HARLAN — The Bell County Lady Cats held off a late charge from a pesky Lynn Camp team on Wednesday to pull out a 57-44 win in the first round of the Girls 13th Region Tournament at Harlan County High School.
“I give coach Jones all the credit in the world, I see that there’s a reason they’ve won 23 games. They played as hard or harder than anybody we’ve played all year,” Bell coach David Teague said of the Lady Wildcats. “We knew that coming in, but it’s different once you actually see it.”
The Lady Cats opened up a double-digit lead in the third quarter and led by 16 after a Maci Morris jumper with about seven minutes to play made it 42-26.
Lynn Camp responded with an 11-0 spurt to get back in the game. Heather Wilson opened the run with a 3-pointer and Kayla Smith had a pair of steals and scored six points, including a pair of free throws at the 3:53 mark to bring the Lady Wildcats within 42-37.
“They’ve done it all year. We’re not blessed with great shooters and sometime we get ourselves behind the 8-ball, but this bunch won’t quit,” said Lynn Camp coach Richard Jones. “It don’t matter whether they’re up by 15 or down by 15, they’re going to give it everything they’ve got.”
Miranda Miller came up with another steal for Lynn Camp, but wasn’t able to convert and Bell answered as Katrina Johnson scored off an inbounds play under the Lady Cat basket. A putback from Paige Robbins put Bell back up by seven with under three minutes remaining and the Lady Cats hit their free throws down the stretch to go on to the 13-point win.
The Lady Cats were led by Morgan Garnett’s 15 points while Morris added 14, Jess Sanders 11 and Johnson nine off the bench. Smith finished with 16 to lead Lynn Camp and the Lady Wildcats also got ten points from Wilson and nine from Jessica May.
Teague said that even though he played three freshman quite a bit in Wednesday’s game, it helped that several players had regional tournament experience from last season.
“When they made that run at us, we kept our composure a little bit and started doing the things we needed to do and got to the line,” he said. “It’s good anytime you have a few kids with experience.”
Lynn Camp controlled the pace early on and led 6-4 at the end of the first quarter after a basket by Smith. She hit another to open the second period and the Lady Wildcats’ lead was up to 8-4.
“We weren’t attacking and were just settling for jumpers when we should have been getting drives to the basket,” Teague said. “I figured we might have a few jitters early trying to get ourselves focused offensively. On the bright side we were defending and that was able to keep them from pulling out on us.”
Bell County turned up their defensive pressure and forced a couple of turnovers. Three-pointers from Jess Sanders and Morgan Garnett put the Lady Cats on top 10-8 by the 6:10 mark and another three from Sanders made it 13-8 after another Lynn Camp turnover.
Merita Burke converted a three-point play for the Lady Wildcats, but Sanders found Robbins inside for two and Johnson hit a 3 as Bell’s lead grew to 18-11 with 4:30 left in the half. Garnett then got behind the Lynn Camp defense for a layup in transition . A steal by Maci Morris led to two more free throws and Bell had their biggest lead of the half at 22-11.
“We count on those outside shots a lot and we finally started making them,” Teague said. “What I told them at halftime is they have to get their feet set and be ready to shoot the basketball. Attack, kick and find somebody that’s open and we started doing little better job of that.”
A Jessica May basket for Lynn Camp provided the only other points of the half and the Lady Cats took a 22-13 lead into the break.
Bell County opened the third quarter with an 8-2 run to open up a 30-15 advantage and never led the Lady Wildcats get closer than eleven until that fourth quarter run.
Lynn Camp finishes the best-ever season in school history with a record of 23-10. Smith is the only senior the Lady Wildcats will be losing to graduation.
“These girls are so great and I don’t want to think of it as a season of almosts. We almost won the district, we almost won the All ‘A’, but I just want them to take it as a lesson in life. You’re going to get knocked down sometimes, but you’ve got to get back up and keep battling,” Jones said. “They started working about a week after the Sweet 16 last year. It was time to get to work and they’ve been after it ever since. I expect them to get that much better again next year.”
Bell County (26-5) advances to the regional semifinals for the second straight season. They’ll take on Whitley County in Saturday’s early game at 12:30 p.m.
“Whitley County has a really nice team. I tried to keep our kids focused on the game that we had to play and told them we’d worry about the game we have to play on Saturday once we got through this one,” Teague added. “We’ll go back and watch film and hopefully get ourselves ready and we’ll see what happens Saturday afternoon.”
— — —
Lynn Camp…6….7…13…18 — 44
Bell County…4…18…17…18 — 57
LYNN CAMP (44): Kayla Smith 16, Heather Wilson 10, Jessica May 9, Merita Burke 5, Miranda Miller 4, Brianna Hollin 0, Brooklyn Bryant 0, Breanna White 0.
BELL COUNTY (57): Morgan Garnett 15, Maci Morris 14, Jess Sanders 11, Paige Robbins 6, Kelli Smith 2, Katrina Johnson 9, Sarah Collins 0, Jamie Boatright 0, Kaitlyn Taylor 0.