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Lady Bears squeak past Harlan in district thriller

It wasn’t exactly their epic 52nd District Tournament championship game from three years ago when Harlan County edged Harlan in arguably the best girls basketball game ever played between two 52nd District teams.

Thursday’s game at Harlan, however, was almost as intense as HCHS held off several comeback bids to edge the Lady Dragons 82-74 in a game that lasted over two hours and featured 77 free throws and six players fouling out.

It was also a showdown between the senior stars for the county rivals as Morgan Blakley led Harlan County with 37 points and 12 rebounds and Natalee King paced Harlan with 34 points and six rebounds.

“I’m super proud of my girls and their effort,” Harlan coach Tiffany Hamm said. “We got up and down the floor and caused some havoc. We’re much better playing at that pace, but we’re not extremely deep, so it’s hard to play that way for 30 games. We’re trying to implement that the last couple of weeks. I said before the game we were going to play that way for 32 minutes tonight.”

“I thought we played pretty well early, but then we got in foul trouble and started playing timid,” Harlan County coach Debbie Green said. “Give credit to Harlan though. They played great on their home court. I tried to settle them down, but it was kind of run and gun all night. We were rushing and trying to make things happen that weren’t there.”

The Lady Bears thrived early in the fast-paced game, hitting 11 of 23 shots in the first period in building a 33-18 lead. Blakley had five baskets in the opening quarter.

Harlan’s pressure began to take a toll on HCHS in the second quarter as the Lady Bears turned the ball over 12 times In their first game without senior point guard Hannah Wood, who left the team during the Lady Bears’ win Tuesday over Leslie County. Harlan went on a 10-0 run sparked by Ella Karst and King, cutting the deficit to 45-41 at halftime.

A three-point play by King pulled Harlan within two midway through the third quarter. Jaylin Preston and Dixie Ewing had baskets for HCHS as the lead grew to 66-61 by the end of the period.

King scored on three straight possessions in the fourth quarter as Harlan finally pulled even, at 71-all, with 3:39 left. A three-point play by King with 2:45 to play gave Harlan a brief one-point lead before a 3-pointer by Kelly Beth Hoskins put HCHS back on top and started a 9-0 run, including six points by Blakley, to end the game.

“We could have executed a little better at the end, but I will take this effort and get ready for the district,” Hamm said.

Hoskins and Jaylin Smith added 15 and 12 points, respectively, for the 13-9 Lady Bears. Preston scored 11.

Karst and Angel Wynn scored 11 each for the 10-14 Lady Dragons.

The two teams will meet again in the first round of the 52nd District Tournament on Feb. 24.

Harlan plays host to Lynn Camp on Friday in a boys/girls doubleheader. Harlan County returns to action Monday at Knott Central.

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Harlan County 72, Harlan 64

HARLAN COUNTY (13-9)

Jacey Lewis 1-7 1-2 4, Morgan Blakley 8-15 21-25 37, Kelly Beth Hoskins 5-15 2-3 15, Jaylin Smith 3-10 6-7 12, Kassy Owens 1-2 0-0 2, Jaylin Preston 3-4 3-5 11, Dixie Ewing 1-2 0-1 2, Taytum Griffin 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 27-61 33-43 82.

HARLAN (10-14)

Ella Karst 4-9 2-3 11, Angel Wynn 4-11 0-0 11, Aymanni Wynn 1-2 4-5 6, Natalee King 13-23 8-9 34, Alli Thompson 0-0 6-11 6, Emma Owens 1-2 1-4 4, Kaylee Leslie 1-1 0-1 2, Faith Hoskins 0-2 0-0 0, Abbi Fields 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 24-51 22-34 74.

Harlan County 33 12 21 16 — 82

Harlan 18 23 20 13 — 74

3-point goals: Harlan County 5-13 (Hoskins 3-9, Preston 2-3, Blakley 0-1), Harlan 4-11 (Angel Wynn 3-6, Karst 1-4, Fields 0-1). Rebounds: Harlan County 35 (Blakley 12, Owens 10, Hoskins 4, Smith 4, Ewing 3, Lewis 2), Harlan 26 (King 6, Thompson 6, Aymanni Wynn 5, Karst 4, Owens 2, Leslie 2, Hoskins 1). Turnovers: Harlan County 25, Harlan 27. Fouled out: Harlan County (Preston, Owens), Harlan (Owens, Aymanni Wynn, Thompson, Karst).