LOG MOUNTAIN — The Bell County Lady Cats clinched a tie for the top seed in the 52nd District Monday with a 64-34 rout of the Middlesboro Lady Jackets.
The Lady Jackets came out strong looking for an upset. They held Bell to just six points in the first quarter and led 18-14 midway through the second. But the Lady Cats took control of the game with a 15-0 run to close the half and then outscored MHS 20-4 in the third quarter to put it away.
Defense was key as the Lady Cats forced 12 turnovers during the decisive quarter and a half.
“We got off to a very sluggish start. We were defending and moving and things, we just weren’t making shots. Sometimes that happens, we’ve not been in our normal routine here lately,” said Bell coach David Teague. “Once we got going I thought we played real well, especially defensively.”
Seventh-grader Blair Green, who led all scorers in the game with 22 points, scored six in the first period as the Lady Jackets took an 8-6 lead.
Green hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 12 early in the second quarter. Middlesboro also got a steal and layup from Bailey Hensley and then two free throws from Green to go up 16-12. A jumper by Green gave the Lady Jackets an 18-14 lead with 4:00 to go in the half.
“I thought defensively we did a pretty good job. They missed some shots early, but they were contested shots and I thought we were moving well. Offensively, we were getting good looks and taking care of the basketball,” said MHS coach Elgie Green. “I thought the first 14 minutes of the game was about as good as we could play. The last two minutes of the second quarter we just didn’t take care of the basketball.”
The Lady Jackets wouldn’t score again in first half. Bell sophomore guard Jess Sanders knocked down a 3-pointer, then two free throws from Maci Morris after a steal gave the Lady Cats a 19-18 lead at the 2:58 mark. The foul was the third for Hensley and with their point guard on the bench, Middlesboro struggled the rest of the quarter against the Lady Cat defensive pressure.
A Sarah Collins steal led to three-point play by Morris. Then Morris and Sanders both converted steals into layups, Collins hit a free throw and Sanders knocked down a pull up jumper to complete the 15-0 run as the Lady Cats took a 29-18 lead into the half.
“Over the last few days preparing for them we had talked about putting some pressure on people and getting in passing lanes,” Teague said. “I thought for the most part the kids did that well. It was a good defensive effort.”
Middlesboro scoring drought lasted ten minutes — all the way to the 1:58 mark of the third quarter when Green hit a pair of free throws. By then the Lady Cats were up 43-20 thanks to a pair of 3s from Morgan Garnett and four points each from Sanders and Morris.
“We came out and played hard, but I think fatigue set in and we kind of lost our focus and lost our intensity. When we came out of halftime you could just feel that we didn’t have it anymore. We looked tired,” Green said. “It’s not like they were breaking us down defensively in the halfcourt. We just didn’t take good care of the basketball out on the perimeter.”
Bell (19-4, 5-1 in district play) continued to pull away and went on to the 64-34 win.
Morris led the Lady Cats with 19 points while Sanders finished with 18 and Garnett 13. Katrina Johnson added nine points off the bench.
“When our guards are scoring the basketball like that it makes us a lot better. It just opens up so much for each of them and everybody else,” Teague said. “When those three are in double-figures and we’re sharing the ball a lot good things happen for us offensively.”
Green’s 22 points led Middlesboro (3-17, 0-6). Hensley and Taylor Moyers were the next leading scorers for the Lady Jackets with four points each.
“We knew coming in that Blair was their leading scorer and she’s a nice player, even though she’s just a seventh grader,” Teague added. “We wanted to put pressure on her and make her have to work for some things and at the same time force some others to have to make plays and hit shots.”
“Blair had a good game. She took good shots and she had to work to get open. You know, we missed some easy shots. Some point-blank, nobody on us shots and when you play a really good team you’ve got to convert those,” coach Green said. “If we could have got a few of those in the second quarter and kept it close, maybe we go into halftime down just two or three and have a little different attitude.”
Middlesboro is scheduled to visit Whitley County today in the first game of a girls-boys double-header. Despite the loss, Green said he was encouraged by the Lady Jackets effort.
“I saw a lot of bright spots and I thought we did some good things. I think we played a little better than the 30-point difference shows,” he said.
The Lady Cat are scheduled to host Pineville this evening at 7:30 p.m.
Teague said they’ll find out this weekend how the draw shakes out for the 52nd District Tournament.
“It puts us in a tie for first with Harlan County and I guess they’ll flip a coin or draw it out. We’ll find out Saturday whether we’ll play Middlesboro or Harlan City in the first round of the district,” he said. “We’ve got to keep working, we’ve got some goals we want to accomplish before then. We want to try and keep the kids focused on getting better and then we’ll go into that tournament and see what happens.”
— — —
Middlesboro…8…10….4…12 — 34
Bell County…..6…23…20…15 — 64
MIDDLESBORO (34): Blair Green 22, Taylor Moyers 4, Bailey Hensley 4, Lauren Spurlock 2, Sophia Knuckles 1, Morgan Thompson 1, Carissa Padgett 0, Taylor Prater 0, Amanda Biscardi 0, Baylie Brunsma 0.
BELL COUNTY (64): Maci Morris 19, Jess Sanders 18, Morgan Garnett 12, Katrina Johnson 9, Alex Brock 2, Caleigh Collett 2, Sarah Collins 1, Paige Robbins 0, Kelli Smith 0, Jamie Boatright 0, Allison Howard 0, Kaitlyn Taylor 0, Courtney Cinnamon 0, Bethany Miracle 0.