Knox ends 13th Region drought with victory over Lady Dragons

Published 4:02 pm Monday, March 11, 2024

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By John Henson

Contributing Sports Writer

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For almost 12 minutes in their first 13th Region Tournament appearance in six years, the Harlan Lady Dragons did just about all they could to upset Knox Central and keep star forward Halle Collins under control.

Collins, the region’s player of the year on the 13th Region Coaches Association team, was held scoreless until the final minute of the opening quarter last Tuesday as Harlan took a 7-6 lead despite having only one field goal. Collins soon found her rhythm on the way to a 23-point, 19-rebound night as the Lady Panthers advanced to the semifinals with a 60-39 victory.

“It took a little while. They were doubling down on Halle, and we got out of sorts trying to get our legs under us,” Knox Central coach Steve Warren said. “It took us a little bit, but we finally got going in the second quarter.”

Harlan was locked in a 16-16 tie midway through the second quarter before Collins sparked a 21-4 run to put Knox in control. The Lady Dragons appeared to hit a wall at that point with their lack of depth and playing on the cavernous arena court. The Lady Dragons shot only 29 percent (14 of 49) from the field in the game and were out rebounded 35-19.

“We were working very hard in the first quarter and so was Knox Central, but then we had a lot of possessions where we didn’t score and Knox Central had a lot of possessions where they were scoring,” said Harlan coach Mackenzie King Varner. “We were working as hard as we could in the first quarter and then we got a little bit tired. That comes with having eight players.”

Knox ended an 18-game losing streak in the 13th Region Tournament, dating back to a loss to Harlan in the 1998 finals. The Lady Panthers had dropped 17 straight first-round games before Tuesday’s win.

“We’re really glad to get that off our back, and here we are in the semifinals,” Warren said. “Jackson County and Corbin are both good teams that are well coached, but we’re happy to be there and like our chances.”

The 18-14 Lady Dragons were led by Aymanni Wynn with 15 points and Kylie Noe with 11.

With only one player graduating in point guard Emma Owens, the Lady Dragons will likely be picked for a return trip to the regional tournament next year, and Varner said the experience from this year’s postseason should help.

“I told them before I walked out that people will have expectations for us now to come back here in the (state) All ‘A’ and the 13th Region,” she said.