Dragons storm into WYMT finals with rout of 14th Region’s top squad


Jon Dickenson

Harlan senior guard Kaleb McLendon went up for two of his 11 points in the Green Dragons’ 75-56 win Friday over Breathitt County in the semifinals of the WYMT Mountain Classic.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

HAZARD — With a devastating mixture of shooting and speed, the Harlan Green Dragons turned the semifinals of the WYMT Mountain Classic semifinals into a basketball clinic on Friday at Perry Central High School.
Breathitt County, the preseason favorite in the 14th Region, was transformed into the test subject for Harlan’s shockingly easy 75-56 victory that earned the Dragons a spot in the tournament finals on Saturday against the host Commodores, who edged Harlan County 52-50 in the second semifinal. The Dragons took control early with 3-pointers, hitting 12 of 25 for the game, then spent the last three quarters beating the Bobcats off the dribble.
“We made shots and got out on the break. We were aggressive offensively, and defensively we got stops,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said after the Dragons improved to 4-0 on the season. “If we make shots, they have to come out and guard you. Once we got out ahead, I felt we had the advantage off the dribble. We have four guys who can handle the ball, and we have some experience on the floor with three seniors and a junior who are returning starters.”
Senior forward Jaedyn Gist scored 24 points and junior guard Kyler McLendon added 23 for the Green Dragons. Will Austin and Kaleb McLendon chipped in with 14 and 11 points, respectively.
Christian Collins, a 6-8 senior forward, scored 21 points to lead the Bobcats. Sophomore guard Austin Sperry added 17 points.
The McLendon brothers and Gist each hit a pair of 3-pointers in the opening six minutes as Harlan quickly grabbed control, building an 18-3 lead. Two baskets by Christian Collins cut the deficit to 20-9 by the end of the opening quarter. Harlan hit six of 10 from behind the 3-point line in the first quarter.
Harlan stayed hot in the second quarter as Gist hit two more 3s and part of a four-of-seven effort in the quarter by the Dragons. Harlan closed the half with seven straight points, sparked by two baskets by Kyler McLendon, for a 45-20 halftime lead.
In addition to their shooting, the Dragons also dominated the glass and made it difficult for the Bobcats to get a shot off inside. Will Austin had 11 rebounds and several blocked shots when Breathitt worked the ball inside.
Harlan’s lead grew to 30, at 66-36, by the end of the third quarter and reached 31 at one point in the fourth period. The Dragons had only one turnover over the first three quarters before turning the game over to their reserves midway through the final period. The lead
“We took care of the basketball, but I’m not expecting that to happen again,” Akal said of the turnover stat. “We played a little faster than usual, but I wanted to play that fast. Taking care of the basketball is No. 1.”