MANCHESTER — With no starters back from last season’s regional runner-up squad, it would be easy to classify Harlan County’s 64-57 loss at 13th Region favorite Clay County as a moral victory. That designation likely won’t come from the Black Bears.
“There are no moral victories. I told them before they left this gym they would hear that. If they accept that then we are in trouble,” said Harlan County coach Mike Jones. “They had better be mad because we didn’t finish it. They had the game at hand and they didn’t finish it.”
Harlan County never trailed in the first half. The Black Bears jumped out to an early lead thanks in large part to success from beyond the arc. Sophomore Zach Caldwell drained three 3-pointers in the first quarter. Junior guard Trey Sanders added two treys as the Bears led 17-12.
Clay opened the second quarter on a 6-1 run to tie the game at 18. North Laurel transfer Jake Allen started the rally with a pair of free throws. Allen led the Tigers with six points in the period. Harlan County answered by scoring nine of the next 13 points to regain the lead. Clay again closed the gap down the stretch. Freshman Cameron Carmical kept the Bears in front with four points in the final two minutes to put Harlan County up 33-31 at the half. Carmical and Caldwell both finished with 11 points to pace the Bears.
The Tigers outscored Harlan County 20-10 in the decisive third quarter.
Senior point guard Tyler McDaniel turned in nine of his 11 points in the period. McDaniel scored six of Clay’s final nine points in the third quarter as the Tigers’ lead grew to 51-43. Harlan County managed just two made baskets from the floor during the stretch.
“We came out in the third quarter the way I was afraid we would start the game. I had to call a quick timeout just to try to wake them up, and I don’t understand that,” Jones said.
The Black Bears fought back in the fourth quarter, but Clay held on to the lead. Freshman Treyce Spurlock drained a 3-pointer with 2:53 remaining to reduce the deficit to four, but Harlan County was unable to get closer than that. Clay County’s Blake Smith had six of his game-high 14 points in the final period.
“We got after them a little bit better in the fourth quarter,” Jones said. “Our kids are going to get better. We are the type of team that’s going to get better.”
Harlan County (5-1) returns to action Friday against Madison Southern in the Berea Holiday Classic. Clay County (6-0) will face Breathitt County at Leslie County in the Hyden Citizens Bank Classic.
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Harlan County improved to 5-0 with a 43-38 victory in the junior varsity contest.
Carmical led the way with 12 points. David Turner recorded 11 points. Spurlock contributed eight points. Jared Sizemore had seven points. Josh Lee tallied four points, while Tommy North added one point.
Freshman guard Trevor Sams scored 16 to lead Clay (2-2).
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Clay County (64) — Tyler McDaniel 11, Blake Smith 14, Trey Farmer 8, Wes Wolfe 13, Jake Allen 12, Ryan House 6, Trevor Sams 0.
Harlan County (57) — Cody Bumgardner 9, Trey Sanders 10, Zach Caldwell 11, Scotty Bailey 5, Fred Massey 4, Treyce Spurlock 5, Cameron Carmical 11.