HARLAN —The Bell County Lady Cats kept themselves in contention for the top seed in the 52nd District with a 57-37 win over Harlan on Monday.
It was a physical contest and the Lady Cats took control when they turned up the defensive pressure in the second quarter. They forced ten turnovers in the period and hit six of their first seven shots from the field as they used a 15-0 run to turn a 10-8 game into a blowout.
“They turned it up. From the start they pressured the ball a lot and we made some turnovers and missed some shots. They made some shots. They came out strong, you have to give them credit,” said Harlan coach Derrick Akal.
Freshman forward Kelli Smith started the decisive run with a putback while sophomore guard Maci Morris scored eight of her game-high 21 points during the spurt and Katrina Johnson scored all five of hers.
“We played well tonight, especially defensively. That’s one of the things I’ve been continuously talking about is getting better defensively,” Bell coach David Teague said. “I don’t know how many turnovers they had, but looking at our stats we had 16 steals and only turned it over 11 times. That’s a pretty good job.”
Jourdan Ledford had brought the Lady Dragons within 10-8 with 3-pointer late in the first quarter, but Harlan turned the ball over on their first seven possessions of the second and missed their first three shots. Ledford finally ended a nearly 8:00 scoring drought with a short jumper with 42 seconds to go in the second period and Bell took a 25-10 lead into the half.
“At halftime we talked about taking care of the basketball, not turning it over and transition defense and those are three things we struggled with for the whole game pretty much,” Akal added.
The Lady Dragons did a little better job against Bell’s pressure in the second half, but they were never able to put a big dent in the lead.
Lady Cat forwards Paige Robbins and Sarah Collins were able to get open behind the Harlan press on multiple occasions during the third quarter as they each scored four points as the Bell lead grew to 33-13 by the 4:56 mark.
Harlan got a 3 from Jordan Brock and an inside basket from Torri Mitchell to get within 37-19 and a pair of free throws from Ledford got it as close as 37-21 with 43 seconds to go in the quarter.
Jess Sanders drove in for a layup on the following Lady Cat possession and they took a 20-point lead into the fourth.
“We had been playing through spurts where we’ll play two or three minutes well and then two or three minutes where we don’t look like we’ve even practiced. Tonight, we continued to play through things and that’s all I’m asking them to do,” Teague added.
Harlan wouldn’t get any closer than 17 points the rest of the way.
Akal said his team needs to be able to play tougher when the officials let the games get as physical as Monday’s was.
“We have to match that intensity and match that toughness. If they’re going to body you have to adapt to the way they call the game. If they’re going to call it physical, you have to play physical,” he said. “We just have to be tough when they get tough.”
Mitchell led the Lady Dragons with 11 points while Brock and Ledford added nine each.
Morris was the only Lady Cat in double-figures while Robbins and Collins finished with eight each.
The win keeps Bell County in a first place tie with Harlan County atop the 52nd District.
“Anytime you can get a district win, especially on the road, it’s huge,” he said. “This is a big week for us — Harlan tonight and Middlesboro Friday — if we get those it gives us at least a share of the one seed and that’s big going into the tournament. You want to have a little momentum going into it.”
Harlan (10-10, 2-3) visits Leslie County today while Bell County (17-4, 3-1) returns to action at home against Middlesboro on Friday.
— — —
Bell Co…..10…15…16…16 — 57
Harlan……8…..2…11…16 — 37
BELL COUNTY (57): Maci Morris 21, Paige Robbins 8, Sarah Collins 8, Katrina Johnson 5, Jess Sanders 4, Morgan Garnett 4, Kelli Smith 4, Jamie Boatright 2, Kaitlyn Taylor 1, Courtney Cinnamon 0, Caleigh Collett 0, Alex Brock 0.
HARLAN (37): Torri Mitchell 11, Jordan Brock 9, Jourdan Ledford 9, Emma Bianchi 3, Kelly Cox 3, Jesse Cochran 2, Masie Charles 0, Katie King 0, Shanae Thomas 0, Kaitlyn Jenkins 0, Callie Wilson 0.