With the attention that Blair Green and Kaylea Gross have received the past two seasons, the other Harlan County Lady Bears are often overlooked.
Freshman guards Phebe McHargue and Reanna Middleton introduced themselves to the rest of the 13th Region on Monday in the opening round of the 52nd District Tournament, teaming for 26 points to help the Lady Bears knock off Bell County, the defending 13th Region and three-time defending 52nd District champions 56-51.
“We had young kids, babies out there who hit some big shots,” Harlan County coach Debbie Green said. “Reanna played great, and Phebe played great. Kaylea hit a big shot late in the game, and Blair hit her free throws and drew a lot of attention, which helped. I thought we were more patient and took care of the ball.”
McHargue hit all four of her shots from the field in the second half, including three 3-pointers, and hit three of four at the line for 14 points. Middleton, with 12 points, added a basket in the fourth quarter and hit four of four at the line, including two to clinch the win after grabbing a huge offensive rebound with nine seconds left.
The more established HCHS stars also played big roles as Gross had 10 points while battling foul problems, and Green contributed 18 points and eight rebounds, both team highs, as University of Kentucky assistant coach Camron Whitaker watched from the stands at HCHS.
“I also thought our bench was good,” Green said. “Kate (Evans), Leah (Evans), Lainey (Cox) and Morgan (Napier) came in and helped us and didn’t give anything up.”
Harlan County (21-7) hit all four of its shots from the field in the fourth quarter and connected on 12 of 14 at the free throw line.
“We wanted to slow down and get a good shot. I thought they played good defense,” Green said. Even though we didn’t get as much out of our press as we wanted to, we tried to wear people down. They only played seven kids. I thought i may have been a little bit of a factor at the end.”
The Lady Bears outrebounded Bell 8-3 and got five more shots, but hit only four of 13 from the field as Bell took a 12-11 lead with the help of 3-pointers by Allison Howard and Alex Brock.
Bell’s lead grew to 23-20 by halftime despite hitting only six of 17 shots. Katrina Johnson and Brock each hit 3-pointers.
McHargue heated up in the third quarter, hitting all three of her shots, including a 3 that she banked in to beat the buzzer and put the Lady Bears up 35-34. Gross also had two baskets as HCHS started to find some success inside.
The Lady Bears’ defense also improved after switching to a man-to-man. Bell hit only three of 10 shots in the period, compared to a six-of-12 effort from Harlan County.
Johnson, one of four Bell seniors playing their last game, scored 19 to lead the Lady Cats. Junior guard Caleigh Collett contributed 10 points.
Bell County ended the season and 17-10, and coach David Teague was pleased with the Lady Cats’ season after losing Miss Basketball Maci Morris, along with point guard Jessica Sanders.
“Overall, we had a really good year. We had a lot of good wins and did a lot of good things,” Teague said. “We lost two great players and battled through injuries this year. They were asked to take on new roles, and I’m tickled to death the way they grew as a team and grew as players. I’m proud of them.”
“I thought Bell’s kids played hard,” Green said. “They have seniors who really didn’t want to lose and have won three straight district tournaments. They played hard to the end.”
Harlan County will play Harlan on Thursday at 7 p.m. in the district finals. Both teams will advance to the 13th Region Tournament next week at The Arena in Corbin.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134