Clark knocks out HCHS in Sweet 16

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS — Knowing that teams making their first appearance at the state tournament often come out starry-eyed and not ready to play, Harlan County coach Debbie Green focused on “throwing the first punch” in the Lady Bears’ matchup at the state tournament Wednesday in BB&T Arena on the campus of Northern Kentucky University.

The Lady Bears succeeded in doing just that in grabbing a quick 8-2 lead.

George Rogers Clark survived that early punch, took the lead and held off several Harlan County comebacks before delivering an even more important punch. The Lady Cards threw the last punch, a knockout blow, with a 16-4 run in the fourth quarter on the way to a 70-56 victory.

Sophomore guard Kennedy Igo scored 22 points and senior forward Shamaya Behanan added 21 points for the 27-7 Lady Cardinals, who knocked off Harlan in the first round of last year’s Sweet Sixteen before falling to eventual champ Mercer County in the quarterfinals. Clark will play Elizabethtown, one of the three teams to beat Harlan County this season, in the quarterfinals on Friday.

Senior guard Blair Green scored 19 points to lead the 28-3 Lady Bears, champions of the 13th Region for the first time after five second-place finishes in nine years. Green’s points were far from easy though as the Lady Cards had success alternating defenders on the HCHS star and then getting help in the paint whenever she went to the basket.

“I thought they were able to play a little more physical than we were,” said the Harlan County coach. “GRC is an outstanding team and a little bigger and more athletic than us.”

Clark coach Robbie Graham said Green’s versatility made her difficult to guard.

“High school players usually are good inside or good outside, but not both,” he said. “We wanted to make every shot tough. She’s a tremendous player, but we held her below her average.”

“They were guarding her tight and packing the lane,” said the Harlan County coach. “They did a good job on her. They were able to put their hands on her and made her shoot some fadeaways.

Green hit seven of 15 shots in the final game of her high school career before she moves on to the University of Kentucky next year.

“The got really tight on me and when I got it down low they put two or three people on me,” she said. “I should have done a better job of kicking it out.”

Senior forward Lainey Cox saved perhaps her biggest game in a breakout campaign for the biggest stage as she finished with 17 points and a team-high nine rebounds. The Lady Bears played most of the season without all-state center Kaylea Gross due to a knee injury, but Cox took on a bigger role and played especially well in the Lady Bears’ postseason run.

“There’s no replacing Kaylea Gross, but Lainey has been great. Her rebounding has been phenomenal,” Green said.

Cox had two baskets in the opening three minutes as the Lady Bears moved the ball well in building an 8-2 lead. Clark pulled even on a 3-pointer by Igo and three-point play by Behanan. A layup by Green and 3-pointer from K.K. Johnson put the Lady Bears up 13-10 with three minutes left in the opening quarter.

Clark responded with an 11-2 run to go up by four, but Shelby McDaniel came off the bench to keep HCHS close as she scored twice including a drive to end the quarter that cut the deficit to 19-17.

“We came out and did what we wanted and that was throw the first punch,” Green said. “We got off to a good start and stayed in the game until about five minutes left.”

A McDaniel basket off a steal and pass by Phebe McHargue pulled Harlan County even in the second quarter before Clark reeled off eight straight points as the Lady Bears struggled with bad passes, often trying to force the ball in to Green.

Two baskets by Green and two free throws from Cox in a 6-0 run pulled the Lady Bears even. Clark hit three of four at the line to go up by three before Green found Breann Turner for a basket that cut the deficit to 30-29 at halftime.

Clark built an eight-point lead in the third quarter on a 3-pointer by Igo and three-point play by Behanan. Harlan County battled back with a 6-0 run on one basket by Green and two by Turner. The Lady Cards took a 49-45 lead into the final period.

Cox had the only points for HCHS in the opening four minutes of the fourth quarter as Clark pulled away behind Igo and Behanan, pushing the lead to 17 before a three-point play Green broke the drought with 1:43 left. The Lady Cards hit 10 of 10 at the line in the fourth quarter and connected on 22 of 23 for the game, a blazing 96 percent.

———

George Rogers Clark 70, Harlan County 56

HARLAN COUNTY (28-3)

Phebe McHargue 0-3 1-2 1, K.K. Johnson 2-7 0-0 5, Blair Green 7-15 5-5 19, Lainey Cox 5-6 7-8 15, Breann Turner 4-9 0-1 8, Shelby McDaniel 3-4 0-0 6, Morgan Napier 0-0 0-0 0, Reanna Middleton 0-0 0-0 0, Macie Napier 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 21-44 13-16 56.

GEORGE ROGERS CLARK (27-7)

Kennedy Igo 7-12 4-4 22, Maleaha Bell 3-6 2-2 8, Jasmine Flowers 1-4 3-4 5, Shamaya Behanan 6-8 9-9 21, Hayley Harrison 3-7 2-2 8, Cameron Anderson 0-0 0-0 0, Shelbi Wilson 1-3 0-0 2, Tyra Flowers 1-2 2-2 4. Totals: 22-42 22-23 70.

Harlan County 17 12 16 21 — 56

George Rogers Clark 19 11 19 11 — 70

3-point goals: Harlan County 1-8 (Johnson 1-4, Green 0-1, McHargue 0-3), George Rogers Clark 4-8 (Igo 4-4, J. Flowers 0-2, Harrison 0-2). Rebounds: Harlan County 19 (Cox 9, Green 4, Turner 3, Morgan Napier 2, McHargue 1), George Rogers Clark 26 (Behanan 8, Bell 6, T. Flowers 5, Igo 3, Harrison 2, team 2). Assists: Harlan County 20 (McHargue 6, Green 5, Johnson 4, Turner 2, Cox 1, McDaniel 1, Morgan Napier 1), George Rogers Clark 18 (Igo 6, Harrison 4, Bell 3, Behanan 3, J. Flowers 1, Wilson 1). Turnovers: Harlan County 15, George Rogers Clark 14. Fouled out: Harlan County (McDaniel).