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Short-handed Lady Bears answer test

WILLIAMSBURG — As two all-staters from a year ago took seats on the bench in street clothes, the Harlan County Lady Bears faced quite a test Friday on the road against Whitley County, the 13th Region’s fifth-ranked team.

With Kaylea Gross out for the season with a knee injury and Blair Green sidelined for a week or so with a sprained ankle, the remaining Lady Bears had to answer one question — were they ready for prime time roles after four years in the supporting cast.

Harlan County answered the question with one of its grittiest performances of the season, hanging on for a 62-61 victory.

“This was a great, quality win against a good team,” Harlan County coach Debbie Green said. “To be without Blair and Kaylea, this says a lot about them and shows how deep we are.”

The Lady Bears took the lead in the second half and kept it for all but a few seconds with a strong high-low attack in the post that featured Lainey Cox, Breann Turner and Morgan Napier combining to hit 15 of 18 shots, led by Cox with 16 points and Turner with 11.

“That’s something we always look for. Lainey and Bree both have great hands and both are high-percentage shooters in the paint,” Green said. “They played through contact and finished. Our guard play was good. K.K. (Johnson) hit some big free throws and Phebe (McHargue) hit a big 3 and handled the ball.”

“They did a good job but I thought a lot of that was due to our lack of focus defensively,” Whitley County coach David Estes said. “I thought we defended it poorly. We lost the ‘5’ defensively way too many times. Harlan County killed us inside the second half.:

The Lady Bears showed good patience in the second half, working for good shots.

“We didn’t run it well the first half, but we did a good job turning our offense over the second half,” Green said. “We settled down and did a good job. We hit shots and were patient. I’m super proud of them to battle through adversity and win here. This would have been a tough game even with Blair.”

Making her first start in place of Green, junior guard Shelby McDaniel had the best game of her high school career with 14 points and a strong defensive effort that featured several steals and three blocks.

“Even without Blair Green, I think Harlan County is a top four or five team in the region,” Estes said. “They have some great players, like McDaniel, who would start for any other team in the region. She doesn’t get a chance to shine because she has a potential Miss Basketball on her team. I thought she was a difference-maker out there. They have a lot of good players.”

Senior forward Sierra Feltner scored 26 points to lead the 14-5 Lady Colonels. Guards Abbey Estes and Kaelie Frazier added 10 points each.

With the score tied at 33 at halftime, Harlan County scored the first six points of the second half and led until the final minute of the quarter when Whitley went up by one before Cox put the Lady Bears back ahead.

McHargue and McDaniel each hit 3-pointers as Harlan County built a six-point lead in the fourth quarter while Whitley went cold with no points during a four-minute stretch.

“Part of that was my fault,” Estes said. “I was so worried about Sierra getting fatigued that we quit setting the high-ball sets that were getting her to the rim and giving us space for our shooters. I wanted to save some energy for later in the game, but when we quit running that set we got a little stagnant and went cold for a while.”

Johnson hit five of six at the line in the final minute to lock up the win as Feltner’s 3 at the buzzer could only pull Whitley within one.

McDaniel ignited both the Harlan County offense and defense to start the game, hitting a 3-pointer and then blocking a shot that led to a basket by Cox for a 5-0 lead. McDaniel hit a jumper, then another trey as HCHS built a 14-6 lead with the help of a three-point play by Turner.

The Harlan County offense cooled off and Whitley responded with a 9-0 run led by two baskets and a 3-pointer by Estes for a 15-14 lead after one quarter.

There were 12 lead changes in a back-and-forth second quarter as Whitley hit six of 10 shots and Harlan County connected on eight of 14. Two baskets by Napier helped HCHS build a three-point lead before Reis Anderson tied it at the break with a 3-pointer.

Harlan County travels to Middlesboro on Tuesday for a district doubleheader.

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Sophomore guards Hannah Wood and Morgan Blakley scored 18 and 14 points, respectively, as Harlan County improved to 8-1 in junior varsity action with a 50-42 win. Emily Long contributed seven points, followed by Kelly Beth Hoskins and Jacey Lewis with four each, Kassy Owens with two and Dixie Ewing with one.

Ries Anderson and Sabrina Lewis scored 11 each for Whitley County.

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Blakley poured in 17 points as Harlan County won 46-13 in junior varsity action Wednesday at Lee, Va. Lewis scored eight. Wood and and Long added six each. Hannah Johnson chipped in with four. Owens and Haley Middleton scored two each. Ewing added one.

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Harlan County 62, Whitley County 61

HARLAN COUNTY (18-2)

Phebe McHargue 2-5 1-3 6, K.K. Johnson 1-5 7-8 9, Shelby McDaniel 5-12 1-2 14, Lainey Cox 7-8 2-2 16, Breann Turner 5-6 1-2 11, Morgan Napier 3-4 0-0 6, Reanna Middleton 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 22-39 12-17 62.

WHITLEY COUNTY (14-5)

Abbey Estes 5-15 0-0 10, Hannah Clear 1-2 0-1 3, Sarah Bolton 0-2 0-0 0, Sierra Feltner 10-16 5-9 26, Lindi Lawson 2-3 0-0 4, Reis Anderson 2-3 1-4 6, Mackenzie Smith 0-1 0-0 0, Jaycie Monhollen 0-0 0-0 0, Kaelie Frazier 4-5 0-0 10, Sabrina Lewis 1-2 0-0 2. Totals: 25-51 6-14 61.

Harlan County 14 19 14 15 — 62

Whitley County 15 18 13 15 — 61

3-point goals: Harlan County 4-10 (McDaniel 3-6, McHargue 1-2, Johnson 0-2), Whitley County 5-9 (Frazier 2-2, Clear 1-2, Anderson 1-2, Faltner 1-2, Bolton 0-1). Rebounds: Harlan County 24 (Turner 7, Johnson 5, Cox 5, Napier 4, McHargue 2, McDaniel 1). Turnovers: Harlan County 16, Whitley County 9. Fouled out: None.