Less than two years removed from a 13th Region Tournament title, the Bell County Lady Cats find themselves in rebuilding mode, not a good place to be these days in a 52nd District that includes the top two teams in the region from a year ago and the two favorites going into the 2017 season.
The visiting Lady Cats tried to slow down Tuesday’s district game at Harlan County School but had little success against one of the region’s deepest and most talented teams. HCHS scored the game’s first seven points and was never threatened in rolling to a 70-33 victory.
“We want to come out with the same intensity every game and take care of business, and we did a good job of that tonight,” Harlan County coach Debbie Green said. “No matter who it is, we want to play the same way. We’re hitting shots, we’re practicing hard and it’s carrying over into games. We’re competing so well in practice that it’s making both of our groups good. I like our depth. It’s hard for people to focus on one person now. We’re also sharing the ball real well. I think Phebe (McHargue) had eight assists and Blair (Green) had seven.”
Bell County coach David Teague is used to being on the other side of blowouts, but the Lady Cats are still trying to adjust to the graduation losses, especially Miss Basketball Maci Morris, who is now playing for the University of Kentucky.
“We’re very inexperienced right now and trying to do a lot of learning and trying to do it really quick,” Teague said. “This district has been really tough for several years. I’m not as worried with the scores as trying to do the things we need to do. I see glimpses of that. We want to do better as it goes on down the road.”
Harlan County (2-1) featured a balanced attack again as junior center Kaylea Gross hit nine of 11 shots in a 19-point performance and junior guard Blair Green added 17 points on seven-of-11 shooting. Sophomore guard Shelby McDaniel came off the bench to add 12 points, hitting all five of her shots from the field.
“They are a very experienced team and it’s not just experience. They have so many weapons with size inside, guards who can shoot it and length at several spots,” Teague said. “Blair is enough to handle by herself. When you throw probably the top post player in the region (Gross) with her, plus a very good cast around them it makes for a good basketball team. That’s kind of what we had. Now they are there.”
Bell County (1-3) was led by senior guard Caleigh Collett with nine points.
Sophomore forward Breann Turner helped the Lady Bears get off to a good start with two baskets and two forced turnovers in the opening three minutes as Harlan County’s lead expanded quickly. Green hit a 3-pointer and found Gross inside for two baskets as Harlan County raced to a 21-7 advantage by the end of the period. McDaniel came off the bench to add a 3-pointer and layup off a steal as part of a 10-0 run late in the quarter.
The Lady Bears buried Bell with a 13-0 spurt to open the second period, capped by three straight baskets from Gross. Green had a basket and a 3 to start the run.
Baskets late in the period by Lainey Cox and Middleton and another 3-pointer from McDaniel pushed the Lady Bears’ advantage to 45-13 at halftime.
Two field goals by Gross, the second coming on a nice pass from McHargue, sandwiched around a basket by McDaniel off a steal started a running clock in the opening minute of the third quarter. Two baskets by Green, one by Gross and another by McHargue, helped stretch Harlan County’s lead to 61-21 going into the final period.
Both teams went to the reserves in the fourth quarter as Bell outscored HCHS 12-9. Collett and Karlie Cox each hit 3-pointers to lead Bell in the period.
Both teams will continue their district schedule Friday as Bell County plays host to Harlan and Harlan County travels to Middlesboro.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134