CORBIN — For a two-minute stretch of the second quarter Tuesday in the opening round of the 13th Region Tournament, Harlan senior guard Jordan Brock found the same zone she entered Friday in the fourth quarter of the 52nd District Tournament finals, when she hit seven straight shots in a 48-point explosion.
Brock hit four straight shots against Clay County, including three 3-pointers as Harlan built a 17-point halftime lead, an advantage that grew to 20 when Taylor Simpson opened the second half with a 3-pointer.
As it turned out, Harlan was fortunate to have that much breathing room as Clay battled back in the fourth quarter, getting as close as three points in the final minute before the Lady Dragons held on to win 47-42.
“We put them on the free throw line too much, then we got in their pace,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said. “We turned the ball over too much. I told them in a timeout that it’s tournament basketball. We’re not good enough to beat teams by 20-25 points. We took a break the third quarter, and that’s what happens.
“We made some 3-pointers the first half that we didn’t make the second. Then we decided that since we’re open we should take those 3s. I told them you can’t let them hold the ball for a minute and then take a shot after the first pass. I thought if we took care of the ball and moved it around we could have gotten better shots.”
The Lady Dragons hit nine of 23 3-point attempts, outscoring the Lady Tigers 27-0 from behind the line as Clay missed all 12 of its attempts. Clay also struggled at the free throw line, hitting only 12 of 23 attempts.
“We missed a lot of easy shots and a bunch of free throws,” Clay County coach James Burchell said. “That’s what happens sometimes when you get in the tournament. Sometimes you’re ready for it and sometimes you’re not. The first half we weren’t ready for it.”
Brock scored 20 to lead the 25-8 Lady Dragons but hit only two of nine shots in the second half as eighth-grader Taylor Asher provided pressure out of Clay’s box-and-chaser defense.
“They are hard to beat with a leader like Brock, but I thought we did a heck of a job on her,” Burchell said. “I think we got her a little frustrated the second half. We just couldn’t score.”
With Brock missing all three of her shots in the first quarter, the Lady Dragons were able to get off to a fast start without their leader scoring. Mackenzie King and Brandi Haywood each had baskets sandwiched around a 3-pointer by Noah Canady as Harlan raced to a 7-0 lead.
Clay got as close as three points with the help of two baskets by Kaylee Mathis, but King and Taylor Simpson closed the period with 3-pointers as Harlan built a 15-7 lead.
Brock carried the Harlan offense in the second quarter, accounting for four of five field goals as Harlan built a 31-14 lead. Clay hit only five of 19 shots in the opening half for 26 percent, while turning the ball over 11 times compared to only two for Harlan.
“We just didn’t play the first half — nerves, scared and youth, I guess,” Burchell said. “It wasn’t the same team that played North (Laurel in the 49th District finals). The second half was, but not the first half. We just got after them better the second half. We were shell shocked the first half.
“I have to give them credit for having the character to come back. They were almost blown out the first half. They could have quit.”
Led by four baskets from Mathis, who paced the 20-12 Lady Tigers with 25 points, Clay cut the deficit to 38-27 by the end of the third quarter.
The Lady Tigers went almost six minutes without a field goal in the fourth quarter but were able to pull within eight by hitting four of eight at the line. Harlan also missed all of its shots from the field until Simpson hit a 3-pointer with 3:09 left to extend the Lady Dragons’ lead to 42-31.
“I was laughing because that’s what she does,” Akal said. “I had just told them they didn’t have to take the first shot, but I guess it’s muscle memory. It was a big shot. At this point, it’s survive and advance, and we get to play Friday. We have to forget about the negatives tonight and move forward. We shot the ball well the first half, but the lead was kind of fool’s gold. Coach Burchell’s teams are always scrappers. You just don’t beat them by 20.”
Mathis scored the next seven points as Clay battled back to within six before Brock hit one of two at the line for a 45-40 lead with 39.9 seconds left. Another basket by Mathis pulled Clay within three before Brock put the game away at the line by hitting two shots.
Harlan will advance to play South Laurel in the semifinals on Friday.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134