CORBIN — After watching his team give up 78 points in a loss last month at Barbourville, Harlan coach Derrick Akal knew he had to try something new in the rematch Wednesday in the opening round of the 13th Region Tournament.
The Lady Dragons’ 2-3 zone frustrated Barbourville for much of the night, at least for the first 31 minutes, as Harlan advanced with a 53-51 win.
“The first time we played them we played them strictly man, plus we were a little short-handed” Akal said. “This big floor worried me running up and down the floor with them, so we zoned them up and just hoped they didn’t make too many 3-pointers, and they didn’t make as many as I thought they would.”
Barbourville (16-13) shot only 29 percent (17 of 59) for the game overall and 29 percent (seven of 24) from the 3-point line.
Harlan (19-12) featured a balanced offensive attack, unlike the previous game when freshman guard Jourdan Brock scored 43 of the Lady Dragons’ 70 points. Jourdan Ledford, Harlan’s only senior, scored 15. Freshman center Emma Bianchi earned player of the game earn honors with a 14-point, 10-rebound night. Brock added 12 points and a team-high four assists.
“We can’t just rely on Jordan Brock to score,” Akal said. “I thought Emma stepped up, and I thought Jourdan Ledford hit some big 3s and was aggressive with the ball tonight.”
Kara Erslan, one of five seniors in the Barbourville lineup, closed her career with a 23-point performance. Amber Mills added 11 points.
Barbourville was within four points going into the fourth quarter before going ice cold. The Lady Tigers missed their first 10 shots from the field over the first 6:40 of the period as Harlan’s lead grew to 51-40 as Bianchi and Brock each had two baskets and Mackenzie King contributed one.
But just when it appeared Harlan was going to cruise into the semifinals, Barbourville found its offense. Kelsey Erslan broke the ice with a jumper before her sister, Kara, took over with a 3-pointer and a putback that cut the deficit to three with 47 seconds left.
“We’re still talking about young kids on our side, and I think we just got a little too fidgety with the ball,” Akal said.
Barbourville got the ball back with a chance to tie, but Mills rushed a 3-pointer that was well off the mark. Bianchi hit two free throws with 6.8 seconds left that appeared to put the game away, but another trey Kara Erslan with one second left gave the Lady Tigers a chance for a steal after a timeout, but Brock caught the inbounds pass and time expired, sending Harlan to its first regional tournament win since 2008 and a matchup against Whitley County or Clay County on Saturday at 2:30 in the semifinals.
Both offenses started slow as the lead changed hands several times before two straight baskets by Brock to close the period put Harlan up 13-9.
A basket by Mills to open the second quarter pulled the Lady Tigers within one, but eight straight misses over the next seven minutes allowed Harlan to build a 22-15 lead. Ledford had three baskets in the run that was started by a 3-pointer from Masie Charles.
Barbourville hit only three of 13 shots in the quarter as Harlan extended its halftime advantage to 27-19. Torri Mitchell hit a 3-pointer and Bianchi closed the period with a post-up basket.
The Harlan lead was at 10 early in the third period when the Lady Tigers finally began to find the range from outside as K.K. Liford and Laken Woolum each connected on treys to cut the deficit to four. Ledford came through with a pair of 3-pointers to keep Harlan on top, but Barbourville pulled within four by the end of the period as Kara Erslan and Woolum each connected from long range.
Jordan Brock 6-12 0-0 12, Jourdan Ledford 6-11 0-1 15, Masie Charles 1-6 0-0 2, Kaitlin Jenkins 1-2 0-0 2, Emma Bianchi 6-7 2-3 14, Torri Mitchell 1-3 0-0 3, Mackenzie King 2-3 0-0 4, Madelynn Henson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 23-44 2-4 53.
K.K. Liford 1-2 1-2 4, Amber Mills 4-15 2-5 11, Laken Woolum 3-11 1-2 9, Kelsey Erslan 2-13 0-0 4, Kara Erslan 7-17 6-6 23, Anna Daniels 0-0 0-0 0, Whitney Brown 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 17-59 10-15 51.
Harlan 13 14 14 12 — 53
Barbourville 9 10 18 14 — 51
3-point goals: Harlan 5-12 (Ledford 3-4, Mitchell 1-1, Charles 1-4, Brock 0-3), Barbourville 7-24 (Kara Erslan 3-5, Woolum 2-8, Liford 1-2, Mills 1-9). Rebounds: Harlan 34 (Bianchi 10, Charles 8, Mitchell 7, King 4, Brock 2, Ledford 2, Jenkins 1), Barbourville 22 (Kelsey Erslan 9, Mills 5, Kara Erslan 4, Liford 2, Woolum 2). Turnovers: Harlan 18, Barbourville 7. Fouled out: None.