CORBIN — With big-game experience unmatched by anyone in this year’s regional tournament field, the Harlan Lady Dragons did not appear at all concerned as they struggled through the first half of a 13th Region Tournament game Monday at Knox Central that featured 13 lead changes.
After overcoming slow stars to defeat Middlesboro and Harlan County in the 52nd District Tournament, the Lady Dragons found themselves in the same position late in the second quarter as Knox Central led by one after an Abby Mills basket with 4:55 left in the first half. Harlan held KC scoreless the rest of the half, taking a 25-21 lead at the break before pulling away in the second half for a 57-35 victory.
“We sat back in a zone and a man to man in the first half and weren’t very aggressive,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said. “We picked up our intensity in the second half and did a much better job, especially in limiting them on the offensive boards.”
Senior guard Brooklyn Massingill led a balanced attack for the 25-4 Lady Dragons with 18 points. Jordan Brock and Mackenzie King, both juniors, each scored 14 points.
Harlan limited the Lady Panthers to 25 percent (12 of 48) shooting as no one on the roster reached double figures in scoring. Sophomore forward Madison Hicks led Knox Central (9-16), the 51st District runner up, with eight points and 10 rebounds.
Hicks pulled Knox Central within two points on two occasions in the third quarter as the Lady Dragons continued to struggle offensively until midway through the period. Bianchi, who had two of Harlan’s four baskets in the second quarter, had two more field goals in the third period as the Lady Dragons began to pull away. Massingill and Taylor Simpson hit 3-pointers in the final 73 seconds as Harlan moved out to a 10-point lead, at 39-29.
Knox Central missed all 11 of its shots from the field in the fourth quarter while Harlan hit six of eight shots, led by two baskets each from Brock and Bianchi as the Lady Dragons’ lead grew to as many as 24 points.
Harlan will play North Laurel on Friday at 6:30 p.m. in the semifinals. North advanced with a 73-50 win over Corbin in last night’s first game as standout senior guard Kayla Bruner scored 30 to lead the Lady Jaguars. The Harlan-North Laurel game will match the region’s top two teams for most of the season.
“They have very good guard play. We have our work cut out for us,” Akal said. “We better be able to guard the 3. We have to play well to have a chance to beat them.”
In first-round action tonight, Harlan County (21-8) will play Clay County (16-13) at 6:30 and Pineville (22-7) will take on South Laurel (15-16) at 8 p.m.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134