When the Lady Dragons Invitational, better known as the girls 13th Region All “A” Classic, opens Monday at Harlan, the seven visiting teams will be looking for a monumental upset in an effort to deny the Lady Dragons’ third straight trip to the All “A” Classic state tournament in Frankfort.
Harlan rolled past three opponents in last year’s tournament by an average of just under 36 points a game and will be a big favorite this year as the region’s top-ranked team overall (not just Class A) with a 13-2 record.
“We talk about being ready all the time. We know that any given night any team can be beat,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said. “We have to have our heads on straight and come out and compete no matter who it is.”
The Lady Dragons feature a more balanced attack than a year when junior guard Jordan Brock and senior guard Brooklyn Massingill were counted on to carry the offense. The two still lead in scoring with Brock averaging 18.7 points per game and Massingill averaging 17.2, but the Lady Dragons’ supporting cast continues to improve. Junior guard/forward Emma Bianchi is averaging 10.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Sophomore forward Mackenzie King is averaging 6.8 points per game and a team-high 7.1 rebounds. Senior center Katie King is averaging 2.3 points and 2.7 rebounds. Sophomore guard Taylor Simpson is providing a big lift off the bench, averaging 3.1 points.
“We want more balance. We can’t just rely on Jordan and Brooklyn to do all the scoring,” Akal said. “We’ve seen signs this year of being able to get points elsewhere, but those two still have to do their job, and part of their job is scoring.”
Harlan will open play in the tournament on Tuesday against Red Bird, which is 1-7 and the lowest-ranked team in the field. Bethany Austin leads the Lady Cards, averaging 7.5 points per game. Allison Smith averages 6.7 points per game.
Oneida Baptist, last year’s region runner up, will play Middlesboro at 6 p.m. on Tuesday in what should be the best first-round game. The Lady Jackets, at 9-5, have been the region’s most improved team after finishing 4-20 last year. Senior guards Bailey Hensley and Erica Gambrell have sparked the turnaround.
Oneida Baptist, at 5-5, bring back four starters from last year’s 16-13 team, led by senior guard Madison Kehler at 19.9 points per game and senior center Ashley Booher at 10.7 points and 9.9 rebounds.
The top bracket appears up for grabs with Pineville playing Barbourville in the opening game Monday at 6 p.m. and Lynn Camp taking on Williamsburg at 7:30.
Sophomore guard Jill Enix leads the Lady Lions, averaging 12.4 points per game. Balance has been a strength this year with Sophia Knuckles (7.4), Sarah Combs (7.2), Autumn Short (6.8), Shayne Raftery (6.5) and Morgan Thompson (5.8) all playing big roles in Pineville’s 9-4 start.
Barbourville, at 7-10, is also much improved after winning only two games last year. Sophomore forward Anna Daniels has led the Lady Tigers for the second straight season, averaging 17.4 points per game. Eighth-grade guard Abbagail Smith is scoring 7.5 points per game.
Guards Brooklyn Bryant (15.5 points per game), a junior, and Bradi Coe (11.4), a freshman, have led the Lady Cats, who bring a 7-7 record into the tournament.
Williamsburg has been much more competitive than its 2-7 record would indicate and features a young lineup led by junior center Sydney Tye, who averages 10.7 points and 12.9 rebounds per game. Guards Lillie Hall (11.8), Lillie Abbott (7.8) and Kayla Gibson (10.4) have also played key roles for the Lady Jackets.
The semifinals are set for 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Thursday with the finals slated for 7 p.m. Friday.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134