After years of frustration against 13th Region power Clay County, the Harlan County Lady Bears cleared one of the program’s final hurdles on Saturday. Harlan County outlasted the Lady Tigers 59-49 in overtime to pick up its first win over the four-time defending regional champions.
“I think this win shows the toughness of our kids. Clay County is a great program and have had a wonderful run. They are still going to be a huge obstacle for every team in the 13th Region to overcome,” said Harlan County coach Anthony Nolan.
Harlan County led by as many as 10 in the third quarter, before the Lady Tigers mounted a comeback. A free throw from Kaitlyn Stittums gave the Lady Bears their largest lead at 38-28 with 1:15 remaining in the third, but Cheyenne Madden scored with 32 seconds left in the period to reduce the deficit to eight.
The Lady Tigers continued to climb back in the fourth quarter. Clay went into the post throughout the period, with Madden and Morgan Chesnut combining for nine points. A pair of free throws from Bella Noe gave Harlan County a 44-40 lead with 3:18 left, but the Lady Bears were held scoreless for the rest of regulation. Madden cut the deficit to two with a putback and Chesnut tied the game with a pair of free throws with 2:20 remaining.
Kaitlyn Stittums put the Lady Bears up in overtime with a basket, but Ajaycia Cotton responded with a trey to give the Lady Tigers a one-point lead. It was all Harlan County from that point. The Lady Bears outscored Clay 13-2 the rest of the way to pull away for the win.
“We battled and battled and ended up taking the lead, but then we started playing soft. We were playing not to lose instead of playing to win,” Nolan said. “Once we got in overtime I think the kids really played to win.”
Stittums had seven points in the extra period to power Harlan County.
“Kaitlyn played huge — especially in overtime. Before we went into overtime I told them we had the lead and did everything we could to let them win, and if we wanted to win we had to just go out there and play,” Nolan said. “I could tell that she wanted the ball, and she has to want it like that from tip to finish.”
Brooklyn Massingill had nine of her game-high 18 points in the first quarter to lift the Lady Bears to a 13-11 lead. With Massingill on the bench due to foul trouble, Stittums tossed in four points in the second quarter as the Lady Bears extended their lead to 28-23.
Harlan County forced six turnovers in the third quarter to build a double-digit lead. Massingill had five more points in the period.
Harlan County (17-1) returns to action Monday at Hazard, while Clay County (11-3) will host Rockcastle County.
Harlan County (59) — Kaitlyn Stittums 15, Brooklyn Massingill 18, Lauren Lee 8, Madison Cornett 0, Sarah Evans 8, Keisha Mimes 4, Bella Noe 6.
Clay County (49) — TaLaura Mathis 8, Ajaycia Cotton 6, Sara Robinson 15, Cheyenne Madden 8, Morgan Chesnut 10, Briana Smith 2.