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Jackets end HC’s district domination

LOG MOUNTAIN — After losing their last three games against Harlan County in heartbreaking fashion, all in overtime, the Middlesboro Yellow Jackets took no chances Tuesday in the first round of the 52nd District Tournament at Bell County.

Middlesboro took control with a 14-1 run to close the first quarter, then held off a couple of HCHS runs before pulling away in the second half for a 65-49 victory, earning a spot in Thursday’s 52nd District Tournament championship game for the first time since 2014. The Jackets had lost to Harlan County in the first round of the district tournament each of the past four years.

“This is a big win for Middlesboro. It’s been a while for us,” Middlesboro coach Lewis Morris said. “These kids have never been to the region. It’s good for them that they will get to experience that, and they’ve got a shot. If you can get on a good roll you never know what could happen.”

For Harlan County, it was the end of one of the most impressive runs in tournament history. The Bears had won four straight district titles, tying Harlan (1994-1997) and Cumberland (1970-1973) for the longest streaks. Harlan County had won 34 straight district games and 14 straight against Middlesboro, going back to the Jackets’ win over HCHS in the 2014 tournament.

“We had a few lapses, but for the most part we did a good job,” Morris said. “We didn’t let their full-court pressure bother as much as it has in the past. I had some timeouts, but there comes a time when you have to play.”

Junior guard Jabari Kyle scored 22 points to lead the 16-13 Jackets, who shot 52 percent from the field despite missing 13 of 15 from behind the 3-point line.

Senior guard Alex Pace led the 19-8 Bears with 23 points in his final game at HCHS. Pace will graduate, along with Gabe Price, Patrick Bynum and Dawson Atkins.

“These seniors have put in a tremendous amount of time to not only make the team as good as we could be over the years but to also make themselves better individual basketball players,” Harlan County coach Michael Jones said. “They will truly be missed, and we thank them for everything they have done and helped us accomplish.”

Pace hit 3-pointers on the Bears’ first two possessions for a quick 6-0 lead, but the HCHS offense went ice cold after that as Middlesboro reeled off 10 straight points, sparked by three baskets from Kyle. The run reached 14-1 by the end of the quarter as Harlan County missed its final 15 shots from the field in the quarter.

The cold streak reached 17 misses before Pace scored in the lane with 6:27 to play in the second quarter, part of a 6-0 run that cut the deficit to one. Scott Overbay, Josh Overbay, Trey Brock and Mykel Griffin each had baskets as Middlesboro scored nine straight for a 10-point lead before baskets by Pace and Spurlock cut the deficit to 23-17 at halftime.

Middlesboro reclaimed control with a 9-0 run to start the second half, capped by Christian Hubbard’s 3-pointer to make the score 32-17 with 5:55 left in the third quarter.

The Bears battled back one more time, reeling off 12 unanswered points led by Pace, James Smith, Price and Bynum to get within three. Brock scored six points in an 8-0 run to close the period, pushing the lead to 40-29 going into the fourth quarter.

Middlesboro was efficient with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, hitting seven of nine shots from the field as the Bears’ press led to several layups and fouls. Pace, Price and Bynum all went out with their fifth fouls in the last four minutes.

The Jackets will advance to meet Harlan in the 52nd District Tournament finals on Friday at 7 p.m. It will be the first time the two teams have played each other in the district championship game

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Middlesboro 65, Harlan County 49

MIDDLESBORO (16-13)

Jabari Kyle 7-14 8-9 22, Christian Hubbard 2-4 4-4 9, Scott Overbay 2-7 0-0 5, Trey Brock 5-8 3-4 13, Mykel Griffin 4-8 0-0 8, Josh Overbay 2-3 0-2 4, Andrew Padgett 0-0 0-0 0, Jordan Davis 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 24-46 15-19 65.

HARLAN COUNTY (19-8)

James Smith 3-12 1-2 8, Taylor Spurlock 4-16 0-0 8, Alex Pace 8-18 4-5 23, Tyler Cole 0-0 0-0 0, Gabe Price 2-6 2-2 7, Patrick Bynum 1-1 1-2 3, Jacob Wilson 0-6 0-0 0, Jackson Huff 0-0 0-0 0, Josh Turner 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 18-53 8-11 49.

Middlesboro 14 9 17 25 — 65

Harlan County 7 10 12 20 — 49

3-point goals: Middlesboro 2-15 (Hubbard 1-2, S. Overbay 1-6, Griffin 0-1, J. Overbay 0-1, Brock 0-2, Kyle 0-3), Harlan County 5-26 (Pace 3-8, Price 1-3, Smith 1-8, Spurlock 0-7). Rebounds: Middlesboro 26 (Griffin 7, Kyle 6, Brock 5, Hubbard 2, S. Overbay 2, Patterson 2, J. Overbay 1, Padgett 1), Harlan County 32 (Spurlock 8, Price 7, Wilson 5, Smith 4, Pace 4, Bynum 4). Turnovers: Middlesboro 11, Harlan County 11. Fouled out: Harlan County (Pace, Price, Bynum).