Bears magical season ends with state finals loss to Lyon County

Published 5:01 pm Monday, March 25, 2024

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By John Henson

Contributing Sports Writer


For more local sports coverage, visit our partners at Harlan County Sports.

A Harlan County postseason run that will be talked about for decades ended one win short of the ultimate prize for Kentucky high school basketball teams, but the Black Bears assured their place in history by finishing as the state runner-up. Lyon County broke open a tie game in the fourth quarter on the way to a 67-58 victory.

The game was special for basketball traditionalists across the state as it matched rural schools from opposite ends of Kentucky. Lyon County, a Class A school in far western Kentucky, went up against Harlan County, a mountain school in the southeastern corner of the state. The game also matched the state’s top two players in Lyon’s Travis Perry and Harlan County’s Trent Noah.

Much like a 16-point comeback a night earlier in the quarterfinals, the Bears rallied from 14 down in the second quarter to pull even going into the fourth period. Lyon, however, executed to perfection down the stretch out of its spread offense by hitting seven of nine shots to close with a 17-8 run. Senior forward Brady Shoulders hit two free throws with 6:07 left to put the Lyons ahead for good, then came up with consecutive steals to set up Perry for short jumpers in the lane. Shoulders’ two free throws and Perry’s baskets each came about 50 seconds apart as Lyon ran the clock and put the game away at the same time.

“We were able to spread them out and get downhill,” Lyon coach Ryan Perry said. “That’s something we work on a lot with eight guys out there in practice chasing our five. We’re a tough team to come back on when we get a lead because we can kill the clock.”

“They put a lot of pressure on you. They have so many kids who can handle the ball and shoot and pass it,” Harlan County coach Kyle Jones said. “They are just an unbelievable basketball team. I think we have an unbelievable basketball team too and proved it this week.”

Perry scored 27 points to lead the 36-3 Lyons. Jack Reddick and Shoulders added 16 and 15 points, respectively.

Junior point guard Maddox Huff paced the 34-5 Black Bears with 22 points, Noah scored 17 as he was often surrounded by defenders after scoring 112 points in the first three games of the tournament.

“We put a lot of emphasis on it,” said the Lyon coach of defending Noah. “We played our traditional zone press and had someone spying him wherever he went. Keeping him to 20 points would be a huge win for us, I don’t know if he got a wide open shot all night.”

Huff hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final minutes, cutting the deficit to 62-58 with 1:12 left. Noah and Caleb Johnson each had chances to get the Bears closer but missed on 3-pointers. Two free throws by Perry with 13.2 seconds left clinched the victory, then Shoulders closed the win with a dunk.

Harlan County won the second 13th Region title in school history last week, then won the first state tournament game in school history Thursday by knocking off defending state champ Warren Central. The Bears became the first team from the county since 1995 to advance to the semifinals with a comeback win Friday night over Campbell County, then became the first team since Harlan in 1944 to make the state finals with a win earlier Saturday over Evangel Christian.

“I’m just so proud of these guys,” Jones said through tears. “Where we’re from, this doesn’t happen often. They are legends forever in Harlan County.”

Huff opened the scoring with a 3, then found Caleb Johnson for a layup as the Bears took a 5-0 lead. Perry broke the drought for Perry with a 3 followed by a 3 from Reddick and a basket from Perry. Noah’s 3 tied the game at 8 and his basket a minute later tied it at 10. Reddick and Perry hit back-to-back 3s as the Lions built an 18-10 lead by the end of the period.

After the Bears pulled within four, Perry found the range with three 3s in a 16-8 run that put Lyon up by as many as 14. Huff closed the half with a pair of 3-pointers to cut the deficit to 36-30 at the break.

Napier hit three shots in a two-minute span and scored all seven points for the Bears in a 7-3 run that cut the deficit to one. Jaycee Carter hit one of two at the line to tie game. Perry and Noah traded baskets in the final two minutes of the period to send the game to the fourth quarter in a 45-45 tie.

Harlan County had trouble getting to the basket with over half of the shots for the game coming from behind the 3-point line, The Bears took only two free throws, hitting one, while Lyon connected on 11 of 18.

Bears down Eagles in semis

A win in the 13th Region Tournament finals turned what had been a good season into a great season for the Harlan County Black Bears.

A win in the first round of the state tournament on Thursday made history.

A win in the quarterfinals on Friday caught the attention of the entire state.

A win Saturday afternoon over Evangel Christian in the state semifinals has taken it all to a new level that is almost hard to believe.

“We’re in the state championship. That’s just crazy to say,” Harlan County senior guard Trent Noah said. “I give all the glory to God, and I can’t wait for tonight.”

“You have to give Harlan County credit for playing excellent defense,” Evangel coach Larry Miller said. We only shot 29 percent (15 of 51) and were outrebounded. In those two areas, we didn’t do a good job.”

Noah scored 29 points and Maddox Huff added 15 as the Black Bears improved to 34-4 and became the first Harlan County team to reach the finals since Harlan defeated Dayton in the 1944 state championship game.

Senior guard Kyran Tilley led the 31-7 Eagles, champions of the 6th Region, with 25 points. Christian Doerr, also a senior guard, added 17 points.

Harlan County raced to a 9-0 lead on a 3 by Huff followed by a four-point play and then a basket by Noah. Evangel cut the deficit ti 15-12 by the end of the quarter as Doerr reeled off seven straight points.

The lead grew up to seven early in the second quarter on consecutive baskets by Huff, but then Tilley took over as he scored 13 points in a 16-6 run that put Evangel on top by three. Noah’s 3 in the closing seconds gave the Bears a 32-30 halftime lead.

Noah, Huff and Caleb Johnson scored in a 7-2 run to start the third quarter before Tilley’s 3 with 5:30 left cut the deficit to four. Evangel didn’t score the remainder of the period as the lead grew to 43-35 on two Noah free throws and a basket by Reggie Cottrell.

“These guys just sat down and guarded,” Jones said. “It’s just determination and heart.”

Evangel made a final run when Doerr hit three of four at the line to make it 48-45. Noah found Cottrell open against the Eagles’ press for a layup that put the momentum back in the Bears’ favor. Huff and Noah each hit two free throws to put the game away.