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Lady Bears repeat as WYMT champs

HINDMAN — Adversity can often provide the best tests, both in both life and athletics, and the Harlan County Lady Bears passed a major exam on Saturday with a 75-64 win over South Laurel in the finals of the WYMT Mountain Classic.

Going against the No. 2 ranked team in the 13th Region figured to be enough of a challenge for the Lady Bears, who are ranked first, but when the Lady Cardinals came out red hot and all-state center Kaylea Gross went down with a knee injury late in the first quarter the challenge grew even tougher.

Harlan County cut a seven-point deficit to two by halftime then took over in the third quarter with a strong defensive effort and a monster performance by all-state senior guard Blair Green, who finished with 36 points.

“I think we got a little rattled early. They were concerned about Kaylea and their emotions were everywhere,” Harlan County coach Debbie Green said. “We settled down. I told them they had to go out there and compete. I knew Kaylea would have said the same thing.”

Sophomore guard Ally Collett scored 24 points and junior center Dianna Morgan added 17 points and 12 rebounds for the 3-1 Lady Cardinals.

A basket by Collett gave South a 34-30 lead early in the third quarter before HCHS reeled off 13 unanswered points to turn the momentum. Phebe McHargue and K.K. Johnson each hit 3-pointers during the run and Shelby McDaniel added a turnover off a steal as the Harlan County guards played a big role in the comeback with their defense. South had seven turnovers in the quarter and 20 for the game.

“You’re not going to beat good teams with 20 turnovers. You may not beat average teams,” South Laurel coach Jon Walker said. “Our goal was to keep it under 10, so we didn’t do a good job with that. They went on a run and we never did, and we usually score in spurts. I kept waiting for it, but Harlan County is a tough bunch with so many seniors.”

Green picked up her fourth foul with 2:06 left in the third quarter, but the Lady Bears were able to maintain a seven-point advantage going into the final. When she returned to begin the fourth quarter, Green took over with 18 of the Lady Bears’ 27 points. She hit 14 of 15 at the line as the Lady Cardinals had trouble matching up with the HCHS star and lost three players to fouls in the final minute.

“That showed some maturity by our kids and how much they have progressed,” said the HCHS coach. “We were able to turn the offense over and let them foul us. We didn’t want to hold the ball, but we were looking for layups or fouls.”

Harlan County had success taking time off the clock out of its spread offense with McHargue handling the ball for much of the time until Green took over late. The Lady Bears also appeared to wear South down late in the game as the Lady Cardinals went only six deep until the final minute.

“We knew coming in that they could rotate nine,” Walker said. “I tried to rotate our one sub as much as possible, but when you get in a fast-paced game like this it takes a lot out of you.”

South Laurel hit six of seven shots to start the game, including two each by Collett and Steele, for a 13-10 lead. Gross appeared ready to pull HCHS within one on a pass to her on the fast break, when her knee appeared to buckle and she went down in severe pain. After a lengthy delay, Gross was helped off the court.

A 3-pointer by Steele pushed the South lead to 17-11 after one quarter.

Harlan County found some success with its press in the second quarter during stretches, including late in the half after South had built a 28-21 lead on baskets by Morgan and Steele. HCHS closed with a 5-0 run, cutting the halftime deficit to 32-30 on a steal and layup by McDaniel.

Gross was examined Monday and doctors diagnosed her injury as a torn ACL and MCL, which will sideline her for the remainder of her senior season.

Harlan County will play two district opponents next week, at Bell County on Tuesday and at home against Harlan on Friday.

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Harlan County 75, South Laurel 64

HARLAN COUNTY (5-0)

Phebe McHargue 1-5 5-6 8, K.K. Johnson 2-3 3-4 8, Blair Green 10-18 16-17 36, Lainey Cox 1-2 3-6 5, Kaylea Gross 1-3 1-2 3, Breann Turner 2-6 4-6 8, Shelby McDaniel 2-3 1-2 5, Rebecca Middleton 0-3 2-2 2. Totals: 19-43 35-45 75.

SOUTH LAUREL (3-1)

Ally Collett 9-20 6-10 24, Amerah Steele 4-6 2-3 11, Taylor Cromer 1-7 0-0 2, Mariah Anders 2-5 0-0 5, Dianna Morgan 7-10 3-6 17, Emma Hibbits 2-2 0-0 5, Bree Howard 0-0 0-0 0, Zoe WIlliams 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 25-50 11-19 64.

Harlan County 11 19 18 27 — 75

South Laurel 17 15 9 23 — 64

3-point goals: Harlan County 2-9 (Johnson 1-1, McHargue 1-4, Turner 0-1, Middleton 0-3), South Laurel 3-12 (Hibbits 1-1, Steele 1-2, Anders 1-3, Collett 0-2, Cromer 0-4). Rebounds: Harlan County 25 (Turner 8, Cox 7, Green 4, Johnson 2, Gross 1, McDaniel 1), South Laurel 26 (Morgan 12, Cromer 5, Collett 3, Anders 3, Hibbits 3). Turnovers: South Laurel 20, Harlan County 11. Fouled out: South Laurel (Collett, Steele, Hibbits).