CORBIN — A fourth straight 13th Region All “A” Classic title did not come easy for the Harlan Lady Dragons, who are becoming accustomed to having to fight for everything this year after losing two starters (Brooklyn Massingill and Katie King) to graduation from last year’s Sweet Sixteen team and another (Emma Bianchi) early in the season to a shoulder injury.
When junior center Mackenzie King went out with her fifth foul with 5:41 left and the Lady Dragons up by only three, Harlan’s run as All “A” Classic regional champions appeared very much in doubt. Pineville got as close as one on two occasions, first on a three-point play by Autumn Short and then on a basket by Jill Enix with two minutes left.
Pineville had two chances, and two good shots, to take the lead, but Short and Enix each missed. Jordan Brock hit two free throws to push the lead to three and Mackenzie Fuson missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer as Harlan held on for a 39-36 win.
“I looked out there late in the game and four of our girls hadn’t really played in a game like this,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said. “I think games like this are helping us build confidence and get ready for the tournaments.”
“We had a couple of chances. We just missed. But I think this showed we’re better than the 13th team in the region,” said Pineville coach Jamie Mills, apparently referring to the recent Litkenhous Rankings in the Louisville Courier Journal.
Pineville (12-3) missed seven of eight shots in the first quarter and hit only three of 13 shots in the first half as Harlan built a seven-point halftime lead.
“I think it was nerves early. We weren’t running our offense,” Mills said.
Despite being the focus of Pineville’s box-and-one defense, Brock again led the Lady Dragons with 16 points, earning tournament most valuable player honors.
“We got some stops early, but I thought we put them on the line too much,” Akal said. “We saw Pineville play last night and knew they were a good team.”
Akal credited sixth man Payeton Charles with helping on several of those stops as she saw extensive action.
“I’m so proud of Payeton,” Akal said. “She really stepped up in this tournament and stopped people from running an offense.”
Harlan grabbed a 4-0 lead on baskets by King and Brock as Pineville had only one field goal in the opening quarter, a basket off a drive by Mackenzie Fuson that cut the deficit to 4-2. A 3-pointer by Noah Canady and basket by Brock off a Taylor Simpson steal pushed the Lady Dragons’ advantage to 9-3.
A Simpson 3-pointer and Charles jumper extended the lead to 14-4. Short’s basket with 3:40 left in the half ended a field goal drought of 10 minutes for Pineville. Two straight 3-pointers by Brock gave Harlan an 11-point lead, but Enix scored the last four points of the half to make the score 21-14.
Canady and King each hit 3-pointers to stretch Harlan’s lead back to 11 before the Pineville offense finally came to life behind Enix and Morgan Thompson. The Lady Lions got as close as three before Brock closed the quarter with another basket to make the score 29-24.
Harlan will play 15th Region champ Paintsville in the first round of the state All “A” Classic in Frankfort.
“We’ve got a daunting task in front of us, but we’ll get back in the gym and keep working,” Akal said.
Brock led the all-tournament team and was joined by King, Simpson, Canady and Brandi Haywood. Enix, Short and Sarah Combs represented Pineville. Keisha Brock and Mackenzie Grant were selected from Lynn Camp. Abbagail Smith and Anna Daniels represented Barbourville. The other members of the all-tournament team included Middlesboro’s Grace Moles, Oneida Baptist’s Lexi Pernell, Williamsburg’s Lillie Hall and Red Bird’s Kassidy Collett.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134