Photo by Les Nicholson

Harlan County junior guard Alex Pace went after a loose ball against South Laurel in 13th Region Tournament action Wednesday. The Black Bears fell 51-31 and finished the season at 20-9 with their fourth straight 52nd District title.

Offensive woes follow HCHS in regional loss

CORBIN — Michael Jones hoped his Harlan County Black Bears left their recent offensive struggles behind them in Middlesboro where they struggled to score in two hard-fought wins in the 52nd District Tournament.

It soon became apparent, however, that the Bears’ problems followed them to The Corbin Arena and the 13th Region Tournament. Harlan County could manage only five baskets (26 percent) in the first half, falling behind by 15 points on the way to a 51-31 loss to South Laurel in the opening round on Thursday.

The Bears shot only 29 percent (12 of 42) for the game, often struggling to get off shots against the long and athletic Cardinals on the rare occasions when they were able to get into the paint.

“For whatever reason, we’ve struggled offensively the last part of the season,” Jones said. “I thought it was one or our worst defensive efforts of the season and we still held them to 51 points and their best player to 12.

Sophomore guard Matthew Cromer scored 15 points and junior guard J.J. Ramey added 12 to lead the 21-8 Cardinals, who won the region in 2016.

Harlan County (20-9), last year’s regional champ, was led by junior guard Alex Pace with 12 points, the only Bear in double figures.

Both teams were extremely patient on offense from the start and could manage only one basket each through almost four minutes into the game. Pace’s 3-pointer gave HCHS its only lead at 3-2, but Ramey and Cromer quickly answered for the Cardinals. Pace’s second trey pulled the Bears within four before Brett Norvell came off the bench to close the quarter with a 3-pointer for a 15-8 South lead.

South opened the second quarter with seven straight point before another Pace 3 gave HCHS its first basket at the 4:25 mark of the second quarter. Two baskets by Cromer and one by Alex Hostetler stretched the Cardinals’ lead to 28-13 by halftime.

“The first half we got great shots. I think we only took one ill-advised shot the first half,” Jones said. “I told them before the game that I thought the most aggressive team would win the game, and I thought South Laurel was more aggressive. We were dribbling east to west too much, instead of north to south. When we did attack we got shots we normally make, but we just didn’t make them tonight. South did bother us some with their length.”

Harlan County missed its first five shots in the third quarter and was scoreless through the first four minutes of the period as South extended its lead to 19 on two baskets by Logan Madden and one by Cromer. Gabe Price and Pace broke the drought for HCHS, but the Bears hit only four of 12 shots in the quarter and trailed 38-21 by the end of the period.

Taylor Spurlock, Lamar Burkhart and Tyler Cole hit 3-pointers for the Bears in the fourth quarter as they were outscored 13-10.

The game marked the end of the high school careers of five Bears — Tyrese Simmons, Andrew Creech, Burkhart, A.J. Simmons and Drew Nolan. Creech, Nolan and Tyrese Simmons saw action as starters last year when HCHS won its first 13th Region Tournament title.

“It just wasn’t meant to be, and I hate it for our seniors,” Jones said. “This was the first group when I took over as coach. It’s going to take a special group to come in here and mean as much to me as these seniors do. I’m proud of them and wish we could have gone farther and had a chance to repeat.”

South Laurel will advance to the semifinals and play the North Laurel-Lynn Camp winner at 2:30 p.m. in the second semifinal after Corbin and Knox Central square off at 1 p.m. The championship game is set for Monday at 7 p.m.

———

South Laurel 51, Harlan County 31

SOUTH LAUREL (21-8)

Logan Madden 2-5 1-4 5, Matt Cromer 5-12 4-5 15,, J.J. Ramey 5-12 0-0 12, Ryan Anders 4-5 0-0 8, Clay Weaver 0-0 0-0 0, Alex Hostetler 1-1 2-2 4, Sawyer Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Brett Norvell 1-2 0-0 3, Michael Anders 1-1 0-0 2, Ethan Coots 0-0 0-0 0, Ford Breeding 0-0 0-0 0, Fischer Proffitt 0-0 0-0 0, Peyton Parker 0-0 0-0 0, Zach Allen 1-1 0-0 2. Totals: 20-39 7-11 51.

HARLAN COUNTY (20-9)

Andrew Creech 3-6 0-0 6, Taylor Spurlock 1-4 0-0 3, Alex Pace 4-11 1-2 12, Tyrese Simmons 1-9 0-0 2, Lamar Burkhart 1-2 0-0 3, Gabe Price 1-4 0-2 2, Patrick Bynum 0-1 0-0 0, Tyler Cole 1-1 0-0 3, A.J. Simmons 0-0 0-0 0, Josh Turner 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 12-42 1-4 31.

South Laurel 15 13 10 13 — 51

Harlan County 8 5 8 10 — 31

3-point goals: South Laurel 4-9 (Ramey 2-4, Cromer 1-2, Norvell 1-2, R. Anders 0-1), Harlan County 6-11 (Pace 3-6, Spurlock 1-1, Cole 1-1, Burkhart 1-2, Price 0-1). Rebounds: South Laurel 22 (Ramey 6, Cromer 5, Weaver 3, R. Anders 2, Madden 2, Smith 2, Norvell 1, team 1), Harlan County 23 (Pace 6, Spurlock 4, Price 4, Simmons 3, Bynum 2, team 2, Burkhart 1, Turner 1). Assists: South Laurel 13 (Madden 4, Ramey 3, Cromer 2, R. Anders 2, Hostettler 1, Profffitt 1), Harlan County 9 (Creech 4, Pace 2, Bynum 2, Price 1). Turnovers: South Laurel 9, Harlan County 14. Fouled out: None.