CORBIN — The Bell County Lady Cats are the 2012 champions of the Cumberland Falls Invitational Tournament. Bell followed up Thursday’s 75-55 win over Corbin with a 55-51 win over 13th-ranked Perry Central Friday and a 75-53 win over rival Middlesboro Saturday.
“We’ve played in several of these type events over the past few years and to win one of them is a good accomplishment for these girls. I’m very proud of them,” Lady Cat coach David Teague said. “It’s three good wins to start off the year.”
Sophomore Maci Morris continued her strong play and was named the tournament’s MVP. After scoring 27 points in the win over Corbin, Morris led Bell with 17 against Perry Central and 28 against MHS.
“Bell is an excellent team. They are well-coached and they have an excellent player in Maci Morris. She’s a special player that makes everybody around her better and those don’t come around very often. I enjoy watching her even while I’m coaching against her,” said Middlesboro assistant coach Debbie Green.
The Lady Jackets were without freshman forward Anajae Stephney, who suffered a knee injury late in Thursday’s loss to Perry Central. The full extent of the injury won’t be known until a MRI, scheduled for Monday in Lexington. Middlesboro also didn’t have head coach Elgie Green, who was ejected during Friday’s loss to Corbin and is serving a three-game suspension.
Still, they did a pretty good job of keeping the game close early on. Middlesboro trailed just 20-13 after the first quarter and were within eight points late in the half. Freshman Bailey Hensley scored all ten of her points in the first half for MHS.
Morris hit two 3s and scored eight points in the first quarter and added six in the second. The Lady Cats also got 3-pointers from Morgan Garnett, Kelli Smith and Jessica Sanders as they closed the half on an 11-4 run to take a 41-26 lead into the half.
“We had a game plan to try and keep it within ten points and just try to contain them and keep them in front of us. (But) they’ve got great shooters that spot up and if anybody can drive they’re ready to catch and shoot,” coach Green said of the Lady Cats. “They’re playing with a lot of confidence right now, they’ve got some fire in their eyes. If they continue to play like this through February they’re going to be right there at the end. I don’t know who is going to beat them.”
The Lady Cats put the game out of reach in the third quarter as Sanders hit a 3 and Morris scored eight points, including a three-point play that pushed the lead to 52-32. Baskets by Sanders and Paige Robbins put Bell up 57-32 going into the fourth quarter.
Middlesboro was held to a 3-pointer from senior guard Taylor Moyers, a layup after a steal by Kelsie Hensley and a free throw by freshman Taylor Prater in the third quarter.
“We were a little dead-legged with it being the third game in three days. Middlesboro was in the same boat and they’ve got a kid or two out. We hope Anajae gets back to full strength,” Teague said. “We came back out ready to play. It’s a rivalry-type game and we wanted to finish it out and go undefeated in this little tournament.”
Seventh-grader Blair Green scored 11 of her 14 points in the final period for the Lady Jackets. Hannah Warren hit a pair of 3-pointers and Amanda Biscardi also knocked one down from long range.
Bell County (3-0) got two 3s from freshman Katrina Johnson and went on to the 22-point win.
Sanders finished with 13 points and Garnett 12 for Bell County. They joined Morris on the all-tournament team along with Robbins, Smith and Johnson. Middlesboro was represented by Blair Green, Bailey Hensley and Carissa Padgett.
Though the Lady Jackets (0-4) lost all three of their tournament games, Debbie Green said it was good for their young players to face stiff competition early on.
“They are young but they have to compete and they have to play hard. Right now we’re just trying to get better every game. Not having Anajae out there puts pressure on some other girls that didn’t have that pressure on them before. We’re having to rely on young kids and they’re doing an excellent job, they’re hanging in there,” she said.
“What a way to open the season — South Laurel is ranked sixth (in the 13th Region), Corbin is fifth and Bell is third or fourth; Perry Central is 13th in the state. We’ve just opened up with a really tough schedule and we’re going to get better for it. That’s what we want is to compete at that level and these young kids will be at that level soon.”
Middlesboro hosts Knox Central Monday at 7:30 p.m.
