HINDMAN —Bell County opened with a strong defensive effort, then got their offense rolling as the Lady Cats pulled away for a 67-43 win over Leslie County in the first round of the WYMT Mountain Classic at Knott Central on Wednesday.
“That was a very good team effort for us. I feel like that may be as complete of a game as we’ve played all year long,” Bell coach David Teague said. “We played really well defensively for the most part, we tried to rebound the ball, we moved the ball in our half-court offense and I liked that we were patient. When we do those types of things and our shots start falling, we’re hard to guard.”
Junior guard Maci Morris put on a show for the live television audience. She finished with 26 points on 12-of-18 shooting to go along with ten rebounds and seven assists in the win. The Lady Cats also got 11 points and ten boards from Kelli Smith and eight points each from Katrina Johnson and Jess Sanders.
Katie Moore led Leslie County with 20 points and Brooke Asher added ten.
The Bell defense held the Lady Eagles to just one made field goal in the first quarter, a basket by Asher, and two free throws by Moore.
Morris scored six points and Johnson added four as the Lady Cats took a 12-4 lead after one period.
“I’ve really been drilling that defensive effort in practice and I’ve probably not been real nice to be around the last little bit. I’ve stayed kind of aggravated about digging in defensively, being more physical and rebounding the basketball,” Teague said. “Those are the things that sometimes kids overlook. I felt like we did a good job of those (Wednesday) night.”
Morris hit a pair of 3s on her way to ten points in the second period and Smith added four points as Bell’s lead grew to 31-19 by halftime. Morris has battled early foul trouble in several recent games and it has led to a dip in scoring, but she had no issues on Wednesday in leading the Lady Cats to a comfortable lead.
“She’s not played like her typical self the last couple of games, but people have to realize that they’re still kids. Maci has got all of the ability in the world and she showed it, even when she wasn’t scoring the basketball she was getting a lot of layups and easy looks for other people,” Teague said. “People are going to key so much on her and I’ve talked to her about staying patient and she did a very good job. Other kids around her really played well, too, and that helps.”
Moore, who came in averaging 25.8 points per game, opened the third quarter with a basket to give her eight points on the night and bring Leslie within ten.
Sanders scored eight straight Bell County points with a pair of 3s around another jumper, then Morris found Johnson under the basket for an easy layup. Johnson’s offensive rebound and putback completed a 12-3 run that gave the Lady Cats a 43-24 lead before the midway point of the third quarter.
Leslie never threatened. A basket from Smith and two free throws by Morgan Garnett pushed the lead to 48-27. Bell led by as many as 25 in the quarter after a bucket from Kaitlyn Taylor and two from Morris. Moore converted a three-point play for the Lady Eagles, but Sarah Collins answered with a little jumper in the lane and Bell took a 56-32 lead into the fourth.
The Lady Cats took their biggest lead of the night on a 3-pointer from Caleigh Collett that made it 65-37 with 3:35 to play and they went on to win by 24.
Bell County (10-3) advances to play Magoffin County on Friday at 6:45 p.m. in the tournament’s championship game. Leslie County (8-6) was scheduled to play Harlan County on Thursday at 5 p.m. in the third place game.
“We’re tickled to death to be in the finals. It’s the first WYMT tournament on the girls side,” Teague said. “Magoffin County is not a team we’d probably play normally or that we see a lot of. I saw them (Tuesday) night and they’ve got a nice basketball team. We’ll have to prepare and definitely come ready to play on Friday. We look forward to it.”
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LESLIE COUNTY (43) — Katie Moore 20, Katelyn Farler 4, Brooke Asher 10, Madisyn Combs 5, Emily Griffith 3, Kaley Collett 0, Kelsay Gray 0, Elizabeth Day 1, Cadie Gay 0, McKenzie Fortney 0, Madison Little 0, Emily Gibson 0, Kendra Hubbard 0, Alex Washburn 0, Kaylyn Asher 0.
BELL COUNTY (67) — Maci Morris 26, Jess Sanders 8, Kelli Smith 11, Katrina Johnson 8, Morgan Garnett 3, Sarah Collins 2, Allison Howard 2, Kaitlyn Taylor 2, Caleigh Collett 3, Alex Brock 2, Bethany Miracle 0, Kaylia Hoskins 0.