HARLAN — The Harlan County Lady Bears have been among the most consistent programs in the 13th Region Tournament since the school opened five years ago. The Lady Bears continued their postseason success with a 54-31 rout of 51st District Champion Barbourville in first round action on Thursday.
“Even though some of these kids were on the team that went to the finals last year it is still a new team and there are some new faces. They have new positions and new roles,” said Harlan County coach Anthony Nolan. “Getting past that first game is big, and I think it will help them have confidence on Saturday.”
Harlan County quickly took control with a suffocating defensive effort in the first quarter. The Lady Bears limited Barbourville to just one made basket and three points in the opening period as they jumped out to a 12-point advantage. Kaitlyn Stittums had four straight points to cap an 11-0 Harlan County run to open the contest. Barbourville junior Tyra Bunch banked in a shot to make it a 10-point game late in the period, but sophomore Bella Noe scored on an offensive rebound to put Harlan County up 15-3.
“I think, right there at the tip, we set the tone for the game. We were aggressive and jumped out early,” Nolan said.
Barbourville kept pace from the free throw line in the second quarter. The Lady Tigers were again limited to just one made shot in the period, but went 10-of-14 from the charity strip to stay within 12 at the half. Noe and senior Sarah Evans each had a pair of baskets in the second to allow Harlan County to maintain the lead.
“Harlan County was up, ready and it showed. It was 11-0 before we could even blink an eye. It doesn’t help that we only hit five shots total the whole game. But, you are going to shoot bad – you gotta play defense and they didn’t,” said Barbourville coach Andrea Hillard.
Harlan County held the Lady Tigers without a point for the first 5:46 to open the second half and extend the lead to 18 points. Senior Madison Cornett opened the third quarter with a pair of strong baskets in the paint. Stittums followed with a jumper and Brooklyn Massingill added a layup on an assist from Lauren Lee to make it 35-15. The teams traded baskets for the remainder of the period. Evans closed the period on a basket underneath with 10 seconds left to make it 41-23.
“We wanted to come out and set the tone in the first three minutes of the third quarter and then again in the fourth quarter,” Nolan said.
The Lady Bears continued to add to the lead in the fourth quarter. Harlan County held Barbourville to one made field-goal in the final period.
“The shots they got were contested. Defensively, limiting them to five baskets is big. I would rather them be over-aggressive and put them at the foul line instead of just playing around and let them back in the game,” Nolan said.
On the offensive end, Massingill had five points in the quarter, while Evans and Cornett each added four in the post as Harlan County cruised to the win. Massingill paced the Lady Bears with 14 points. Evans, Noe and Stittums also reached double-figures to power a balanced offensive effort.
“I think that is the biggest thing for us. We shared the ball and set each other up, and then we were aggressive,” Nolan said.
Harlan County (26-6) will face Corbin in the 13th Region semifinals on Saturday. The Lady Bears fell on a buzzer-beater at Corbin late in the season.
“They have really good guard play, and they have some big kids inside. We are kind of mirror images of each other in a lot of ways. They are playing really good here at the end of the season,” Nolan said. “We are going to have to be able to guard effectively and play with confidence on the offensive end.”
Barbourville closes the season at 21-11. The Lady Tigers don’t have a senior on their roster and should be a favorite to capture the 51st District title again next year.
“We set some high goals this year. As juniors, I thought we were capable. I still think we didn’t show what we could do, but next year I have some very high expectations,” said Hillard. “I have some kids that are very experienced, and I will rely on them to hopefully have an even better season next year.”
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Harlan County (54) — Kaitlyn Stittums 10, Brooklyn Massingill 14, Bella Noe 6, Madison Cornett 10, Sarah Evans 12, Lauren Lee 0, Keisha Mimes 2, Shauntae Lewis 0, Becky Freeman 0, Bridgett Bennett 0, Lindsay Branson 0, Lauren Smith 0.
Barbourville (31) — Kelan Liford 6, Amber Mills 2, Kelsey Erslan 4, TyraBunch 2, Kara Erslan 13, Madison Hicks 4, Brandi Hembree 0.