Bell County’s Lady Cats dodged a bullet at the end of regulation and then dominated in overtime to escape with a 64-58 win over Harlan County in 52nd District action on Friday.
Junior guard Jess Sanders led Bell County with 22 points while senior Morgan Garnett added 15. Maci Morris saved her best for late, scoring nine of her 11 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. The Lady Cats also got nine points from Katrina Johnson and seven from Kelli Smith in the win.
“I was proud of the way my kids battled. That’s the thing we had talked about the last few days in practice, bringing that toughness. I didn’t feel like the last couple of games we had played with that toughness that we needed, (Friday) night we did,” Lady Cat coach David Teague said.
Harlan County was led by Bella Noe’s 16 points while Shannon Shackleford finished with 13 and Brooklyn Massengill 12.
“It didn’t matter if they played two minutes or the whole game, I was proud of every girl. That was a very good team win,” Teague added. “They battled down inside, trying to rebound. Morgan Garnett did a real good job on Massengill, it was just a good team effort.”
Noe opened the scoring with a jumper, but the Lady Cats responded by scoring the next eight points and were able to maintain a lead for most of the game. A basket from Smith and a 3-pointer from Garnett late in the third period put Bell County up 41-36.
The Lady Bears got baskets from Lauren Lee and Noe early in the fourth quarter and Shackleford converted a three-point play after grabbing an offensive rebound to put Harlan County on top 45-43 with 5:21 to play in regulation.
The lead was three points when Johnson drew a foul with 1:25 to go in the fourth. She made the first free throw, missed the second, but stormed down the lane to get the rebound. Johnson missed inside, but Garnett came up with another big offensive rebound and scored to tie the game at 50.
After Bell County forced a turnover Sanders got behind the Lady Bear defense and took a deep in-bounds pass from Morris in for layup. Noe and Morris exchanged two free throws so the Lady Cats lead was 54-52 with 46 seconds to play. A Smith deflection led to a steal and Sanders was fouled with 11.4 seconds to go. She missed the front end of the bonus so Harlan County had one last chance in regulation.
Noe’s jumper was off the mark, but Shackleford was there for a putback at the buzzer and was fouled. With no time on the clock she went to the line alone with a chance to win it, but her free throw caught just bit too much of the right iron and the game went in to overtime.
“We had opportunities to win it in regulation and so did they. We just happened to battle through and won it at the end,” Teague said. “I had never been involved in one like that where a kid had a chance to win it with a free throw (with no time on the clock). That’s got to be a tough situation for any kid. I thought Shackleford played very well down inside rebounding the ball and scoring. We caught a break there, that’s the way it goes sometimes. I was just proud of the kids for battling in overtime and being able to pull one out.”
Harlan County missed three more free throws on their first two possessions of the extra frame. Morris drove the lane for a basket with 3:35 to play and the Lady Cats never gave up the lead. Sanders hit two free throws and Morris answered a Noe basket with one of her own.
From there Bell County forced three turnovers as they went on to the 6-point win.
“We kind of changed it up a little bit when they lost a couple of kids (to fouls) towards the end. We were putting some pressure up on their guards and trying to keep the ball out of Massengill’s hands. I think that was the difference down the stretch,” Teague said.
Morris had picked up her second foul late in the first quarter and sat out the rest of the first half. Sanders picked up the scoring slack in the second quarter when she scored ten of her game-high 22 points. She hit three 3-pointers in the period and all of them came when the Lady Bears had cut the lead to two.
Good defense from Noe and Kaitlyn Stittums kept Morris from getting into a rhythm in the third, but Garnett scored nine of her 15 points in that quarter as the Lady Cats kept their lead up to five.
Garnett hit three of her seven 3-point attempts in the game and Sanders was a very efficient 7-of-8 from the field, including 3-of-4 from long range.
“When she shows up and plays at that level it takes our basketball team to a whole other level. That gives us another option and another scoring threat,” Teague said. “Jess, that was probably as well as she’s played this year. The last few games I haven’t started her, but I felt like she had played well enough in practice to get that back. I was pleased with her, she stepped up big for us.”
Both teams return to action on Monday in the WYMT Mountain Classic at Knott Central. Harlan County (11-3, 1-1 in district play) takes on Magoffin County at 6:30 p.m. while Bell County (9-3, 2-0) plays Leslie County at 8:15 p.m.
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HALAN COUNTY (58) — Bella Noe 16, Brooklyn Massengill 12, Shannon Shackleford 13, Lauren Lee 8, Kaitlyn Stittums 4, Lindsay Branson 5, Kaylea Gross 0, Bridgett Bennett 0, Lauren Smith 0.
BELL COUNTY (64) — Jess Sanders 22, Morgan Garnett 15, Kelli Smith 7, Maci Morris 11, Katrina Johnson 9, Sarah Collins 0, Kaitlyn Taylor 0, Allison Howard 0.