Predictions and reality don’t always match when it comes to high school basketball.
Harlan, the 13th Region runner up the past two years, was supposed to take over for Bell County as the region’s No. 1 team with Bell losing Miss Basketball Maci Morris to the University of Kentucky and Harlan bringing back most of its key players.
The Lady Dragons certainly looked like the top team with four wins to start the season, but they had yet to face the defending champs, at least until Tuesday at Harlan when they did what they could to earn the top ranking on the court with a 55-45 victory.
“It’s big for us that we’re 2-0 in the district, but I know the girls looked at it as a big game since it was Bell County,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said. “It’s so early in the season to play this game, but it was good to beat them.
“Once you win like Bell County has won the past few years, I don’t care who is here and who’s not, they expect to win every time they play. I told our girls it would be a dogfight because we hadn’t been in this position against them. I thought they played an excellent game.”
Harlan (5-0) had a big game defensively against the struggling Bell offense. The Lady Cats were limited to one basket in each the second and third quarters as Harlan built a 16-point lead before a late Bell rally.
“I was pleased with our defense the first three quarters,” Akal said. “We talked before the game that we had to shore up some things defensively because it’s going to take some time for our offense. I think we’ll see an improvement the next four or five games.”
“Our big thing is scoring right now,” Bell County coach David Teague said. “The fight is there. The grit is there. We just have to do a better job of taking care of the basketball. We also have to finish shots.”
Guards Brooklyn Massingill, a senior, and Jordan Brock, a junior, scored 14 points each to lead the Lady Dragons.
Bell County (3-2) was led by senior guard Katrina Johnson with 19 points and senior center Zoe Taylor with 14.
Taylor was a matchup problem late in the game as she had three baskets and six rebounds in the fourth quarter to help Bell got as close as seven in the final minute on a 3-pointer by Johnson. Massingill and Brock teamed to hit three of six at the free throw line to put the game away.
Harlan forced Bell into six first-quarter turnovers in building a 16-10 lead, hitting seven of nine shots from the field in the process, led by Brock and Mackenzie King with two each.
The Lady Cats trailed by only two after a Johnson putback with 2:11 left, but they didn’t score again for over six minutes as Harlan stretched its advantage to 11 on a layup by Emma Bianchi and 3-pointer by Taylor Simpson. Alex Brock broke the drought with a 3-pointer at the 3:33 mark, but it was the only field goal of the quarter for Bell as Harlan built a 27-14 advantage at the break.
Harlan will face another tough test on Thursday at Harlan County, the region’s third-ranked team in the preseason. The game will start at 6 as the first of a girls/boys doubleheader.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134