The Bell County Lady Cats clinched the top seed for the 52nd District Tournament on Friday with a 61-47 win at Middlesboro.
“That’s a big thing for the kids. That was one of the goals they set at the beginning of the season and this win allows us to do that. I’m glad to see them accomplish things that they want to do,” Bell County coach David Teague said. “We’ve still got to keep working, we’ve got to keep trying to get better. There are things we can improve over the next two weeks and there’s still a lot of basketball left to be played.”
Though the Lady Jackets didn’t come close to pulling off the upset, the young team was much more competitive than in their previous meeting with Bell. They were within ten points close to the midway point of the third quarter before a 12-0 run put the Lady Cats in control.
“We played with more energy and took the ball stronger to the basket. We still made some silly passes and their pressure when they trapped us bothered us a little bit. But overall, I was happy with their effort and I saw a lot of good things,” MHS coach Elgie Green said.
Junior guard Maci Morris led the Lady Cats with 26 points while senior guard Morgan Garnett added 14. Jess Sanders chipped in with eight points and Kelli Smith scored seven.
For Middlesboro sophomore guard Bailey Hensley and eighth-grade forward Blair Green scored 19 points apiece to carry the offense.
“We had told our kids that it would be (more competitive). We knew Middlesboro would come ready to play at home and it would be a bigger atmosphere with it being a double-header,” Teague said. “Middlesboro came out and played hard, they were scrappy. We weren’t very sharp at first, I don’t think our focus and intensity was where it should have been. But give a lot of credit to Middlesboro for that.”
Bell County led 14-7 after one quarter. Morris scored eight points in that period and Lady Cats also a three-point play from Garnett and a 3 from Smith. Hensley hit a trey for the Lady Jackets and scored five points in the first quarter.
The second period saw Hensley add five more points. Green, Hannah Warren and Morgan Thompson also added baskets as the Lady Jackets stayed within striking distance. The Lady Cat lead was 27-18 at halftime.
Another 3 from Hensley along with two free throws each from Green and Malorie Carter had Middlesboro within 32-24, but Bell County answered every time the lead went under ten points. Morris, Smith and Katrina Johnson were all effective at getting offensive rebounds in the third quarter and the Lady Cats pulled away when the outside shots started falling.
Consecutive 3-pointers from Garnett pushed the lead to 38-25, Morris knocked down one from long range and Smith scored three points with her free throw making it 47-25 with 2:03 to go in the quarter.
“I got on them at halftime because offensively we were standing around, defensively I didn’t think we were guarding well. Maci got us into some things, Morgan made some shots and we got some offensive rebounds,” Teague said. “Katrina Johnson did a really good job getting those offensive rebounds, I think she had nine or ten again. Kids just stepped up and made plays when we needed it.”
“In the third quarter we didn’t rebound the ball well at all and they were getting second and third shots. They would either put it back in or they were getting fouled and going to the line,” Green said. “That was the difference in the third quarter, we just didn’t box out and go get the basketball.”
Down 50-30 after three, the Lady Jackets got ten fourth quarter points from Green along with 3-pointers from Hensley and Amanda Biscardi to close with 14 points by the end of the game.
“Middlesboro never quit. Blair kept attacking and she’s a heck of a player. We were fortunate to get a win on the road,” Teague added.
Green added this players were motivated to play better in the rivalry game and they also want to show they can compete with a player the caliber of Morris.
“Anytime you play against the best player in the region, if you can’t get motivated by that and play hard there’s something wrong with you. Off the court Blair and Maci are really good friends, on the court they battle pretty hard,” he said. “I thought Bailey and Blair had really good games, they played within themselves and they both have to handle a lot of pressure for us.”
Both teams play district road games on Monday with Bell County (18-3 overall, 5-0 in district play) at Harlan County and Middlesboro (8-13, 0-5) at Harlan.
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BELL COUNTY (61) — Maci Morris 26, Morgan Garnett 14, Jess Sanders 8, Kelli Smith 7, Katrina Johnson 4, Sarah Collins 1, Bethany Miracle 1, Kaitlyn Taylor 0, Allison Howard 0, Caleigh Collett 0.
MIDDLESBORO (47) — Bailey Hensley 19, Blair Green 19, Amanda Biscardi 3, Hannah Warren 2, Lauren Spurlock 0, Morgan Thompson 2, Malorie Carter 2, Jamayha Poe 0.