Carissa Padgett hit two free throws with 11 seconds to play and Emma Bianchi’s potential game-tying jumper came up short as the Middlesboro Lady Jackets edged Harlan 47-45 Saturday in the first round of the 13th Region All “A” Classic.
“We had a nice little four or five point lead, then it got tight there at the end. Carissa Padgett hit some big free throws there, we played some solid defense and these kids found a way to win,” said Middlesboro coach Elgie Green.
Early on it looked like the Lady Dragons’ night. Jordan Brock — who finished with a game-high 25 points — put up 11 in the first period, Jourdan Ledford also hit two 3-pointers and Harlan led 20-11 after one quarter.
“She helped us to get that lead, we just have to do a better job of scoring. We’ve got some older girls that are capable of scoring, but need to be more aggressive. Jordan was aggressive in the first half and did an excellent job,” said Harlan coach Derrick Akal. “The second half they did a better job of closing out on her and not giving her those looks. We just have to do a better job as a team.”
It was 26-19 at the half and 34-26 after two free throws by Brock with 4:14 remaining in the third quarter. But the Lady Dragons went cold from there, missing 14 straight shots from the field as Middlesboro came back to take the lead.
“(In the first half) we let them cut and spot up and shoot. I challenged my kids at halftime to find those kids and be there before the ball gets to them,” Green said. “I encouraged them and I told them it just comes down to how bad they want it. We can run all the plays you want, but if we don’t execute and don’t do what you’re supposed to do we won’t win the ball game.”
Padgett scored seven as the Lady Jackets closed the third period on a 9-0 run and a 15-foot jumper from Blair Green put MHS on top 37-34 with 7:00 to play.
“I thought we played good defense at times, but they went to the post and got some fouls. They got to the free throw line and got into the bonus early. I think that played a lot in it also along with our inability to score, that takes it’s toll,” said Akal. “When you go down and don’t score, go down and don’t score, go down and don’t score, eventually the other team is going to make a couple and that’s what happened to us.”
Brock finally broke the Harlan scoring drought as she drove in for a layup, was fouled and converted the three-point play to tie the game at the 5:48 mark. Padgett, who scored 13 of her 15 points in the second half, answered with a pretty hook shot in the lane.
“Carissa, that’s what we’re asking of her. Get the ball inside and go score. Just go hard and play, finish shots, hit your free throws and play defense. That’s what she’s capable of doing every night,” Green added. “I can never fault her effort and I thought she played extremely smart tonight. I thought all my kids played hard, they just kept on digging and digging.”
Neither team would score over the next 3:19 until Padgett hit both ends of the bonus at the 2:12 mark to push the Middlesboro lead to 41-37. The teams then exchanged three quick turnovers with Brock getting called for a technical foul after getting tangled up with Bailey Hensley after the last one.
Hensley, who led Middlesboro with 16 points, hit both free throws and the Lady Jackets appeared to have things under control with a 43-37 lead and the ball with 2:03 to play. But Brock came away with a steal that led to a pair of free throws by Ledford. Kelly Cox and Brock both drove in for layups following one MHS free throw and one MHS turnover and the lead was down to 44-43 with 29 seconds to go.
Hensley went one-for-two from line on the next Lady Jacket possession, then Harlan sophomore Masie Charles sank two free throws to tie it up at 45 with 16 seconds on the clock. Padgett was fouled in the backcourt and hit both free throws for the winning points.
The Lady Dragons called a timeout with 6.8 seconds to go to set up their final shot. Hensley pressured Brock immediately after she got the ball and forced a pass over to Bianchi at the top of the key. She got a good look at the basket and was able to get the shot over a charging Padgett, but it came up short as the buzzer sounded.
“It wasn’t really (what we wanted). She can make that shot, but it’s putting an 8th-grader in a tough spot,” Akal said. “I probably should have done a better job preparing that play for us.”
As the buzzer sounded coach Green let out a yell and pumped his fist as the bench players ran out on the court to celebrate with rest of the team. He said those emotions were brought about not only by a big win, but also the circumstances the team has dealt with this season.
“It’s been a struggling year. We’ve had knee injuries to two starters. There have been games we had that we couldn’t finish. These kids are young and we’ve not been able to find a way to win,” Green said. “This was a big game, the All ‘A’, and they had already beaten us up there. We came out (Friday) night and got thumped by Bell. These kids could have easily quit and said the season’s over but they came out ready to play. I thought we played extremely hard (early) but we just couldn’t find their shooters.
“Man it just feels good for these kids to pull a win out after the season we’ve had so far. We’re maturing, hopefully we’ll grow from this and keep on getting better.”
The win felt so good the Lady Jackets followed it up with another Monday night as the got past Jackson County 54-41 in an All “A” quarterfinal at Williamsburg.
Middlesboro (3-12) advances to face Lynn Camp on Thursday in the semifinals.
Harlan (6-8) hosts Knox Central on Tuesday.
— — —
Harlan………….20…6….8…11 — 45
Middlesboro…11…8…16…12 — 47
HARLAN (45): Jordan Brock 25, Jourdan Ledford 10, Torri Mitchell 4, Emma Bianchi 2, Masie Charles 2, Kelly Cox 2, Kaitlin Jenkins 0, Shenae Thomas 0, Callie Wilson 0, Katie King 0.
MIDDLESBORO (47): Bailey Hensley 16, Carissa Padgett 15, Blair Green 10, Taylor Moyers 2, Sophia Knuckles 2, Hannah Warren 2, Taylor Prater 0, Lauren Spurlock 0, Amanda Biscardi 0.