HINDMAN — Unable to muster the same kind of intensity they had in wins over Bell County and Johnson Central in the previous four days, the Harlan County Lady Bears watched their quest for the school’s first WYMT Mountain Classic title slip away with a 46-45 loss Wednesday to Knott Central, the tournament host and preseason 14th Region favorite.
The Lady Bears turned the ball over nine times in the opening quarter and 25 times in the game. They also watched loose balls and rebounds get away from them countless times, especially early in the game.
“I’m not making excuses, but our legs are gone,” Harlan County coach Debbie Green said. “We played Saturday night, then we drove over here Monday night and drove over here tonight. What you saw Monday and Saturday was a lot of energy. I think we have a lot of dead legs. Knott hasn’t played since last week, and they are a good team and did a lot of good things. We need a little bit of rest, and I’ve said that since Hilton Head.”
Unlike their previous two opponents, Knott Central focused a little less on guard Blair Green and a little more on center Kaylea Gross, who was limited to seven points after scoring 46 in the previous two games.
“They took a lot of our strengths away with their man to man, including Kaylea,” Green said. “They hurt us on offensive rebounds and in some other areas. They got the lead, and we had to play their game a little, then they hit their free throws down the stretch.”
Green led the Lady Bears with 21 points and was second to Gross in rebounding with six.
Freshman guard Jada Higgins scored 13 points and junior forward Hannah Hollifield added 10 to lead the 10-5 Lady Patriots
Despite their struggles on offense, Harlan County had chances to win the game and led by two going into the fourth quarter. The lead changed hands several time in the last period with the Lady Bears going ahead on a jumper by Breann Turner with 3:58 to play.
Holllifield hit two free throws and Higgins scored as Knott went up by three with 1:30 left. A basket by Gross cut the deficit to one, then she hit one of two at the line to tie the game at the 1:09 mark. Phebe McHargue also hit one of two at the line as HCHS went up 42-41 with 47.1 seconds to play. Kristen Waugh answered by scoring off a drive to the hoop seven seconds later.
After a Harlan County turnover, Higgins extended the lead to three with two free throws. When Rebecca Middleton missed a 3-pointer to tie, Higgins hit one of two at the line with 3.8 seconds to play. McHargue’s 3-pointer at the buzzer cut the deficit to one.
The Lady Bears came out flat and short on intensity as they turned the ball over five times in the first two minutes and watched rebounds and loose balls bounce away instead of going after them. Despite the problems, Harlan County was able to take a 10-9 lead at the end of the quarter with the help of four baskets by Green.
Harlan County fell behind by six midway through the second quarter but battled back again as Green scored eight straight points to tie the game and Middleton added a layup off a block by Gross to go up by two. Baskets by Gross and Turner gave the Lady Bears a 25-22 lead at halftime.
Knott Central moved back out to a five-point lead in the third quarter as HCHS went scoreless for almost four minutes. Two free throws by Middleton, followed by a 3-pointer and basket by Middleton put the Lady Bears on top 32-30 heading into the last period.
Harlan County’s depth took a hit earlier in the week as freshman guard K.K. Johnson, who had worked her way into the sixth-man role in several games, suffered a broken collarbone in the win Monday over Johnson Central. The Lady Bears also lost sophomore guard Noah Canady, who left the team.
Harlan County will play Harlan on Saturday at 3 p.m. in the third-place game.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134