Tournament MVP Maci Morris scored 13 of her 26 points in the fourth quarter as the Bell County Lady Cats pulled away for a 68-56 win over Harlan in the 52nd District championship game Thursday at Middlesboro. It’s the second straight district title for the Lady Cats.
The Lady Dragons used a big third quarter to cut a 16-point deficit down to just four. But Bell County hit nine of 11 shots in the fourth quarter and went 8-for-11 from the free throw line to put the game away.
“We knew it was going to be a battle, this time of year teams are still playing for a reason. Harlan was coming off a big win the other night and we knew they were going to bring a top-notch effort,” Lady Cat coach David Teague said. “I was proud of our kids for continuing to battle when we hit a little rough stretch. It feels good to be district champion for two years in a row, we’ll see if we can build off this going into next week.”
Morris was finding two or three Harlan defenders blocking her path to the basket for much of the night. She had hit just three of 12 field goal attempts through three quarters, but went 5-for-5 in the fourth.
“My team always counts on me to make plays towards the end when we’re in a tight game. I didn’t want to let them down or disappoint them so I just tried my hardest to get to the basket and score points,” Morris said. “Our guards did a great job playing defense and our post players did a great job guarding their post players and rebounding towards the end and I’m just real proud of everybody.
“It’s a blessing and a great feeling to know that our team stuck together. We didn’t overlook Harlan City because they’re a great team. It was a battle and we pulled it out in the end.”
Senior guard Morgan Garnett hit five of six shots in the game and all three of her 3-point attempts to finish with 15 points. Junior point guard Jess Sanders added 11 points to go along with seven assists and six rebounds. Sophomore forward Kelli Smith scored 10 points and grabbed nine rebounds. In addition to her 26 points, Morris pulled down six rebound and handed out four assists.
As a team the Lady Cats hit 22 of 44 shots and were 6-of-12 from long range. The made 18 of 25 free throw attempts.
Harlan was led by freshman guard Jordan Brock’s 20 points (8-14 shooting), nine rebounds and three assists. McKenzie King added 10 points off the bench while Emma Bianchi finished with eight points and nine rebounds despite dealing with foul trouble most of the game. Senior Jourdan Ledford added seven points and Torri Mitchell hit two 3-pointers for six.
The Lady Dragons made 21 of their 54 shots in the game. They connected on just four of 19 attempts from 3-point range and were 10-for-17 from the free throw line.
Brock and Bianchi both picked up their second foul during the second quarter. The Lady Cats scored the final eight points of the period to take a 32-16 lead into halftime.
“I tried to explain to them, those two are freshmen, about protecting themselves and not getting in foul trouble early because we’ve got to have them on the floor,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said. “I thought we did a good job getting back in the game in the second half, but probably were in too big of a hole against a team like that.”
The Lady Dragons hit 7-of-11 shots in the third quarter while Bell went just 3-for-9. Brock scored eight and King seven as they outscored the Lady Cats 21-9 to get back in it.
“They started making some shots and we started missing some and that’s never a good combination. I told the kids at halftime that Harlan wasn’t going to quit,” Teague said. “Bianchi and Brock had sat for a while in the first half. Jordan started making some plays and we were trying to adjust on defense. I don’t think the kids quit working, we just had some turnovers and missed shots and Harlan did a good job of capitalizing.”
The lead was still 11 points after Sanders found Smith cutting to the basket for layup with 2:17 to go in the third to put Bell up 41-30. But Harlan got a 3 from Mitchell, a steal and layup from King and Brock’s jumper from just inside the top of the key made it 41-37 by the end of the quarter.
Harlan got the ball to start the fourth quarter and misfired on three chances to make it a one-possession game. Sanders ran down a long rebound and found Morris behind the Lady Dragon defense for a layup. Brock and Garnett traded two free throws apiece and King scored inside off a nice feed from Mitchell to make it 45-41 with 6:17 to play.
Lady Cat sophomore Allison Howard knocked down a short running jumper in the lane that kicked off an 8-0 run that put Bell County in control.
“We got kind of anxious and probably rushed some shots, but I was proud of the way we got back into the game,” Akal said.
Harlan missed a pair of 3-pointers and the front end of the bonus during that key two minute stretch. Meanwhile, Sanders was zipping passes to Garnett, Katrina Johnson and Morris for baskets as the lead grew to 53-41.
