Dragons take boys 52nd District

Published 11:38 pm Friday, March 19, 2021

The Dragons battled back for success in Friday night’s game against the Black Bears, ending a 21-year losing streak for the 52nd District Tournament title with their 61-55 victory.

Harlan’s Jordan Akal earned tournament Most Valuable Player honors with 15 points and eight rebounds in Friday night’s game though the HC defense worked to skew his abilities during the fight for the title.

Junior forward Will Austin also put up 16 points and eight rebounds, followed by Jaedyn Gist and Kaleb McLendon, both adding 13 points each. Gist grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds against the Black Bears as well.

Harlan coach Derrick Akal said he is happy for his team, noting they showed toughness during the game when they were down against HCHS.

“I always talk about staying in the fight, and I thought they stayed in the fight no matter what, so I’m absolutely proud of them,” he said. “In the year that we’ve had and most games around the state, we’ve had to deal with a lot of adversity. I think the next game and going forward will be the same.”

Akal said his team plans to continue fighting hard to put forth a better effort.

The Dragons outrebounded the Black Bears 37-29, where they added 17 more shots from the field.

“That’s the difference in the game tonight is they outrebounded us and they really hurt us on offensive points,” said Harlan County coach Michael Jones. “We felt like if we would have rebounded more the first half, instead of being up 10, we could’ve been up 20. We kept telling them if we don’t get tougher on the backboards then we’re not going to win the game, and that was the result.”

Jones said his team will bounce back and give themselves a chance to go to Rupp Arena, and “that’s all you can ask for your group of kids.”

“It ain’t over yet. Take it one game at a time,” Jones said in his message to the team. “They’ve put us in a position to get back to the regional finals and take it a step farther. We got beat in the finals last year, so nothing negative, all positives to get ready for next week.”

Senior guard Tyler Cole finished with a team-high 19 points against the Dragons. Freshman point guard Trent Noah added 12 points for the 19-5 Black Bears.

Both teams will advance to the 13th Region Tournament next week at the Corbin Arena. The Dragons will go head-to-head with the Corbin Redhounds on Monday at 7:30 p.m. Black Bear Nation will join the action in Tuesday’s face off against Knox Central at 6 p.m.