Lady Dragons hold off HC to capture first district title in 20 years

Published 5:07 pm Tuesday, May 28, 2024

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Power, pitching and defense proved to be a successful formula for the Harlan Lady Dragons this week to win the program’s first 52nd District title since 2004, capped by a down-to-the-wire 4-3 victory Tuesday, May 21, over Harlan County at the HCHS field.

Harlan built a 4-0 lead with the help of a couple of early homers — a two-run shot by Abbi Fields in the second inning and a solo homer by Addison Jackson. But then the Lady Dragons had to hold off a rally by Harlan County that included two runs in the fourth inning and one run in the sixth.

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“I couldn’t be more proud of them. I’m excited for them,” Harlan coach David Overbay said. “They toughed it out. They made a lot of great plays and did what they needed to do to finish.

“We knew Harlan County would continue to battle. (Harlan County coach) Shelby (Burton) has done a great job. Both teams have a great bunch of kids.”

“They came out here and gave me everything they had. I’m proud of these girls. They battled for two games, and we still have more ball to play,” Burton said. “Sometimes it just doesn’t go your way.”

After being held in check by Harlan’s Mallory McNiel through three innings, the Harlan County offense came alive in the fourth as Jade Burton led off with a single and scored on Brittleigh Estep’s triple. Rylie Maggard brought in the second run with a ground out.

Lesleigh Brown singled with two outs in the sixth inning, and courtesy runner Braylen Gilley came around the score with the help of Harlan’s only two errors of the night on back-to-back plays.

Harlan’s defense was stellar the entire game except for the sixth inning as the Lady Bears came up empty on numerous hard hit balls. Junior shortstop Ella Farley made several of the big defensive plays, capped by the relay throw of the season in the seventh inning. Halanah Shepherd was hit by a pitch with one out in the seventh inning and appeared on her way to scoring the tying run when Burton hit a rocket to the fence in left-center. Ava Nunez threw the ball to Farley who was able to cut down Shepherd at the plate with a strong throw to Jackson.

“That was a big play. They’ve done it all year,” Overbay said. “I can’t say enough about Addison behind the plate, I don’t think she’s given up a passed ball all season.:”

“In a game like that, with Halanah rounding the bases, there was no choice but to send her in that moment,” Burton said. “That’s something I have to take with me, but if I had to do it all over again I would send her because she will make it 99 out of 100 times.”

Alexis Adams shook off a slow start to to finish with a two-hitter for the Lady Bears that included four strikeouts and four walks.

McNiel gave up two runs on six hits in four innings with one strikeout and no walks. Jordyn Smith allowed one run on three hits in three innings to earn the save.

Burton pounded out a double and single and Aviya Halcomb had two singles for the 14-19 Lady Bears. Estep added a triple, while Madison Blair, Jenna WIlson, Shepherd and Lesleigh Brown added one single each.

Harlan (13-18) scored once in the first inning when Smith was hit by a pitch and came around to score on two HC errors.

Fields, who earned tournament most valuable player honors, hit her third home of the tournament after McNiel had walked in the second inning.

“I’m proud of Abbi. The last two weeks she’s gotten out of her slump and has done what she needed to,” Overbay said.

Both teams advance to the 13th Region Tournament this week at Lynn Camp.


Harlan 121 000 0 — 4. 2. 2

Harlan County 000 201 0 — 3. 9. 3

McNiel, Smith (5) and Jackson; Adams and Burton. WP — McNiel (9-13). LP — Adams (14-10). SV — Smith. HR — Fields (7), Jackson (9).

Harlan rallies in 7th, wins in 8th to advance to 52nd District finals

After their first two first-round exits in school history the past two years, the Harlan County Lady Bears are happy to be back in the 13th Region Tournament.

Harlan County advanced to a 52nd District championship showdown against Harlan by pulling away late for an 11-4 win over Bell County in the opening game of the tournament last Monday at HCHS.

“It’s hard to step back and remember when you take over a team that had only three returning players, but they actually look like a team here at the end. It’s exciting to see their growth,” Harlan County coach Shelby Burton said. “Hopefully, we’re not done.”

Freshman Alexis Adams set a school record for strikeouts in one season when she reached the 202 mark to close the second inning, but she struggled with her command for much of the game and finished with a 13-strikeout, seven-walk day while giving up four runs on only three hits.

“That’s what you get when you have a freshman pitcher. It was her first district tournament,” Burton said. “I felt Bell’s pitcher pitched a great game. She was very consistent.”

Madison Blair had a triple and single and Rylie Maggard added a triple to lead the 14-18 Lady Bears. Lindsey Skidmore singled twice and drove in three runs. Lesleigh Brown also singled twice. Brittleigh Estep added a double. Jenna WIlson and Halanah Shepherd contributed one single each.

Jayda Boateng, Addyson Scott and Alexus Lawson each had singles for the 10-19 Lady Cats.

Scott pitched a complete game, giving up 11 runs on 10 hits with six strikeouts and five walks.

Blair tripled to open the game and scored the first run when Wilson reached on an error.

Maggard led off the second inning with a triple and scored on Blair’s hit. Wilson followed with a two-run single for a 4-0 lead.

Brown singled in the fourth inning and scored on Skidmore’s hit to make it 5-0.

Bell scored three runs in the fifth inning with the help of two walks, a hit batsman and an error. One run scored on an error, one on a wild pitch and the third on Lawson’s sacrifice fly. Adams worked out of trouble with a strikeout.

“I told the girls when scored those three runs that it was a new ballgame, but we just didn’t hit the ball consistently,” Bell County coach David Teague said. “We talked about that the last few days in practice that we had to put the ball in play. Give their pitcher credit though. We wanted to be disciplined at the plate, and we got some walks, but we couldn’t get that hit when we needed it.”

Skidmore had a clutch two-out, two-run single in the fifth inning. Shepherd, Estep and Brown each had RBI hits in the sixth inning.

Scott had a bunt hit for Bell in the seventh inning and scored on Lawson’s two-out hit.

Teague expected a rebuilding season and hopes his young squad, which features only two seniors, gained some valuable experience.

“We knew we’d have a different look this year after graduating nine or 10 seniors the past two years,” he said. “We had several girls in new spots, new roles and new positions this year. I think we got a lot of experience moving forward.”


Bell County 000 030 1 — 4. 3. 4

Harlan County 130 134 x — 11. 10. 2

Scott and Lawson; Adams and Burton. WP — Adams (14-9). LP — Scott