Lady Bears win WYMT Mountain Classic


Kim Henson | Bear Tracks

The Harlan County Lady Bears are pictured with their championship trophy and banner after winning the WYMT Mountain Classic title, the first in county history. Team members include, from left, front row: Morgan Blakley, Phebe McHargue, K.K. Johnson and Dixie Ewing; back row: Rebecca Middleton, Macie Napier, Hannay Gaw, Lainey Cox, Kaylea Gross, Shelby McDaniel, Blair Green, Breann Turner, Morgan Napier, Brooklyn Wood and Emily Long.

Three weeks. Three tournaments. Three championships.

The Harlan County Lady Bears likely moved themselves into the state’s top 20 and captured the first WYMT Mountain Classic title in county history by rolling past North Laurel 75-54 on Saturday at Perry Central High School.

“I’m proud of them. This should give us a lot of momentum going into the second half of the season,” Harlan County coach Debbie Green said. “We hope it’s contagious. We’ve won three tournaments, and we’ve got two more we want to win.”

Harlan County extended its win streak to 11 and improved its record to 14-2 with one of its strongest defensive performances of the season. The Lady Jaguars shot 35 percent (20 of 57) from the field, including 20 percent (three of 15) from beyond the 3-point line.

“We really worked on knowing where their shooters were,” Green said. “We knew they’d play five out, and that’s one reason I started a smaller lineup with K.K. (Johnson), which gives us four guards. It really worked out good on that end. I wanted to go with that lineup to start, but then our 4s, Bree (Turner) and Lainey (Cox) came in later and did a great job.”

The HCHS offense featured the same 1-2 punch that has carried the Lady Bears to the top of the region rankings as Blair Green and Kaylea Gross had matching stat lines of 24 points and 13 rebounds each. Harlan County also dominated on the boards with a 38-21 advantage.

“Ball movement was great,” Green said. “We want everyone looking for their shot. I feel we can get offensive rebounds if we miss. Our passing was really good. They set Kaylea and Blair up, and they both have great hands and can catch a variety of passes.”

Harlan County received a big lift from sophomore point guard Phebe McHargue, who turned several steals into points in a 12-point effort as she spearheaded the strong defensive effort.

North Laurel (11-5) was led by junior guards Madison Sheppard and Hannah Lawson, with 22 and 13 points, respectively.

Harlan County owned a 16-6 advantage on the boards in the first quarter, setting the tone early, as Gross and Green each pulled down six. Gross and Green scored all the points in a 7-0 run midway through the period as HCHS built a 16-8 lead. After Lawson and Shelby McDaniel traded 3-pointers, Lawson scored on a jumper to cut the deficit to 19-13 after one quarter.

Gross started to take control in the second quarter as she scored four baskets, three on the back end of passes from Breann Turner out of the Lady Bears’ high-low offense. A 3-pointer by McHargue pushed the lead to 35-23 with 3:38 left in the first half.

“We fixed our press late in the first quarter, and we did a better job. I think we wore them down,” Green said. “We didn’t want to back our press off because we’re in pretty good shape. We don’t want people to think we can’t press.”

Harlan County hit seven of 12 shots in the period and maintained a 13-point lead, at 42-29, going into the break.

The Lady Bears blew the game open to start the third quarter, reeling off eight straight points behind Green, Gross and Phebe McHargue to go up 50-29. Five straight points by Sheppard after North went to a press cut the deficit to 16 before Green hit two straight shots to stretch the lead back to 20, at 54-34, at the halfway mark of the period.

Harlan County hit eight of 12 shots in the quarter, led by four baskets from Green and three by Gross, to maintain a 20-point lead, at 58-38.

The Lady Bears built their advantage to as many as 25 points in the fourth quarter as Green had four baskets and McHargue added two, including a three-point play off a steal.

Gross was named the tournament’s most valuable player with double-doubles each of the two games in the tournament. Green and McHargue joined her on the all-tournament team. Turner won the Subway Sixth Man Award.

Harlan County returns to action Thursday at Lee, Va.