Freshman Samantha Sexton matched her career high with 18 points Wednesday as the Lady Skins defeated visiting Middlesboro 61-53 in the first game of a district girls-boys doubleheader.
"They're progressing. They've had to grow up the hard way, under a little fire," Cumberland coach John Bond said of his team, which includes nine players in ninth grade or lower.
Sexton wasn't the only young Lady Skin making an impact. Eighth-grader Whitney Gilliam added nine points and several important hustle plays, including a pair of key takeaways late in the game. Freshman Kendra Russell dished out a team-high four assists.
The Lady Skins were also aided by the return of senior center Erika Letanosky, who was dismissed from the team after a Christmas tournament two weeks ago. Letanosky scored 16 points and grabbed 14 points in her return, giving Cumberland an answer for Middlesboro junior Brooklyn Jimison, who poured in 27 points, including a surprising 3-for-6 effort from beyond the 3-point arc.
"We knew (Emily) Osborne could shoot it, and one of the other kids, but we didn't know she could shoot it that way," Bond said.
Jimison was the key factor in a huge third-quarter run that saw the Lady Jackets erase a 16-point halftime deficit. The center scored 10 points in the quarter as the Lady Jackets reeled off 17 straight points to take a 39-38 lead with 4:11 left in the quarter. Amber Johnson scored six points in the onslaught.
Cumberland, meanwhile, struggled to find any offense. After shooting an impressive 70 percent (16-for-23) in the first half, the Lady Skins hit just one of 10 shots in the third quarter.
"When you're young, it's easy to get in a fast-paced game and get out of your offense. That's what we did vastly in the third quarter," Bond said. "We went seven trips and didn't get a shot off, turning the ball over."
A pair of Letanosky free throws put the Lady Skins back on top by one. Jimison and Stephanie Whitt exchanged baskets to leave Cumberland holding to a 42-41 lead heading into the final period.
Jimison twice gave the Lady Jackets the lead in the fourth quarter as she hit a 3-pointer and scored a basket inside. An Ashley Williams putback gave Middlesboro a 49-45 advantage with 3:31 left to play.
The Lady Jackets suffered a devastating loss when Jimison fouled out at the 3:16 mark. Jimison and Whitt were assessed a double foul as they jostled for position on a missed free throw by Letanosky.
"She's a terrific ballplayer," Bond said of Jimison. "She's good inside and outside. She does a good job of throwing your shots off (around the basket), and she does a good job on the boards. That was a big loss for them when she went out."
Jimison was soon joined on the bench by Johnson and Williams, leaving the Lady Jackets without the services of three starters.
A basket by Sexton with 2:3 7 to play put Cumberland ahead 50-49, but the Lady Jackets answered with a pair of free throws by Osborne, a senior guard.
Letanosky drained two free throws with 1:48 remaining to give Cumberland the lead for good, starting an 11-0 run by the Lady Skins that sealed the victory.
The win snapped a five-game losing streak for the Lady Skins, who improved to 7-7 overall and 2-3 in district competition.
"It's a real important win for our kids," Bond said. "We went out west (over Christmas break) and played some teams we probably shouldn't have played, but you don't improve if you don't get in some tough situations and see what you're made of. I think it's helped us. Since Christmas break, we're learning to play tough."
Both teams return to action Friday in district doubleheaders. The Lady Skins will play host to Harlan at 6 p.m., while Middlesboro (4-10, 2-3) will travel to Cawood at 7:30.
Shanice Gilbert 1-5 1-3 3, Emily Osborne 1-6 2-2 5, Amber Johnson 3-4 3-4 9, Ashley Williams 2-3 0-0 4, Brooklyn Jimison 7-17 10-11 27, Carissa Overbay 1-5 1-2 3, Ashley Mason 0-0 0-0 0, Taylor Moyers 0-1 0-0 0, Katie Maiden 0-0 2-2 2. Totals: 15-41 19-24 53.
Whitney Gilliam 3-4 2-3 9, Kendra Russell 1-9 4-4 6, Marisha Tinsley 0-1 0-0 0, Stephanie Whitt 3-6 2-5 8, Heather Maggard 2-4 0-0 4, Samantha Sexton 8-10 2-4 18, Erika Letanosky 4-13 8-14 16, Hailey Hubbs 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 21-47 18-30 61.
Middlesboro 18 4 19 12 - 53
Cumberland 20 18 4 19 - 61
3-point goals: Middlesboro 4-16 (Jimison 3-6, Osborne 1-6, Overbay 0-4), Cumberland 1-8 (Gilliam 1-1, Whitt 0-1, Russell 0-6). Rebounds: Middlesboro 25 (Jimison 8), Cumberland 36 (Letanosky 14). Assists: Middlesboro 7 (Johnson 4), Cumberland 12 (Russell 4). Turnovers: Middlesboro 20, Cumberland 21. Fouled out: Middlesboro (Jimison, Johnson, Williams).