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Cromer-led Cardinals rally past Harlan

A battle within a battle is often one of the most memorable parts of basketball on every level, and one of those showdowns highlighted Harlan’s matchup Monday against 13th Region power South Laurel.

Matt Cromer, the 13th Region’s top-rated player and one of the top-ranked players statewide in the Class of 2020, squared off against Harlan sophomore Jordan Akal, one of the state’s best in the Class of 2022. Akal had the upper hand through much of the first half with his 13 of his team-high 22 points to help the Dragons build a five-point halftime lead.

Cromer took over in the second half, hitting eight straight shots in a 36-point, 12-rebound explosion as the Cardinals used runs of 13-0 in the third quarter and 21-8 in the fourth to rally for a 74-60 win.

“He’s one of the top players in the region, but I think it was more us being tired. They wore us down,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said, who noted after a hard-fought loss at Harlan County on Saturday that the Dragons still hadn’t recovered from three tough games in winning the 13th Region All “A” Classic last week. “To be ahead at halftime against one of the top teams in the region shows how far this team has come.”

With the game tied at 10 midway through the first quarter, Harlan closed with an 11-3 run as Akal, Kaleb McLendon and Jon Eldridge each hit 3-pointers for a 21-13 lead. Harlan hit eight of 17 shots in the quarter, including five 3-pointers on 11 attempts.

Another Akal 3 extended Harlan’s lead back to eight with 4:52 left in the half when Cromer went on a one-man 6-0 run to get the Cards with two. A basket by Eldridge and free throw from Akal gave the Dragons a 33-28 advantage at the break.

A Jaedyn Gist basket extended Harlan’s lead to seven early in the third quarter, but the Dragons went cold from there as Akal was limited to only two shots in the third quarter. Cromer was also cold early with five straight misses before scoring on two consecutive trips down the court in the 13-0 run that also featured a 3-pointer from Ryan Anders and a basket by Brett Norvell. Cromer found Ford Breeding under the goal twice for baskets as South took a 45-41 lead into the final period.

Johann Gist cut the deficit to two early in the fourth quarter, but Cromer went to Caden Jones for a three-point play and then hit three straight shots, including a three-point play, as the South lead grew to 10. Akal and Jaedyn Gist each had two baskets as the Dragons got as close as seven before South pulled away again by hitting nine of 10 shots in the final period.

Gist scored 14 and Kaleb McLendon added 10 for the 8-9 Dragons.

Norvell added 14 for the Cardinals, who improved to 14-4.

Harlan returns to action Thursday at 6:30 p.m against Paintsville in the state All “A” Classic at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond. Paintsville upset Shelby Valley in the 15th Region finals on Sunday afternoon. South Laurel plays host to Whitley County on Thursday.

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Junior guard Wes Wright scored 13 points and freshman guard Eli Glover added 11 as South Laurel won 52-23 in junior varsity action.

Freshman guard Kyler McLendon led the 2-4 Dragons with eight points. Jayden Ward and John Mark Bryson scored six each. Matthew Pennington added three.

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South Laurel 74, Harlan 60

SOUTH LAUREL (14-4)

Alex Hostetler 2-4 0-2 4, Matt Cromer 13-26 9-13 36, Micah Anders 3-6 0-0 9, Brett Norvell 3-9 7-8 14, Caden Jones 2-3 1-1 5, Ford Breeding 3-3 0-0 6, Wes Wright 0-0 0-0 0, Parker Payne 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 26-52 17-24 74.

HARLAN (8-9)

Jordan Akal 7-19 6-9 22, Kaleb McLendon 3-11 2-2 10, Jaedyn Gist 6-11 2-4 14, Johann Gist 2-4 0-0 5, Jon Eldridge 3-3 0-0 7, Jayden Ward 1-1 0-0 2, Kyler McLendon 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 22-49 10-15 60.

South Laurel 13 15 17 29 – 74

Harlan 21 12 8 19 — 60

3-point goals: South Laurel 5-18 (Anders 3-6, Norvell 1-5, Cromer 1-6, Payne 0-1), Harlan 6-21 (Kaleb McLendon 2-7, Akal 2-9, Eldridge 1-1, Johann Gist 1-3, Jaedyn Gist 0-1). Rebounds: South Laurel 31 (Cromer 12, Norvell 7, Breeding 5, Hostetler 2, Anders 2, Jones 2, Payne 1), Harlan 24 (Eldridge 9, Jaedyn Gist 5, Kaleb McLendon 4, Johann Gist 3, Akal 2, Ward 1). Turnovers: South Laurel 8, Harlan 12. Fouled out: Harlan (Jaedyn Gist).