HARLAN — The Bell County Lady Cats nearly erased an 11-point deficit over the final two minutes, but Corbin was able to hold on for a 63-60 win to capture the 13th Region championship on Monday at Harlan County High School.
“As the game went along our intensity picked up and I’m proud of the girls for battling. They battled and battled and battled, but it seemed like every time we would make a run, they would push it back up,” Bell coach David Teague said. “They gave us a chance at the end and as a coach, that’s all you can ask of your kids.”
Junior guard Kayla Wilson led the Lady Redhounds with 21 points and was named the tournament’s MVP. She scored 11 of her points in the fourth quarter and hit all six of her free throws in the period. Miranda Wilson finished with 16 points and Sarah Ashley 15 for Corbin.
Bell County was led by sophomore guard Maci Morris with 27 points, junior Morgan Garnett added 13 and freshman Kelli Smith 12.
Very few thought Corbin would be competing for the regional championship after losing at home to the Lady Cats by 20 points in the first game of the season and then by 33 a week later at Bell County.
“We’re a different team. Four of our eight losses came in the first two weeks of the season. This group of girls has grown up, they’re coachable and they’ve matured throughout the whole season,” Lady Hound coach Jennifer Parsons said. “I knew the potential they had. It’s okay that we weren’t expected to be at the top, that worked to our advantage. We were able to make adjustments and grow without pressure and they’ve learned.”
Corbin opened up in a diamond-and-one defense with a chaser on Morris and after the sophomore scored the first points of the game, she was held scoreless the rest of the first period. 3s from Kayla Wilson and Ashley put the Lady Hounds up 16-7 at the 3:40 mark of the first quarter and Morris picked up her second foul on a charging call less than a minute later.
Corbin’s lead was 20-12 after one and 29-19 by halftime.
“We’ve chased her before, but we did just a regular box with her. We changed it up a little bit and ran a diamond and one,” Parsons said. “It slowed them down enough for us to build that lead. The thing about it was that we were making shots on the other end.”
Both teams picked up the pace in the third quarter, but the Lady Hounds answered several Bell runs to maintain their lead. A 3 from Wilson pushed the lead to 37-25, but Kelli Smith answered with a 3 for the Lady Cats. A basket by Sarah Ashley pushed the Corbin advantage back to 41-30, but Morris converted a three-point play and Smith came up with a steal that led to a Morris jumper and the Lady Cats were within 43-36 going into the fourth.
When Kayla Wilson drove the baseline for a layup in traffic with 3:52 to play it looked like the Lady Hounds had the game in hand. That basket made the score 53-42 and it was still 57-46 after Wilson hit a pair of free throws at the 2:06 mark.
“Bell obviously is a great team and they have the best player that will probably ever come out of this area with Maci. I mean, she’s just outstanding,” Parsons said. “Our motto yesterday and today was: ‘A great player can’t beat great team.’ Sometimes that happens, but we weren’t going to let that happen tonight. We were hungry for it.”
That great player scored six points within a span of 17 seconds to get the Lady Cats right back in the game.
Morris drew a foul and hit both ends of the bonus with 2:00 to play, then stole the inbounds pass and laid the ball in. She came up with another steal in the back court and scored again and just like that it was 57-52 with 1:43 still to go.
“We were trying to pick our defensive intensity up there and we knew that whether it worked for us or not we had to try and get some turnovers created. I thought there for a minute that we were going to get it, but just never could get over the hump,” Teague said.
Holli Disney got behind the Bell press for a layup, but Katrina Johnson knocked down a 3 from the corner with exactly 1:00 on the clock and it was a four-point game. Miranda Wilson hit one free throw and Jess Sanders hit another 3 for the Lady Cats and the lead was down to 60-58 with 28 seconds left.
Disney hit one free throw and Morris scored on a putback to make it 61-60 with 15 seconds remaining.
Wilson was fouled at the ten second mark and hit both free throws to make it 63-60. The Lady Cats had a shot to tie it up, but Morris’s contested 3 hit the front rim as Corbin held on.
“We came up a little short, but I was proud of them for the way they battled. Overall, it’s been a heck of a year. We finished 27-6 and I think that’s a school record for wins, we won our district for the first time in several years and got to the finals of the region for the first time in a long, long time,” Teague added. “It’s been a fun year to coach this group of girls.”
The Lady Redhounds (27-8) advance to the girls state tournament in Bowling Green where they’ll take on 15th Region champ Shelby Valley in the first round at 8 p.m. on March 13.
For Bell it was the final game for seniors Paige Robbins and Jamie Boatright.
“Those two girls have been with me a long time. I’m sure there have been hard moments for them, but they have stuck with us and been very good leaders. They’ve done everything I’ve asked of them and I’m so proud of them. I wish them the best in everything they do in the future, they’ll be long remembered as part of our basketball team,” Teague said.
The Lady Cats played three freshmen and two sophomores heavy minutes this season and figure to be back even stronger next season.
“We were playing a bunch of young kids throughout the season. They’ve worked hard and developed that winning attitude,” Teague said. “I look forward to continuing to coach them and hopefully we’ll continue to improve.”
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Joining Wilson on the all-tournament team from Corbin were Miranda Wilson, Sarah Ashley, Holli Disney and Brooklyn Ashurst.
Bell County was represented by Morris, Garnett and Sanders. Rounding out the team were Harlan County’s Sarah Evans and Brooklyn Massengill, Whitley County’s Brandi Smith and Maria Johnson, Lynn Camp’s Kayla Smith, Barbourville’s Kara Erslan, Clay County’s Morgan Chesnut, and North Laurel’s Ashley Wyatt.
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Cobin…..20…9…14…20 — 63
Bell Co….12…7…17…24 — 60
CORBIN (63)— Kayla Wilson 21, Miranda Wilson 16, Holli Disney 4, Sarah Ashley 15, Brooklyn Ashurst 5, Krystin Fothergill 2, Natalye Gallagher 0, Melanie Wilson 0.
BELL COUNTY (60) — Maci Morris 27, Kelli Smith 12, Paige Robbins 1, Morgan Garnett 13, Jess Sanders 3, Katrina Johnson 4, Sarah Collins 0.