“Jess got down into the lane and found some people open for good looks. I really was on her hard for a while about her effort on the other end, but she did a good job getting us into our sets and made some good plays down the stretch,” Teague added. “I was tickled with Allison Howard and the job that she did there in the third quarter and into the fourth on Brock because she’s a heck of a player.”
Ledford ended Bell’s run with a 3-pointer and later hit two free throws with 2:20 to go to bring the Lady Dragons within 57-50.
Morris answered by burying a wide-open trey after Sanders drew the defense to push the lead back to ten at the 1:57 mark.
“She’s the best player in the region for a reason. She stepped up and made some big shots tonight, my hat’s off to her,” Akal said.
“We didn’t want to quit attacking. They had collapsed on Maci all night long and she missed some shots early that she normally makes,” Teague said. “We wanted to use a little clock, but we weren’t completely trying to stall out. I wanted us to keep playing and if she’s open like that she’s got the green light. That’s just confidence and her stepping up and making a big shot right there.”
Brock did her best to keep up, scoring ten of her points in the fourth quarter. But Morris drove in for another basket and the Lady Cats hit 6-of-8 free throws over the final 1:09 as they went on to the 12-point win.
Harlan enjoyed a 36-25 rebounding edge and the Lady Dragons got two offensive rebounds on the opening possession of the game with Bianchi’s putback giving them a 2-0 lead. Bell got 3-pointers from Garnett, Sanders and Morris to go on top 9-2 and led the rest of the way.
Both Bell County (24-4) and Harlan (18-12) will advance to next week’s 13th Region Tournament at The Arena in Corbin.
Bell will open up against either Whitley County, Lynn Camp or the North Laurel-Clay County loser while Harlan’s first round opponent will be either Corbin, Barbourville or the North Laurel-Clay County winner.
The Lady Cats enter that tournament as one of the favorites along with defending champ Corbin and Whitley County. The Lady Dragons have proven several times that they can compete with anyone in the region, and coming off Monday’s overtime win against Harlan County, they just might be the most dangerous threat to those top three teams.
“Monday you’re happy, today you’re sad. But we’ll get back in the gym and work out some kinks,” Akal added. “We’ll see who we draw Saturday and go down there next week and give it our best.”
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Joining Morris on the All-Tournament team were Lady Cats Garnett, Sanders, Smith and Johnson along with Harlan’s Brock, Bianchi, Ledford and King. Rounding out the team were Middlesboro’s Blair Green and Morgan Thompson and Harlan County’s Shannon Shackleford and Brooklyn Massingill.
Harlan County took first place in the cheerleading competition during the girls’ tournament with Bell County coming in second.
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Jordan Brock 8-14 4-5 20, Jourdan Ledford 2-4 2-2 7, Emma Bianchi 4-9 0-0 8, Masie Charles 2-7 0-0 5, Kaitlyn Jenkins 0-3 0-0 0, Torri Mitchell 2-9 0-1 6, Mckenzie King 3-6 4-8 10, Madelynn Henson 0-1 0-0 0, Shanae Thomas 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 21-54 10-17 56.
BELL COUNTY (24-4)
Jess Sanders 4-7 2-2 11, Morgan Garnett 5-6 2-2 15, Maci Morris 8-17 8-8 26, Kelli Smith 3-7 4-7 10, Katrina Johnson 1-3 2-4 4, Sarah Collins 0-1 0-2 0, Allison Howard 1-2 0-1 2, Kaitlyn Taylor 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 22-44 18-26 68.
|3-point goals: Harlan 4-19 (Mitchell 2-6, Charles 1-4, Ledford 1-2, Brock 0-5, Jenkins 0-1, Thomas 0-1), Bell 6-12 (Garnett 3-3, Morris 2-4, Sanders 1-3, Smith 0-1, Howard 0-1). Rebounds: Harlan 36 (Bianchi 9, Brock 9, Ledford 4, King 4), Bell 25 (Smith 9, Morris 6, Sanders 6). Assists: Harlan 10 (Brock 3, Charles 3) Bell 14 (Sanders 7, Morris 4). Turnovers: Harlan 13, Bell 9. Total fouls: Harlan 22, Bell 20. Fouled out: Bell (Garnett).|