Lady Bears open season with victory over Knott Central


John Henson

Harlan County senior Taytum Griffin followed a pick from Jaylin Smith on her way to the basket in Monday’s season-opening game against Knott Central. Griffin scored 15 points in the Lady Bears’ 65-57 victory.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

A 25-point loser this time last year in Hindman, the Harlan County Lady Bears started the 2023 season quite a bit better Monday in the rematch. Harlan County placed four in double figures and led the entire second half in a 65-57 win over visiting Knott Central.
Senior guard Taytum Griffin led the Lady Bears’ balanced attack with 15 points, followed closely by Jaylin Smith with 13, Ella Karst with 12 and Taylor Lunsford with 11.
“We made some mistakes late in the game, but this was good experience for us. Those kinds of situations are hard to simulate in practice,” Harlan County coach Anthony Nolan said. “We had six in double figures in the scrimmage the other night, and we need that balance. We need to have kids step up and play bigger roles. I think could be the difference in us competing in the postseason and being a legitimate contender. They’ve come a long way the last few years, and I’m proud of that, but we have to continue to build.”
Junior guard Kylie Gayheart poured in 22 points to lead the Lady Patriots, sparking a fourth-quarter rally with all of her team’s points in a 10-2 run that cut the deficit to three in the final 90 seconds.
“Knott is a good team with two players as good as we’ll see all year,” Nolan said. “I was proud of the way we closed. I was glad they made a run at us. I wanted to see how our kids would respond.”
Presley Fletcher and Layce Hall added 16 and 11 points, respectively, for the Lady Patriots, who had won four of the past six 14th Region titles.
Gayheart had a chance to tie the game with just over a minute left but was unable to convert her third 3-pointer of the period. Griffin hit two free throws to extend the lead to five with 42 seconds left, then Karst and Hailey Austin connected on one of two each to put the game away.
“She stretched us, and I’m glad to see how our kids responded. She’s a tough kid and has improved since last year as far as the 3-point shot,” Nolan said. “Fletcher is a scrappy player. They will be a tough out for anyone over there.”
Harlan County owned a 38-24 advantage on the boards, a key stat in the game as the Lady Bears capitalized on second-chance opportunities at key points.
“We had three shots on one possession in the second quarter that gave us a six-point cushion at halftime,” Nolan said. “Hailey Austin got several 50-50 balls that were big for us, especially late in the game.”
Both teams started strong offensively, playing to a 20-20 tie after one quarter as HCHS hit eight of 14 shots from the field while Knott connected on seven of 14. Fletcher and Karst led their teams with three baskets each in the period.
Knott grabbed an early five-point lead in the second quarter, prompting a timeout from Nolan. The Lady Bears responded with a 7-0 run sparked by Griffin and Karst. Lunsford closed the half with a pair of baskets as Harlan County built a 36-30 lead at the break.
The lead grew to 11 with three minutes left in the third quarter as Lunsford, Smith and Griffin each had two baskets. Knott cut the deficit to 53-46 going into the fourth period.
Harlan County returns to action Thursday at home against Knox Central against one of the 13th Region’s top teams.
Akasia Bentley scored 19 points to lead Knott Central in a 37-34 overtime victory in junior varsity action.
Whitney Noe led the Lady Bears with 11 points. Lacey Robinson scored eight, followed by Whitley Teague with seven, Maddi Middleton with three, Peyton Lunsford and Alley Stewart with two each and Addi Gray with one.