With three straight wins coming into Tuesday’s district clash at Harlan, the Middlesboro Lady Jackets could make a case for being one of the 13th Region’s most improved teams, at least during the early part of the 2015-2016 season.
Being improved, however, didn’t mean the Lady Jackets were ready to knock off 13th Region favorite Harlan.
Harlan, the region runner-up each of the past two seasons, buried the Lady Jackets early with a combination of pressure on the defensive end and the ability to finish on the offensive side out of their fast break. The Lady Dragons scored 29 points in the first quarter and 49 in the first half, starting a running clock for the entire second half on the way to a 68-33 win.
“They are a heck of a ball club,” Middlesboro coach Ron Edwards said. “The first half I think we were a little bit intimidated and a little shell shocked. We did some nice things the second half. We’re a year into the system, and I think the girls are starting to believe in us a little. I knew this game would show us some things we need to work on.”
The 3-0 Lady Dragons moved the ball around well all night and placed four in double figures, led by senior guard Brooklyn Massingill and junior forward Emma Bianchi with 19 points. Jordan Brock scored 12 and Mackenzie King added 11.
“We did a better job in transition,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said. “We didn’t have to run much offense because we pushed the ball.”
Harlan was on fire early, turning turnovers into points on the way to scoring the game’s first 12 points a little over two minutes into the game. Massingill hit two free throws and a 3-pointer to start the run. Bianchi scored off a Brock steal and pass, then Katie King scored inside and Bianchi drained a 3-pointer.
Middlesboro turned the ball over 11 times in the opening period as Harlan extended its lead to 29-10. Brock had a three-point play and Massingill hit her second trey to close the quarter.
The Lady Jackets cut their turnovers to five in the second quarter but hit only one of nine shots from the field as Harlan pushed its advantage to 49-14. Brock and Mackenzie King each had two baskets in the period.
The Middlesboro offense showed drastic improvement in the third quarter as the Lady Jackets hit six of 10 shots, led by two baskets each from Baylie Brunsma and Malorie Carter, to outscore Harlan 16-14.
Both offenses struggled in a fourth quarter dominated by reserves as each hit one of four shots from the field and combined for eight points.
Harlan returns to action Friday at home against defending 14th Region champ Letcher Central. Middlesboro travels to Harlan County on Friday for a girls/boys doubleheader.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134