LEXINGTON — Unlike last summer, when they caught everyone by surprise with a young team that had no seniors and low expectations, the Harlan County Black Bears were no longer an unknown quantity going into the Kentucky Basketball Summer State Tournament last week in Lexington.
The Bears made it back to the Elite 8 of the tourney with wins over Tates Creek, Mercer County and Lafayette before falling 71-64 to Scott County and Harlan County native Billy Hicks on Sunday afternoon in the quarterfinals. Harlan County led by seven after one quarter and by eight late in the second quarter but not overcome a cold spell in the third quarter that put them behind by 12 points.
Senior point guard Cameron Carmical had 20 points and eighth assists to lead the Bears. Treyce Spurlock and Tyrese Simmons each contributed 16 points, with Simmons also adding a team-high eight rebounds. David Turner scored four points. Drew Nolan and Alex Pace contributed three each. Andrew Creech chipped in with two.
Spurlock and Simmons were hot early as the Bears built an 18-11 lead. Scott pulled within five by the end of the period.
Spurlock’s four-point play started another run for the Bears in the second quarter that also featured two free throws each by Pace and Carmical, then 3-pointers from Pace and Carmical for a 34-26 lead.
Scott scored the final seven points of the the half, then outscored HCHS 20-9 in the third quarter to go ahead 53-43.
Back-to-back 3-pointers from Spurlock and a jumper by Simmons cut the deficit to 63-58 with 2:36 left. The Cardinals answered with a 9-0 run to put the game away.
Dunbar defeated Christian County, both state tournament teams last year, in the KBA finals. The final eight also included Southwestern, Pulaski County, Henry Clay and Pleasure Ridge Park.
Harlan County finished another strong summer with a 20-5 record, building on the success of last season when the Bears posted a 24-5 record with a second straight 52nd District Tournament championship and a trip to the region final four.
“I thought for the most part we played well this summer, and it gave us a chance to see the things we need to improve on for us to accomplish our goals for next season,” Harlan County coach Michael Jones said.
Senior guards Treyce Spurlock and Cameron Carmical, both ranked among the region’s top players, continued to lead the Bears on offense in most games, but athletic junior swingman Tyrese Simmons is becoming more of a force with his work on defense and on the boards. Senior center David Turner and junior guard Drew Nolan, also returning starters, added several big games.
Andrew Creech, a junior guard, returns as the Bears’ sixth man and provided a lot of energy on the defensive end. Sophomores Alex Pace and Gabe Price saw more varsity action this summer and should also help, along with junior guard Paul Stapleton, who was unable to play due to a knee injury suffered last season. Price and Pace were leaders on a junior varsity squad that also had a good summer, finishing 8-3-1.
“We got the chance to see how a couple of the younger kids would respond in varsity situations, and we like what we saw,” Jones said.
Harlan County lost only once to a 13th Region team this summer, falling in overtime at Corbin in the Tim Short Summer Shootout. Harlan County edged defending champ South Laurel 59-54 early in the summer at South Laurel, one of the few close games that HCHS played. Of the Bears’ 20 wins, 17 were by double digits.
Most observers look at the region as a four-team race next year with South Laurel, Corbin, HCHS and North Laurel as the favorites. Knox Central could also be a contender.
“We understand the expectations which will be put on our team next season, but expectations alone won’t win you district and regional championships,” Jones said. “We have a lot of work to do and certain things we have to get better at, but this group will be up to the challenge.”
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134