Despite having the youngest lineup in the 13th Region, the Harlan County Lady Bears capped a 20-win regular season by knocking off visiting Knox Central 64-49 on Friday.
After posting only 11 wins last year, the Lady Bears’ improvement has coach Debbie Green excited about their chances heading into tournament play next week.
“It was one of their goals, and I’m glad to see them get it,” Green said. “It was just good to get up and down the floor since this is only our second game in two weeks. I loved their energy. I think we’re playing well.”
Harlan County (20-7) still struggled with inconsistency, playing very well for several minutes followed by stretches where handling the ball is a problem. The Lady Bears had 22 turnovers against Knox Central, the same number as the Lady Panthers.
I think we try too hard sometimes,” Green said. “We turned the ball over, but it’s usually because we try to do too much.”
Sophomores Blair Green and Kaylea Gross continue to lead the Lady Bears as Green had 23 points and five rebounds while Gross added 16 points and eight rebounds.
“We weren’t as physical and aggressive as we should have been the first half,” Knox Central coach Wendi Messer said. “We’re getting better and getting the hang of team ball. They have two big strong girls, and we lack size. We tried to double down and keep two on the post at all times. It worked for the most part but those girls will get theirs. They are big and strong and work hard, but I think we did much better with them this time.”
Sophomore guard Maddie Pennington led the 8-14 Lady Panthers with 15 points. Senior guard Cassie Hale contributed nine.
Both Pennington and Hale came off the bench for Knox Central. The Lady Bears also had good play from the reserves, led by sophomore forward Lainey Cox with 10 points and four rebounds. Leah Evans, Hannah Gaw and Kate Evans also provided points off the bench.
“I thought our bench gave us a lift,” Green said. “I’m pleased with all of them. They just need to grow up a little, but they are excited and looking forward to Monday night.”
Harlan County dominated the first quarter by dominating the boards, outrebounding Knox Central 14-7, leading to 21 shots from the field in the quarter. Green and Gross led the Lady Bears early before Cox came off the bench to provide a boost with three field goals and three rebounds as HCHS built a 21-12 lead..
A Phebe McHargue 3-pointer highlighted a 5-0 run by Harlan County to start the second quarter as the Lady Panthers missed their first eight shots from the field and were held scoreless until Cassie Hale hit a 3-pointer with 3:10 left in the half. Hale had seven of KC’s nine points in the period as Harlan County built a 32-21 lead.
The HCHS lead alternated between 10 and 12 points through most of the third quarter. Robin Davis had a couple of baskets late in the period for the Lady Panthers as they cut the deficit to 46-36.
Knox Central got as close as eight, but Gross and Green helped Harlan County build its lead back to 15 before the reserves took over.
Harlan County will play defending 13th Region champ Bell County on Monday at 7:45 p.m. in the first round of the 52nd District Tournament at HCHS.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134