The Middlesboro Yellow Jackets swept a rare home-and-home series with Harlan over the weekend to wrap up the number three seed for the 52nd District Tournament.
Repeated bouts of bad weather postponed the two regular season games a total of four times. The Jackets won 86-76 at Harlan on Saturday and followed that up with a 71-59 home win over the Dragons on Sunday afternoon.
“It was big for us to secure that third seed in the district. We’ll be playing Harlan County in the first round of the district (tournament) on our home floor,” MHS coach Russell Thompson said. “I thought through both games our team chemistry and everybody playing to their strengths really pulled us through.”
Both games played out in similar fashion with Middlesboro jumping out to big early leads and then turning back Harlan’s attempts to come back.
Senior forward Austin Poindexter continued his strong play from the last month. He led the Jackets with 28 points on Saturday and finished with 23 on Sunday. Since the start of the 13th Region All ‘A’ Tournament on Jan. 22 Poindexter has been averaging 30.4 points and well over 10 rebounds per game.
“Austin is becoming a force and when he’s playing at his maximum level he’s tough to stop. He can run, handle the ball a little bit and shoot it from the outside, plus he’s tough down on the blocks,” Thompson said. “I feel like Austin now has his legs under him and he’s back to doing what we thought he would do from the beginning. Right now he’s formed into one of the best players in the region.”
Senior guard Donnie Foister scored 15 points on Saturday and 14 on Sunday and Middlesboro also got significant contributions from other sources in both games.
Saturday it was Major Edwards working hard on the boards and hitting 8-of-10 shots for 16 points and Tyshon Kincaide adding 12 points off the bench.
“It was a big win for us, and we had a lot of guys step up,” Thompson said after Saturday’s game. “Tyshon Kincaide had a great game, and Edwards went to war on the boards. He led us with his effort and determination. Everyone was able to follow.”
Sunday, Brandon Hale had the hot hand as he hit 7 of 11 shots for 17 points.
Middlesboro led Sunday’s game 36-25 at the half, but the Dragons cut the deficit to 42-39 on a Aaron Simpson basket with about 3:15 to go in the third quarter. Foister answered with a 3-pointer and soon after Hale drove in for a layup, was fouled and converted the three-point play. Hale added a trey of his own to put the lead back to 12 and Harlan never got closer than nine the rest of the way.
“That’s big from our backcourt to be able to make plays like that and push the lead back out. You know, it came off our defensive effort getting stops and then being able to get out in transition,” Thompson said. “They made Brandon take a tough shot, but he knocked it down. That’s what I expect out of Hale and Foister. Donnie’s been doing it for a while now and Hale is getting more consistent with it.”
Middlesboro (8-17) was scheduled to visit Red Bird on Monday and then close out the regular season on the road against two of the 13th Region’s top teams. They play at Knox Central on Tuesday and at Clay County on Friday.