HARLAN — Harlan County’s experience trumped Middlesboro’s youth on Wednesday at the 52nd District Tournament. The Lady Bears dominated the second half to pull away for 63-34 win and clinch their place in next week’s 13th Region Tournament, which Harlan County will be hosting.
“It’s nice to be able to get back home. We were undefeated at home this season, and now we get to go back there and play. The kids take great pride in that. That was one of our goals,” said Harlan County coach Anthony Nolan.
The Lady Bears forced Middlesboro into more turnovers than points in the first quarter. The Lady Jackets gave the ball away eight times as Harlan County jumped out to a 12-5 lead. A basket from freshman Brooklyn Massingill capped a 9-1 run to open the game. Middlesboro’s Carissa Padgett scored the first Middlesboro basket with 1:18 left in the period. Padgett was fouled on the play and hit the free throw to make it 9-4. After a Bella Noe jumper, Middlesboro’s Taylor Moyers and Harlan County’s Madison Cornett each hit one-of-two from the line to close the scoring.
“I don’t think they got that many shot attempts because of our defense. Our defense gave us easy transition baskets as well,” Nolan said.
Harlan County’s lead grew to as many as 12 points early in the second quarter following an old-fashioned three-point play from Cornett.
The Lady Jackets used a little run to keep themselves in the game. A steal from Carissa Padgett led to a 3-pointer from Amanda Biscardi and Bailey Hensley added a free throw after a steal of her own and Middlesboro trailed just 19-14 with 2:38 to go in the half.
A basket inside from Sara Evans and a three-point play from Kaitlyn Stittums pushed the lead back to 10 and a jumper by Blair Green made it 24-16 at the half.
“I thought the first half we did enough defensively to keep ourselves in the ballgame,” MHS coach Elgie Green said. “Offensively, they were switching on all of our screens and we’re not physical enough or mature enough yet to take advantage of that. We just weren’t able to get good position.”
The Lady Bears put the game out of reach with a dominant third quarter. Sophomore Bella Noe had seven points in the period as the lead grew to 23 points. Harlan County limited Middlesboro to just four points in the third. The Lady Jackets had just nine field goals in the in all four quarters, while committing 21 turnovers.
“We get to holding the ball a lot with no movement and end up making some bad decisions. Their defense just pushed us around physically, and it was really tough to get shots,” said Green.
Massingill had seven points and Shauntae Lewis added four as Harlan County continued to pull away in the fourth quarter. Harlan County limited the Lady Jackets to just two made shots again as it cruised to the win.
“We had good balance tonight,” Nolan said. “I thought we took care of the ball. We finished at the foul line. We were getting some easy baskets from our defense. Our passing was much better in the second half. We created that margin that we needed.”
Harlan County (25-5) will face Bell County in the 52nd District Championship Friday at 7 p.m. The two teams split a pair of regular season meetings, with each winning on its home floor.
“They are an extremely explosive team with all kinds of weapons,” Nolan said of the Lady Cats. “They can shoot the ball and stretch your defense and beat you off the dribble. It makes it tough to defend.”
Middlesboro closes the season at 5-21. The Lady Jackets will return the bulk of their roster next year.
“Experience-wise the kids did grow up (over the course of the season) it’s just the physical part for our freshman and middle schoolers. They have a hard time competing with a Harlan County, a Bell County, a Clay County or a Whitley County. They were just so much more physical and mature than we are,” Green said. “It’s just going to take time and it’ll come down to how hard they want to work.”
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Harlan County (63) — Kaitlyn Stittums 7, Brooklyn Massingill 14, Lauren Lee 6, Madison Cornett 8, Sarah Evans 10, Keisha Mimes 2, Bella Noe 10, Shauntae Lewis 4, Lauren Smith 0, Becky Freeman 2, Bridgette Bennett 0, Lindsay Branson 0, Kaitlin Evans 0, Leah Evans 0.
Middlesboro (34) — Bailey Hensley 1, Taylor Moyers 1, Blair Green 9, Carissa Padgett 14, Lauren Spurlock 2, Taylor Prater 0, Amanda Biscardi 3, Baylie Brunsma 2, Morgan Thompson 2, Hannah Warren 0, Sophia Knuckles 0.