BARBOURVILLE — The combination of Emma Bianchi on the inside and Jourdan Ledford and Jordan Brock on the outside was just too much for the Middlesboro Lady Jackets to handle in Thursday’s 13th Region All ‘A’ semifinal. Those three Lady Dragons combined for 46 points to lead Harlan to a 55-35 win.
Harlan entered the tournament playing as well as any Class A team in the region, but coach Derrick Akal said his team didn’t consider themselves to be the favorites.
“We got put out last year in a play-in game and I’m always telling the girls that in tournament time there is no favorite,” he said. “I’ve watched Lynn Camp play and kind of followed Pineville and Barbourville. I thought those girls were just as capable of winning it as we are. But I thought if we came in and competed like we did tonight, we’d have a chance to win. I like our chances as long as we’re competing.”
Two early Middlesboro turnovers led to two Bianchi baskets in the first 1:08 of the game and the Lady Dragons never trailed. The Lady Jackets got a basket from Blair Green and a 3-pointer from Hannah Warren to get within 7-5 by the 4:20 mark. But Brock answered with her second trey of the game and Ledford added two 3s as the lead grew to 17-6 after one quarter.
“They’re just a better team than we are right now. They’re better defensively, they’re better offensively and they’re more aggressive than we are,” Lady Jacket coach Elgie Green said. “They want to win worse than we do as a team. We need some girls step up and play their role and we’re just not getting that right now. But Harlan deserves it, they’ve worked hard and they just outplayed us on both ends of the floor.”
Harlan missed their first four shots of the second period and turned the ball over twice as the Lady Jackets pulled within 17-10 on two free throws by Jamayha Poe and a Green basket.
“I think Elgie has one of the top Class A programs in our region. Him and Debbie do a good job getting those girls prepared,” Akal said. “Defensively is where we won the game. We had some lulls where we couldn’t score, but we did a good job of not letting them score until we got our offense on track.”
A Masie Charles steal led to a layup by Bianchi and Brock scored seven of her points as the Lady Dragons outscored MHS 13-3 over the final 3:40 of the half to take a 30-13 lead into the locker room.
Middlesboro used an 8-1 spurt that included a 3 by Amanda Biscardi and layups by Bailey Hensley and Green to close within 34-21 with 2:12 to play in the third quarter. But they couldn’t keep the momentum going.
“Harlan’s a physical team and some of my starters have to play so many minutes. We didn’t have a good start and as the game went on they just beat up on us and wore us down,” Green said. “Harlan didn’t make many mistakes and we made a lot. We turned the ball over in critical situations, made some silly passes, and we had trouble finishing free throws. You can’t stay in a ball game missing free throws and throwing the ball away. Plus, they hurt us on the boards. You put those things together and you’re not going to win a ball game.”
Bianchi hit two free throws, found Ledford for a basket after grabbing one offensive rebound, and then converted a three-point play following another offensive board to put the Lady Dragons up 41-21 after three quarters. Bianchi finished with 17 rebounds to go along with 13 points as Harlan enjoyed a 37-23 edge on the glass. The freshman center also blocked four shots, altered several others and registered two steals.
“Emma came in and did what we ask her to do, which is rebound the basketball. She went above and beyond that and did an excellent job on the boards and anchoring our defense down,” Akal said. “She was also able to put the ball in the hole some. I’m proud of her.”
The Lady Jackets were never able to get closer than 17 points in the fourth quarter and Harlan went on to win by 20.
Green led Middlesboro with 14 points and seven rebounds in the game while Hensley added eight points.
Ledford finished with 18 points and Brock 15 while playing through an ankle she had turned in Tuesday’s first round win over Jackson County.
“The thing about Jordan is she’s a competitor. She’s talented and athletic, we can talk about those things, but she’s a competitor,” Akal added. “The first thing she thought about in the dressing room after that game was, Can I play Thursday. She did everything she needed to do to get ready. She was probably about 70-percent, but she came out and hit some shots and got her mind off of that pain.”
Harlan (12-6) will play defending champion Pineville on Friday at 7 p.m. for the 13th Region All “A” championship. The Lady Mountain Lions upset Lynn Camp 52-50 in Thursday’s early semifinal.
“I was impressed by Pineville. I think they handle the ball well, they shoot the ball well and they compete,” said Akal. “I think it’s going to be a good game on Friday.”
Middlesboro (5-9) hosts South Laurel on Saturday.
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Harlan (55) — Jourdan Ledford 5-16 6-7 18, Jordan Brock 5-13 2-2 15, Emma Bianchi 5-8 3-3 13, Kaitlyn Jenkins 0-0 1-2 1, Masie Charles 0-1 0-0 0, Tori Mitchell 2-5 3-4 7, Mckenzie King 0-0 0-0 0, Katie King 0-0 0-0 0, Shanae Thomas 0-1 0-0 0, Leah Evans 0-0 1-2 1, Madelynn Henson 0-1 0-0 0, Bethany Day 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-45 16-20 55.
Middlesboro (35) — Blair Green 4-12 6-12 14, Bailey Hensley 1-5 6-10 8, Morgan Thompson 0-2 1-2 1, Amanda Biscardi 1-3 0-0 3, Hannah Warren 1-2 0-0 3, Lauren Spurlock 1-4 0-0 3, Malorie Carter 0-0 1-2 1, Jamayha Poe 0-1 2-4 2, Baylee Woody 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 8-29 16-30 35.