The Harlan County Lady Bears were unbeatable at home during the regular season — they will now have the opportunity to extend their current 16-game home win streak in the postseason. The 13th Region hosts secured their spot in next week’s tournament with a 63-34 victory over Middlesboro in the first round of the 52nd District Tournament on Wednesday.
“It’s nice to be able to get back home. We were undefeated at home this season, and now we get to go back there and play. The kids take great pride in that. That was one of our goals,” said Harlan County coach Anthony Nolan.
The Lady Bears forced Middlesboro into more turnovers than points in the first quarter. The Lady Jackets gave the ball away eight times as Harlan County jumped out to a 12-5 lead. A basket from freshman Brooklyn Massingill capped a 9-1 run to open the game. Middlesboro’s Carissa Padgett scored the first Middlesboro basket with 1:18 left in the period. Padgett was fouled on the play and hit the free throw to make it 9-4. After a Bella Noe jumper, Middlesboro’s Taylor Moyers and Harlan County’s Madison Cornett each hit one-of-two from the line to close the scoring.
“I don’t think they got that many shot attempts because of our defense. Our defense gave us easy transition baskets as well,” Nolan said.
Harlan County’s lead grew to as many as 12 points early in the second quarter following an old-fashioned three-point play from Cornett. The Lady Jackets responded with seven straight points to close the gap. Amanda Biscardi had four points to power the run that made it 19-14. That was as close as the game got. Sarah Evans halted the rally with a basket underneath with 1:21 left in the half, and Kaitlyn Stittums followed a three-point to put Harlan County up by eight at the half.
“I think it showed that we were a little nervous in the first half. We had chances to attack and stretch the lead that we didn’t take advantage of. I think a lot of it was because we were afraid to make a mistake,” Nolan said.
The Lady Bears put the game out of reach with a dominant third quarter. Sophomore Bella Noe had seven points in the period as the lead grew to 23 points. Harlan County limited Middlesboro to just four points in the third. The Lady Jackets had just nine field goals in the in all four quarters, while committing 21 turnovers.
“We get to holding the ball a lot with no movement and end up making some bad decisions. Their defense just pushed us around physically, and it was really tough to get shots,” said Middlesboro coach Elgie Green.
Massingill had seven points and Shauntae Lewis added four as Harlan County continued to pull away in the fourth quarter. Harlan County limited the Lady Jackets to just two made shots again as it cruised to the win.
“We had good balance tonight,” Nolan said. “I thought we took care of the ball. We finished at the foul line. We were getting some easy baskets from our defense. Our passing was much better in the second half. We created that margin that we needed.”
Harlan County (25-5) will face Bell County in the 52nd District Championship Friday at 7 p.m. The two teams split a pair of regular season meetings, with each winning on its home floor.
“They are an extremely explosive team with all kinds of weapons,” Nolan said of the Lady Cats. “They can shoot the ball and stretch your defense and beat you off the dribble. It makes it tough to defend.”
Middlesboro closes the season at 5-21. The Lady Jackets will return the bulk of their roster next year.
“They are playing hard. I think if the kids work hard in the weight room they will get stronger physically,” Green said. “It just depends on how hard they want to work.”
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Harlan County (63) — Kaitlyn Stittums 7, Brooklyn Massingill 14, Lauren Lee 6, Madison Cornett 8, Sarah Evans 10, Keisha Mimes 2, Bella Noe 10, Shauntae Lewis 4, Lauren Smith 0, Becky Freeman 2, Bridgette Bennett 0, Lindsay Branson 0, Kaitlin Evans 0, Leah Evans 0.
Middlesboro (34) — Bailey Hensley 1, Taylor Moyers 1, Blair Green 9, Carissa Padgett 14, Lauren Spurlock 2, Taylor Prater 0, Amanda Biscardi 3, Baylie Brunsma 2, Morgan Thompson 2, Hannah Warren 0, Sophia Knuckles 0.