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Lady Bears win third straight district title

A trademark for the Harlan County Lady Bears during their three-year run as 52nd District champions has been their pressure defense. For a little over a half Thursday at Bell County, the underdog Bell County Lady Cats had been able to handle it well enough to stay within striking distance.

During the halftime break, the Lady Bears found just the right attack and the game was soon over. Harlan County forced six turnovers in a three-minute stretch, resulting in a 17-0 run that sent HCHS to a 71-50 win and its third straight district title.

“We always try to make adjustments at halftime and coach (Elgie) Green suggested that change,” Harlan County coach Debbie Green said. “Our girls executed it real well and it made a big difference.”

Harlan County (21-6) featured another balanced offensive attack, led by senior point guard Phebe McHargue with 20 points. K.K. Johnson and Reanna Middleton added 17 and 16 points, respectively. Breann Turner followed up a 25-point performance in a win over Harlan on Monday with a 12-point, 12-rebound effort in the finals.

“I thought Bell played a great game,” Green said. “They did a nice job of taking Bree away in the first half, but our girls adjusted and played hard.”

It was the 16th straight district win for the Lady Bears and 23rd in 24 games.

“I’m proud of these girls,” Green said. “I think this is the first senior group at Harlan County to win three straight district championships. They weren’t satisfied just to make the regional tournament this year. They wanted another district title.”

Bell County (13-17) will be making its first trip to the regional since winning it in 2015 when Miss Basketball Maci Morris led the Lady Cats to the program’s first Sweet Sixteen appearance. Bell has watched Harlan and HCHS take turns dominating the district the past four years.

“Harlan and Harlan County have had great teams, obviously, so this is big for our girls to get back to the regional,” Bell County coach David Teague said. “We lose a couple of good seniors, but we have some good players coming back and this will be a good experience for them.”

Junior guard Abby Harris kept Bell in the game into the third quarter with her 20-point effort. Ashtyn Meyers supplied 14 points on four 3-pointers.

“I think Harris is one of the best players in the region,” Teague said. “She had a big game for us tonight and showed what she can do.”

Harlan County started slow on offense and fell behind 8-5 before McHargue started a 7-0 run with a steal and layup. Middleton followed with a 3-pointer and a jumper as HCHS went up by four before Harris scored the final four points to tie the game at 12-12 after one quarter.

Another Harris basket gave Bell a 20-19 lead midway through the second quarter before the Lady Bears’ press began to turn the game. Middleton’s 3-pointer started an 11-0 run that also featured free throws by McHargue and Johnson after turnovers. The Lady Bears hit seven of 13 shots in the quarter as Harlan County’s lead reached 34-24 at the break.

Middleton started the decisive run in the third quarter with two straight baskets off turnovers. Turner blocked a shot and found McHargue for the first of two straight layups. Turner scored inside to cap the run and push the lead to 55-29. Harris cut the deficit to 19 by the end of the period, but HCHS was in control. A 3-pointer by Johnson and three-point play by McHargue stretched the lead to 25 with 6:40 left and all but sealed the victory.

Both teams will advance to the 13th Region Tournament, which opens Wednesday at The Arena in Corbin.

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Harlan County 71, Bell County 50

HARLAN COUNTY (21-6)

Phebe McHargue 7-15 5-6 20, K.K. Johnson 5-8 3-4 17, Reanna Middleton 7-16 0-0 16, Morgan Blakley 2-6 2-2 6, Breann Turner 6-12 0-0 12, Hannah Wood 0-3 0-0 0, Jacey Lewis 0-1 0-0 0, Kassy Owens 0-0 0-0 0, Kelly Beth Hoskins 0-1 0-0 0, Haley Middleton 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 27-62 10-12 71.

BELL COUNTY (13-17)

Abby Cornett 1-5 0-0 2, Ashtyn Meyers 5-16 0-0 14, Abby Harris 7-10 6-7 20, Brea Browning 3-8 1-2 7, Mackenzie Griffin 0-0 0-0 0, Ashley Middleton 1-2 0-0 2, Sara Kidwell 2-3 0-0 5, Nadine Johnson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 19-44 7-9 20.

Harlan County 12 22 23 14 — 71

Bell County 12 12 14 12 — 50

3-point goals: Harlan County 7-24 (Johnson 4-6, Middleton 2-8, McHargue 1-6, Lewis 0-1, Hoskins 0-1, Wood 0-2), Bell County 5-14 (Meyers 4-10, Kidwell 1-1, Cornett 0-3). Rebounds: Harlan County 28 (Turner 12, Blakley 7, Middleton 5, Lewis 2, Johnson 1, Owens 1), Bell County 23 (Browning 15, Meyers 3, Griffin 2, Cornett 1, Harris 1, Kidwell 1). Turnovers: Harlan County 14, Bell County 27. Fouled out: None.