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While the two 20-point wins over 13th Region foes Corbin and Middlesboro were nice for Bell County. The result that shows the Lady Cats could be in store for a really big season was the victory over Perry Central Friday. The Lady Commodores have been a fixture at the Sweet 16 in recent years, were ranked 13th in the state preseason poll, and boast one of the top post players in the state in junior Kayla Rankin.
The Lady Cats hit nine 3-pointers in the 55-51 win and though Rankin finished with 24 points, Bell’s zone held her in check during key stretches of the game.
“That was a big, big win for us and our program in general. Perry Central is probably the favorite in the 14th Region, they’ve won that region four or five years in a row and they’re ranked in the top 15 in the state this year,” Teague said. “I was tickled to death for our kids. We’ve got a decent mixture of some young kids playing with a few older ones and it was good for us to play in that type of environment. Definitely a good test for us.”
Bell built a 12-6 lead after one quarter as Morris scored four points, Garnett and Sanders three each and Robbins hit a pair of free throws.
Perry Central fought back behind nine points from Rankin in the second period but Garnett hit two 3s, Morris and Johnson knocked down one apiece and Sarah Collins added a basket as the Lady Cats clung to a 26-25 lead at the half.
Sanders hit three from long range in the third quarter and Bell’s lead grew to 40-35.
Rankin scored nine points in the fourth quarter, but Morris and Collins combined to hit 6-of-7 free throws down the stretch and Johnson hit a big 3-pointer as the Lady Cats held on to win by four.
Morris finished with 17 points, Sanders 12 and Garnett nine to lead the Lady Cats. Whitney Brock joined Rankin in double-figures for Perry Central with 11 points while Pam Sebastian added seven off the bench for the Lady Commodores.
Bell’s 3-0 start coupled with a win over defending 13th Region champion Clay County in a preseason scrimmage has the Lady Cats looking like legitimate contenders this season.
Teague said his team is hoping to make that the case, but added they’ve still got a long way to go.
“We’ve got to keep getting better and keep working. We’ve got some kids back from last year and they’ve done a tremendous job of showing that leadership and bringing these younger kids along. I’ve got three freshmen that are playing big-time minutes right now,” he said. “Our big thing is we’ve got to play hard at all times, play smart and play together. If we can do those things — and obviously stay healthy — I think we’ll give ourselves a chance for a successful year.”
Bell County will have their home opener Tuesday against Corbin at 7:30 p.m.
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Local players also fared well in individual competitions at the tournament. Lady Cat freshman Sarah Collins took first place in the free throw shooting contest while Middlesboro 7th grader Blair Green won the 3-point shooting competition with freshman Bailey Hensley placing second.
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Perry Cent…. 6… 19… 10… 16 — 51
Bell County…12… 14… 14… 15 — 55
PERRY CENTRAL (51): Kayla Rankin 24, Whitney Brock 11, Pam Sebastian 7, Hannah Spurlock 3, Lynda Combs 3, Whitney Evans 2, Perri Coots 1, Randi-Carol Napier 0, Elizabeth Gayheart 0, Tori Watts 0.
BELL COUNTY (55): Maci Morris 17, Jessica Sanders 12, Morgan Garnett 9, Katrina Johnson 6, Sarah Collins 5, Kelli Smith 4, Paige Robbins 2, Jamie Boatright 0.
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Bell County…. 20… 21… 16… 18 — 75
Middlesboro… 13… 13…. 6… 21 — 53
BELL COUNTY (75): Maci Morris 28, Jessica Sanders 13, Morgan Garnett 12, Katrina Johnson 7, Sarah Collins 6, Kelli Smith 5, Paige Robbins 4, Jamie Boatright 0, Allison Howard 0, Caleigh Collett 0, Bethany Miracle 0, Alex Brock 0.
MIDDLESBORO (53): Blair Green 14, Bailey Hensley 10, Taylor Moyers 6, Hannah Warren 6, Carissa Padgett 5, Amanda Biscardi 4, Taylor Prater 3, Lauren Spurlock 3, Kelsie Hensley 2, Sophia Knuckles 0, Baylie Burnsma 0, Morgan Thompson 0.