Coming off of a pair of one-point losses to Corbin and Somerset, the Harlan County Lady Bears got back on track with a 38-36 victory over visiting Whitley County on Wednesday.
“We felt like we had both of those games at hand and let them slip away. Those were two good teams on the road and we were not 100 percent. I did see some positives with some people stepping up with experience, and I think that translated over to tonight,” said Harlan County coach Anthony Nolan. “Our job now is to get to 100 percent before tournament time.”
Sarah Evans quickly made her presence felt after missing the last two games with a leg injury. Evans scored the game’s first two baskets as Harlan County went up 4-0. A putback from Lauren Lee made it 6-2, but Whitley closed the period with a pair of baskets to tie the game at 6. Evans finished with eight points and four rebounds in limited action.
“We are just trying to spot her in and judge how she is going from one game and practice to the next. We want to build her stamina back up and see how effective she can be,” Nolan said.
Whitley County continued to struggle against the Harlan County defense in the second quarter. The Lady Bears limited Whitley to just two baskets from the field and five points in the period to build an 18-11 lead at the half. Freshman Brooklyn Massingill and junior Lauren Lee each had a 3-pointer in the quarter to power Harlan County on the offensive end.
“We have to be able to guard, because it is going to come down to possessions in tournament time,” Nolan said. “I was most proud tonight of the 50/50 balls. We got extra possessions with our rebounding.”
The Lady Bears turned in another solid defensive performance in the third quarter, while Massingill began to heat up on the offensive end. Massingill hit four shots, including another trey, in the third as the lead grew to 31-18. Evans added a pair of baskets in the paint to round out the scoring in the period. Massingill finished with 17 points to pace the Lady Bears.
“We passed up some shots in the second half that we should have took. If you have an open shot take it. You can’t be afraid to miss, otherwise you will never make one. She passed up a couple of shots that she should have taken,” Nolan said.
The Lady Colonels chipped away at the lead throughout the fourth quarter. After a pair of free throws from Madison Cornett gave Harlan County a 15-point lead, Whitley responded with a 15-2 run that reduced the deficit to two. Maria Johnson had eight points, including a pair of treys to power the rally.
Lee stopped the slide with a pair of free throws with 27 seconds remaining to push the Lady Bears’ lead back to four. Massingill rebounded a miss on Whitley’s next possession and hit one-of-two from the line to make it a five-point game with five seconds left. Johnson then hit another trey as time expired to close the scoring.
“They started hitting some deep shots there. They are a good team. Johnson is a good shooter. We didn’t close out fast enough,” Nolan said. “Once again, I thought we started to relax once we got a lead. We tightened up in the fourth quarter, and I think that was the biggest thing. It gave them too many runouts, instead of closing the plays off on the offensive end.”
Harlan County (23-5) returns to action Friday at home in the regular season finale against Knox Central. Whitley County (18-8) closes the season at Bell County on Friday.
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Lindsay Branson had 11 points to lead Harlan County past Whitley 34-30 in the junior varsity contest. Becky Freeman recorded seven points for the Lady Bears. Lauren Smith contributed six points. Bridgette Bennett and Mackenzie Farley each had four points, and Kaitlin Evans added two points.
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Harlan County (38) —Kaitlyn Stittums 2, Brooklyn Massingill 17, Lauren Lee 7, Madison Cornett 2, Sarah Evans 8, Keisha Mimes 2, Bella Noe 0, Shauntae Lewis 0.
Whitley County (36) —Taylor Dingess 7, Hallie Jones 2, Maria Johnson 17, Savanna Sizemore 0, Sabrina Sizemore 0, Kandace Craig 4, Sierra Feltner 2, Bethany Powers 0, Madie Centers.