Lady Bears surge past Clay with strong defensive effort


John Henson

Senior guard Hailey Austin helped lead the Harlan County defense in the Lady Bears’ 63-33 win Saturday at Clay County.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

MANCHESTER — In the early days of Harlan County High School girls basketball, the Lady Bears were denied three regional championships (2009, 2010 and 2012) by Clay County during Anthony Nolan’s first stint as coach.
Nolan and the Lady Bears didn’t have nearly as much trouble with Clay County on Saturday in Manchester, dominating with defense on the way to a 63-33 victory. Clay was limited to 25 percent shooting, hitting nine of 36 shots.
“That was our goal coming over here today,” Nolan said. “We thought we scored enough the other night (a loss to Knox Central), but we gave up too many points. We have to be better defensively. We scored in the 60s, but defensively we were much better. We made them earn their points by contesting their shots all night long. That defensive pressure has to be there every night. I think our kids understood the objective.”
Senior guard Taytum Griffin led the Harlan County offense, hitting all five of her shots from the field to finish with 16 points, Ella Karst added 11 points.
“Hailey (Austin) and Taytum have worked so hard,” Nolan said. “Kylie (Jones) also hit some shots for us, and that takes so much pressure off Ella. We’re better balanced offensively, and Jaylin (Smith) has not hit her stride yet. I think our offensive has improved. Our players understand their roles. A couple of them have already shot more free throws in the first three games than they did all season last year
Mackenzie Sizemore paced the Lady Tigers with 14 points. Clay County fell to 2-1 with the loss after opening the season with wins over Whitley County and McCreary Central.
Harlan County took control early as Karst and Griffin each hit 3-pointers in an 11-0 run to start the game. Clay turned the ball over six times in the opening quarter and trailed 16-9 when the period ended.
Clay missed all six shots from the field in the second quarter as Harlan County extended its advantage to 29-12 by halftime as Kylie Jones and Griiffin each hit 3-pointers and Smith and Karst added baskets.
Clay scored the first five points of the second half to pull within 12, but Harlan County quickly reclaimed control as Smith converted a three-point play and Griffin hit another trey. The Lady Bears led 47-23 heading into the fourth quarter.
Jones and Griffin connected on 3-pointers as the lead grew to 54-28 at the five-minute mark when Jones emptied his bench. Peyton Lunsford pushed the final margin to 30 points with a 3 in the closing seconds.
Harlan County returns to action Monday at home against Barbourville.
Freshman guard Cheyenne Rhymer scored 19 points as Harlan County claimed a 38-37 win in junior varsity action. Whitley Teague added eight points for the 1-2 Lady Bears, followed by Lacey Robinson with four, Maddi Middleton with three, Kylee Runions with two and Presley Hensley and Lauren Lewis with one each.
Julia Collins scored 12 points and Madison Penland added 11 for Clay County.

Harlan County coach Anthony Nolan talked to the Lady Bears during their 63-33 win Saturday afternoon at Clay County. (John Henson)