HINDMAN — Maci Morris and Jess Sanders are gone and Kelli Smith is injured, but the Bell County Lady Cats are still the defending champions of the 13th Region, 52nd District and the WYMT Mountain Classic.
The Lady Cats issued a reminder Tuesday in the WYMT tourney to anyone writing them off this season with a 38-32 win over Harlan, the region’s top-ranked team.
“We’ve played well at times and not played well at times. I hope this is the one that gets us going,” Bell County coach David Teague said.
For Harlan, it was the second straight off night on offense after looking unbeatable last week in a 38-point rout of 15th Region favorite Shelby Valley.
The Lady Dragons were bad offensively in a win over Breathitt County on Monday and were even worse Tuesday. The Lady Dragons shot only 24 percent (12 of 50) from the field and missed 14 of 18 from beyond the 3-point line as Bell’s triangle-and-two accomplished what others are sure to try by taking the ball out of the hands of stars Jordan Brock and Brooklyn Massingill.
“It started last night. We didn’t have a rhythm against Breathitt County,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said. “When you’re 13-1, you think you can just show up. We’re facing a little adversity now. We’ll see where we go from here.”
Brock hit only two of 11 shots from the field and finished with eight points. Massingill hit two of nine shots and was held to five points.
“Bell County played excellent defense. They held us below 40 points, and I take the blame for that,” Akal said. “They had the triangle-and-two, and I really didn’t have an answer for it. It’s kind of hard to draw up stuff on the board when you haven’t worked on it. I kind of blame myself for that. I thought our defense was good, too. We just had problems on offense.”
“Jordan and Brooklyn are obviously good scorers and shooters, and we wanted to make them work for everything,” Teague said. “We throwed some different looks at them, and I thought our kids fought.”
Sophomore center Mackenzie King led the 13-2 Lady Dragons with 10 points, even taking over for Brock and Massingill as the best 3-point shooter with two of Harlan’s four on the night.
Bell (9-4) also struggled offensively and turned the ball over 19 times. Senior center Zoe Taylor was the only consistent threat for ther Lady Cats with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
“I kept telling my assistants if we could get some baskets to go we could extend the lead, but they were missing shots as well,” Teague said.
Harlan scored the game’s first six points on baskets by King, Massingill and Brock as Bell turned the ball over on its first four possessions.
The Lady Dragons cooled off after the first start and Bell battled back, eventually taking the lead at 11-10 on a 3-pointer by Bethany Miracle. Brock’s two free throws to close the period put Harlan up by one.
Taylor and Miracle scored to open the second quarter as Bell went up 15-12. Bianchi’s 3-pointer tied the game but it was the only basket for Harlan in the first five minutes of the period. Harlan didn’t score again until Brock’s jumper in the closing seconds of the quarter put Harlan up 17-16 at the break.
The Lady Dragons missed eight of 10 shots in the quarter. Bell missed two of four, due in large part to eight turnovers in the period.
Two straight baskets by Taylor to open the third quarter gave Bell a three-point lead. King had the only two baskets of the final three minutes of the period, including a 3-pointer to close the quarter to put Harlan back up by one, at 24-23.
Harlan built a four-point lead on another 3-pointer by King, but a basket by Brock and two free throws by Taylor gave the Lady Cats a 31-29 lead with 4:58 to play.
Each team took turns at shooting and missing 3-pointers as the Bell lead was at one when Akal called a timeout with 2:14 left. Brock, Massingill, Bianchi and Taylor Simpson each missed shots in the final two minutes as the Lady Cats scored the game’s final seven points.
Harlan will play tonight’s Harlan County-Knott Central loser on Saturday afternoon for third place in the tournament.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134