The Bell County Lady Cats played well enough to pull off an upset in Tuesday’s 52nd District championship match, but a few close calls went against them and Harlan County came up with the key plays they needed bring home their second straight district title. The Lady Bears pulled out a very competitive 25-19, 25-23, 25-19 win.
“A few calls could have made a huge difference. I told our captain she has to be one to go and argue those calls instead of looking at me,” Lady Cat coach Amber Hinkle said. “We had several miscues on balls in the net and a couple where we were just looking at the ball instead of going after it. I’ve told them all year, when you quit talking you lose points, and that was proven tonight.”
Bell started out strong and jumped out to a 6-2 lead in the first set behind four service points from senior Caitlyn Zachery. Harlan County senior Whitney Stevens ripped an ace to start a run of five straight points that put the Lady Bears up 8-6.
A Katelyn Reynolds kill extended the lead to 10-7 before the Lady Cats were called for a net violation and then hit two balls into the net as the lead grew to 14-7 with Lauren Lee serving.
Bell County got two kills from Danielle Parks and one from Katie Jarvis to cut the lead to 16-12 but the Lady Cats weren’t able to get closer than four points. Jarvis later got a kill to fall in on the back line to make it 22-18, but Reynolds answered by pushing a set over the net for a point and the Lady Bears went on to take the set 25-19.
Reynolds had six kills in the set and did a lot of her damage on gentle taps instead of hard spikes in the set.
“The girls came out real strong. They always seem to get the energy to come back. I am just so proud of them. They have worked hard together,” said Harlan County coach Donna Vicini. “They are one of the best groups I have had that works as a team. They have done a tremendous job.”
The Lady Cats took advantage of a Harlan County service error to open the second set as Zachery delivered a pair of kills along the left sideline with Gibson serving to put Bell up 3-0. A Parks block made it 5-3 and a kill from Jarvis gave the Lady Cats a 7-4 advantage.
Reynolds stopped Bell’s momentum with a hard kill and then added two aces during a 7-0 run that put the Lady Bears on top 11-7. The Lady Cats were called for another net violation during that kept that spurt alive.
Three straight service errors by the Lady Cats helped the Harlan County lead grow to 19-11 before a block from Parks got Bell back in gear.
Senior Courtney Cinnamon made several outstanding digs off of Lady Bear spikes to keep the next a lot of points alive. Grace Barnett had three kills and Parks and Jarvis added on each during an 11-1 run that saw the Lady Cats grab a 22-20 lead.
“She’s got to move her feet and keep after those balls. It’s a toss-up between her and Morgan (Mills), who can move the quickest on those digs,” Hinkle said of Cinnamon. “There were several times that she came through for us and those are what counts. One of my big things is getting both feet in front of the ball instead of one-arming it and throwing the ball up.”
“They really had to come back in the second set. Bell County came at them hard,” Vicini said. “One thing about this team is they don’t get down very often. They stay up, and that is how you win a game.”
The Lady Cats jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the third set and later rallied to take a 14-13 lead on a kill from Cinnamon. Steven answered with a kill for the Lady Bears, but a Harlan County service error and a service point from Parks had Bell on top 16-14.
Reynold delivered another change-of-pace kill to bring Lee up to serve with the score 16-15. The senior came through with five service points, including an ace, and Brittany Clem’s kill put the Lady Bears up 20-16.
Stevens, Reynolds and Harris all had one kill each as Harlan County went on to take the final set 25-19.
Reynolds finished with a match-high nine kills while Stevens added four. Those two combined for 19 service points and four aces in the match. Lee added 12 service points for the Lady Bears.
Parks led the Lady Cats with eight kills and four blocks to go along with nine service points. Zachery had eight service points and five kills while Jarvis and Barnett finished with four kills apiece.
Stevens earned 52nd District Tournament Most Valuable Player honors. She was joined on the all-tournament team by Charleigh Mefford, Harris, Clem, Reynolds and Lee.
Bell County was represented on the team by Parks, Gibson, Zachery and Morgan Mills. Rounding out the team were Middlesboro’s Karrah Hart and Candice Bruce and Harlan’s Danielle Miller and Paige Woodsby.
Both Harlan County (19-8) and Bell County (13-15) will return to action Saturday in the 13th Region Tournament at Jackson County.