Dragons will face off against Black Bears

By Paul Lunsford

Tuesday’s opening game saw homestanding Harlan with a little easier time, posting a 66-58 win over Middlesboro.

The Yellow Jackets made it interested late in the game, cutting a 20-point deficit to eight.
Junior guard Jordan Akal fired in 30 points and sophomore guard Kyler McLendon poured in 17 for the 16-5 Green Dragons.

The Dragons outrebounded the Yellow Jackets 37-26. Jaedyn Gist grabbed 15 boards for Harlan.

Middlesboro was led in scoring by senior forward Eric Helton’s 24-point performance. Cayden Grigsby scored 10 points, as the Yellow Jackets ended the season with a 5-15 mark.

“Middlesboro just played hard,” said Harlan coach Derrick Akal. “They made us work for everything we got. You’ve got to take your hats off to them.”

McLendon, Akal and Jaedyn Gist each hit 3-pointers in the first quarter as the Dragons raced to a 17-10 lead after eight minutes of play. McLendon had seven points in the opening period.

Middlesboro cut the deficit to 17-14 on baskets by Trey King and Helton.

The Green Dragons reeled off 10 unanswered points, led by 3-pointers from Akal and Gist, along with jumpers by McLendon and Johann Gist. Harlan led 27-14 at the 4:21 mark.
Harlan took a 29-21 advantage at halftime.

A trey by Helton and a basket by Jay West allowed Middlesboro to pull within 29-24 after one minute, but Akal scored nine points during a 11-3 run, pushing the lead to 13 with 4:41 left in the third quarter.

Akal scored six points as the Dragons led 48-33 heading into the final quarter.

With 6:09 left in the game, Middlesboro’s West received his second technical of the game and was ejected. Akal scored five points and William Austin added a basket as the lead swelled to 55-35.

Middlesboro close the game with an 8-2 spurt. Helton scored all eight for the Jackets.

“We were lucky to hold on and get that win,” added Akal. “I thought we struggled at the free throw line a little bit (hitting eight of 16).”

The Yellow Jackets were hindered with 17 turnovers. The Dragons committed 13.

Harlan will advance to play Harlan County on Friday for the district title. Game time is scheduled for 7 p.m.

The two teams only met once in the regular season with the Dragons winning at home, 74-50 on Feb. 12.

– – – – –

Harlan 66, Middlesboro 58

MIDDLESBORO (5-15)

Cayden Grigsby 4-8 0-0 10, Ethan Barton 1-7 0-2 2, Eric Helton 9-16 1-4 24, Bryson Barnard 2-6 0-0 5, Jay West 3-6 0-0 6, Tre Kyle 2-3 2-2 6, Bryce Bowling 0-1 0-0 0, Blaine Woody 0-2 0-0 0, Trey King 2-3 0-0 5, Anthony Wallace 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 23-52 3-8 58.

HARLAN (16-5)

Jordan Akal 9-23 6-9 30, Kaleb McLendon 2-9 2-6 8, Kyler McLendon 8-14 0-0 17, Jaedyn Gist 1-6 0-1 3, William Austin 2-3 0-0 4, Johann Gist 2-2 0-0 4, Trey Barnes 0-2 0-0 0, Matthew Pennington 0-0 0-0 0, John Bryson 0-0 0-0 0, Darius Akal 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 24-59 8-16 66.

Middlesboro 10 11 12 25 – 58

Harlan 17 12 19 18 – 66

3-Point goals: Middlesboro 9-24 (Helton 5-10, Grigsby 2-5, King 1-2, Barnard 1-4, West 0-1, Barton 0-2), Harlan 10-29 (Akal 6-13, Kaleb McLendon 2-4, Jaeden Gist 1-3, Kyler McLendon 1-7, Barnes 0-2). Rebounds: Middlesboro 26 (West 7, Helton 7, Barton 3, Kyle 3, Bowling 3, Barnard 1, Woody 1, King 1), Harlan 37 (Jaedyn Gist 15, Kaleb McLendon 7, J. Akal 6, Kyler McLendon 6, Austin 1, Johann Gist 1, Bryson 1). Assists: Middlesboro 9 (Grigsby 3), Harlan 11 (Kyler McLendon 4). Turnovers: Middlesboro 17, Harlan 13. Fouled out: Middlesboro (Barton), Harlan (Austin). Technical fouls: Middlesboro (West 2), Harlan (J. Akal).