Chris Jones | Daily Enterprise

Harlan’s Haven Saylor (left) and Ai-yana Harriston communicated before returning the ball in 52nd District Tournament action Monday. The Lady Dragons advance to Tuesday’s championship game with a three-set win over Middlesboro.

Harlan, HC advance to district finals

Harlan and Harlan County are headed for their fifth straight showdown in the finals of the 52nd District volleyball tournament after each earned semifinal wins Monday at Harlan High School.

The Lady Dragons, winners of three straight 52nd District championships, rolled past Middlesboro 25-8, 25-18, 25-13 in the opening match. Harlan County survived a slow start to sweep past Bell County 25-17, 25-6, 25-16 in the second match. Harlan and HCHS will play for the 52nd District title on Tuesday at 6 p.m.

Ai-Yana Harriston led the 11-14 Lady Dragons with 16 digs, two assists and one kill. Madison Middleton had seven digs, five aces and one kill. Haven Saylor contributed seven assists, seven digs and seven aces. Natalee King had nine kills, eight aces and one dig. Hannah Jones contributed two aces, one block, two kills, two aces and three digs. Courtney Cozart added six digs and one assist. Whitney Couch had four digs and two aces. Emma Fisher added four digs, one assist and one kill. Maddy Haynes added four kills, two digs, one block and one ace. Lauren Nunez contributed three assists, three aces and three digs. Danisha Harriston had two digs. Kaylee Cornett added one dig and one ace.

Harlan raced to a 4-0 lead in the first set with Middleton serving, then reeled off eight straight points behind King to build a 14-3 cushion. Middlesboro’s Amber Mullins scored two straight points before Harlan took control.

Hannah Jones picked up four straight service points for an 18-4 lead. King and Courtney Cozart each scored before two straight service points by Cornett closed out the opening set.

Serves by Middleton and Saylor helped Harlan race to a 10-2 lead in the second set. An ace by Mullins and kill by Dakoda Huff cut the deficit to 11-6 as Middlesboro fought back, getting as close as 18-13 when Shelby Herrell scored two straight points. Middleton, Saylor and Jones each had service points as Harlan closed the set with a 7-5 run.

Led by service points from Middleton and Saylor, Harlan again started strong, building a 7-2 lead. Macy Mink helped the Lady Jackets cut the deficit to 8-5 before King reeled off eight straight points, with the help of a kill by Haynes, to go up 16-6. Nunez had four straight service points late in the match to stretch the lead to 24-12. A bad serve by the Lady Jackets closed out the victory for Harlan.

“I was proud of my girls. I thought they did really well, even though they could have moved a little more,” Harlan coach Shawna Cox said. “We put a lot of our junior varsity in tonight to get them some playing time. Our frontline has really meshed well together and seem to be getting it together.”

Middlesboro ended the season with a record of 1-13.

Bell County scored the first five points with Clara Bolinger serving, prompting a timeout from Harlan County coach Jennifer Hilton.

Emily Long, a junior, had two straight kills to start a Harlan County comeback. Breann Turner and Haley Scearse also had points as the Lady Bears continued to fight back, even though Bell stayed on top until Long took over with nine straight points to turn a 16-14 deficit into a 23-16 lead. Points by Turner and Olivia Minor closed out the first set.

“I think we were a little nervous. This is a big stage and we know it doesn’t matter that we beat them twice during the season,” Hilton said. “Emily hasn’t done that all year, even though we know she’s capable. I was very glad to see it.”

Kathryn Bailey served Harlan County to a 4-0 lead in the second set before Calie Pannell scored for Bell. Turner and Elizabeth Ball helped HCHS push its lead to 16-1 by leading a 12-0 run. Minor helped close out the set with six straight service points.

Bailey also started the third set with four straight service point. Turner, Minor and Bailey each had points as Harlan County maintained its lead, even though Bell stayed within striking distance, trailing 18-15 before Turner reeled off three straight service points. Sceared closed the set with three straight points to send the 9-16 Lady Bears to the district finals for the seventh straight year and 10th time in the 11 years of the program.

Minor led HCHS in digs with 15 and was followed by Long with 12, Bailey with nine, Scearse with seven, Ball with six and Turner with four. Long was first in kills with eight and was followed by Turner with seven, Scearse with two and Bailey with one. Bailey and Ball each had 12 service points, followed by Long with nine, Minor with seven, Scearse with five and Turner with four. Minor led in assists with six followed by Bailey, Scearse, Turner and Long with one each.s

Bell County fell to 4-22 with the loss.

Both Harlan and Harlan County will advance to the 13th Region Tournament next week.