Lady Dragons turn up defense to end 17-game skid against county rival

Published 4:08 pm Monday, February 12, 2024

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By John Henson

Contributing Sports Writer

Giving up 29 points to any one player is not usually considered a victory for a defense, but that’s how the Harlan Lady Dragons were feeling Friday after their 54-46 win over visiting Harlan County that included a 29-point performance by HCHS senior guard Ella Karst.

Karst scored 39 last month when Harlan County edged Harlan 66-60 in overtime, and the Lady Dragons spent the last several days working on a plan to contain Karst. The strategy worked as Karst had a much harder time getting to the basket than in the earlier game and she missed 20 of 31 shots.

“We studied how to guard her. We watched film. We know she drives hard, and we had to make her turn,” Harlan coach Mackenzie King Varner said. “She’s a good player. We had to make adjustments to be able to stop her.”

The victory was especially sweet for the Lady Dragons as they ended a 17-game losing streak to their county rivals stretching back to the 2017 13th Region Tournament finals.

“This is the first time these girls have beat HC. It’s been a long time coming. It was our turn,” Varner said.

The Lady Bears shot only 32 percent (17 of 53) from the field and went through several long stretches without baskets.

“We took too many quick shots and we didn’t get many second shots,” Harlan County coach Anthony Nolan said. “We have to move their defense around. We also played their style of game, and they were effective with it. We were stagnant on offense and passed up some good shots.”

Junior forward Kylie Noe scored 20 points to lead the 14-10 Lady Dragons. Aymanni Wynn and Emma Owens added 13 and 10 points, respectively.

Karst was only Lady Bears in double figures. Seventh-grade guard Reagan Clem scored 14 in the previous meeting but went out early in the third quarter as she injured her knee chasing a loose ball.

“That really hurt tonight. We’re praying she’s OK,” Nolan said.

Karst had three early baskets as HC led 6-4 before Harlan scored the final nine points of the quarter to go up 13-6.

Wynn had two baskets in the second period after Harlan County had closed to within two on a 3 by Faith Hoskins and basket by Karst. Baskets by Karst and Cheyenne Rhymer cut the deficit to one before Owens’ two free throws made the score 23-20 at halftime.

The Harlan lead stayed between three and five points through much of the third quarter as both teams struggled offensively, combining to miss 14 of 16 shots before a late offensive surge.

Harlan County trailed by three entering the fourth quarter and was still within five in the final minute before Wynn and Addison Campbell each hit two free throws to put the game away.

“It was a one-possession game and we had five consecutive trips where we didn’t capitalize on opportunities,” Nolan said. “Our defense held, but we have to be able to finish on offense.”

Harlan County travels to Barbourville on Monday. Harlan plays at Bell County on Monday in a girls/boys district doubleheader.