5-3. Harlan County never trailed from that point and continued to pull away throughout the set. A service point from Schneider brought the Lady Jackets to within two midway through the game, but Harlan County quickly responded. Spikes from Mimes and Stevens started a run that saw the Lady Bears score nine of the last 13 points to close out the match and claim a 25-18 win.
Harlan County turned in its most dominant performance of the night in the third set. Chyanna Harris’ strong service gave the Lady Bears an early lead. Harlan County scored six straight points with Harris at serve to build a 7-3 advantage. Dunson and Eldridge each contributed a pair of points as Harlan County added to the lead. Harris put the game out of reach during her next service. The junior scored scored four straight points to give Harlan County a 22-9 lead. The Lady Bears led by 14 when Middlesboro was unable to return the ball, giving Harlan County a 25-10 win.
“When Chyanna’s serves are on they are hard for anybody to return. They have a spin on them and are really tough to return,” Vicini said.
It was Eldridge who took control of the game with her service in the final set. With the game tied at nine, the Lady Bears reeled off eight straight points with Eldridge at service to pull away for a 19-9 advantage. The Lady Jackets were never able to respond down the stretch as Harlan County held on for a 25-17 win.
“Rebecca came back in the third game and really improved her serves. That is what we depend on. We have about three really good servers. That is what brought us out of the whole,” Vicini said.
Harlan County (15-9) will face Harlan in the 52nd District Championship today. Middlesboro closes the season at 1-21.
“We will just come and play our game and play as hard as we can play,” Vicini said.