A 2012 district championship loss to Middlesboro started a postseason slide that forced Harlan County to wait a year to for another shot at a title. The Harlan County Black Bears didn’t allow that opportunity to slip away again. Leading by just three at the half, Harlan County dominated the final 16 minutes to down Middlesboro 83-57 and capture the 52nd District title on Thursday.
“Our goal all year was to win battles. This was another battle. We lost a few of those during the year, but I know people that have lost several games going into the tournament and then they played good at the right time,” said Harlan County coach Mike Jones. “We just have to carry this over through practice and get ready for Monday or Tuesday night.”
The top-seeded Black Bears outscored the Yellow Jackets 49-26 in the final two quarter to blow open a close game at the half. Aaron Caldwell took over in the second half. The senior forward scored all of his 17 points in the third and fourth quarters to power Harlan County.
After a Zack Riddle layup to opened the third quarter Middlesboro trailed by just one. However, Alex Sergent drained a 3-pointer to start a 10-2 Harlan County run that stretched the lead to nine. Michael Wilson made it an eight point game with a basket with just over two minutes remaining in the period, but Caldwell closed with four straight points to make it 59-47.
Harlan County didn’t allow the Jackets to mount any form of comeback in the fourth quarter. The Bears opened the final period on an 18-4 run to take control. Caldwell had 11 points in the fourth quarter, while sophomore forward Tyler Miller grabbed six rebounds.
“We did a better job of finishing shots around the basket in the second half. You have to give Middlesboro a lot of credit though. They shot the ball well early and really went to the boards good,” Jones said.
Middlesboro went a dismal 3-for-22 from the free throw line in the second half.
“The free throw situation started in the third quarter. When you miss over 20 free throws it is going to be hard to compete in any tournament, much less a championship game against a team the caliber of Harlan County,” said Middlesboro coach Russell Thompson.
Harlan County forced the Jackets into seven turnovers in the first quarter as they jumped out to an eight-point lead. Senior Chad Massingill attacked the basket throughout the first half. Massingill had four baskets and nine of his 17 points in the opening period.
“That was crucial for us, especially in the first half. He got to the basket real well and got the ball down on the baseline. Our other kids started doing that a little bit better in the second half,” Jones said.
Massingill’s last basket gave Harlan County a 10-point lead, but Middlesboro responded with three free throws to get back within single-digits. After a Massingill free throw, Donnie Foister drained a 3-pointer to make it 20-12. James Bond answered with a trey on the opposite end to close the scoring with 40 seconds left.
It was the Black Bears turning the ball over in the second quarter. Harlan County gave it away seven times as Middlesboro closed the gap. Blake Davis hit a pair of 3-pointers in the period to power the comeback. A three-point play from Wilson reduced the deficit one, but sophomore Cody Bumgardner gave Harlan County a 34-31 halftime lead with a pair of free throws with 12 seconds left.
“We were right there in the ball game. It was a one possession game at the half. We executed the game-plan well up to that point, but we just hit a lull there where we missed five out of six at the free throw line and they scored nine straight points,” Thompson said. “When we lose we never lose pretty. It usually ends with a score that doesn’t represent how the game was played for three and a half quarters.”
Massingill turned in 34 points in two games to capture tournament most valuable player honors. Joining him on the all-tournament team were: Harlan County — Tyler Brewer, Alex Sergent, Tyler Miller and Aaron Caldwell; Harlan — Isaiah Johnson and Drew Parks; Middlesboro — Michael Wilson, Zack Riddle, Austin Poindexter, and Blake Davis; Bell County — Jake Patterson and Tyler Potter.
Harlan County (23-7) will face a district runner-up in the first round of next week’s 13th Region Tournament. Middlesboro (15-13) will open the tournament against a district champion.
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Harlan County (83) — Tyler Brewer 9, Alex Sergent 16, Chad Massingill 17, Aaron Caldwell 17, Tyler Miller 13, Cody Bumgardner 6, Zach Caldwell 0, James Bond 3, Fred Massey 2, Zack Wilson 0, Trey Sanders 0.
Middlesboro (57) — Michael Wilson 14, Donnie Foister 16, Derek Smith 0, Zack Riddle 6, Boone Bowling 3, Austin Poindexter 8, Blake Davis 9, Major Edwards 1, Seth Barton 0, Brandon Hale 0, Matthew Mike 0, Abishek Singh 0.