Youth movement carries Lady Cards in victory at Harlan County


John Henson

Harlan County guard Ella Karst worked to the basket against South Laurel’s Shelbie Mills in Tuesday’s game. Mills scored 22 points to lead the Lady Cardinals in a 78-59 victory.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

As the architect of two state championship teams at Mercer County and the coach of the South Laurel team that appeared to be in position for a state title at South Laurel before covid hit during the 2020 Sweet Sixteen, Chris Souder knows as well as anyone how to build a powerhouse.
He appears to have the ingredients for another run built around three eighth-graders who starred for South Laurel on Tuesday in a 78-59 victory at Harlan County. Standout guard Shelbie Mills, the daughter of former Miss Basketball Kim Mays, was on fire from the outside early as South built a 13-point lead after one quarter in a 22-point performance. Peyton Mabe, a 5-11 wing who can shoot from long range or overpower opponents inside, added 21 points. Maci Messer came off the bench to add 15 points as South improved to 9-6 after something of.a slow start due to losing several key players to injuries and graduation.
“We lost Jaylen Smith to a torn ACL in the Christmas break, so we had to go even younger. Our three leading scorers tonight were eighth-graders, so we’re excited about our future. We just want to keep trying to get better every day,” Souder said.
Harlan County (10-4) struggled to cover the South shooters early, then had trouble finishing plays after getting back into the game. South hit six of 12 from behind the 3-point line in the opening quarter to build a 26-13 lead.
“They had their feet set and we weren’t squeezing their shooters,” Harlan County coach Anthony Nolan said. “They all can stand out there and shoot and girls like that shot if you let them get their feet set. We gave up 45 points in the first half and we can’t do that. We can’t score to keep up with that. We didn’t play defense the first half.”
Down 12 early in the second quarter, Harlan County went on a 14-2 run to pull even at 31-all. South responded with a 13-run and led 46-37 at halftime. Austin hit three of three shots in the quarter and Karst added two 3-pointers to lead HCHS.Taylor Lunsford also provided a spark with two baskets and four rebounds.
“We thought it was a little bit of fool’s gold since we hit several early, then we got 3 happy and allowed Harlan County to get back in it, so give them credit,” Souder said. “We were fortunate to get that back to eight at halftime. We did move the ball well, but I reminded our kids to not forget the people in the paint. We’re so young that when you see those going in you want to keep shooting them.
“I wasn’t real happy at halftime, and I thought we were a little lethargic after the initial run. We tried to get Mabe going in the paint in the second half and I was pleased with our effort.”
Mabe hit three of three shots in the third quarter as South outscored Harlan County 19-12 to take a 65-49 lead into the final period
Emily Cox, a senior forward who is the daughter of former Harlan all-stater Todd Cox and the granddaughter of former Cawood coach Raymond Cox, added nine points and 13 rebounds for the Lady Cardinals.
Junior guard Ella Karst scored 17 points and senior forward Jaylin Smith added 14 to lead the Lady Bears. Hailey Austin added 11 points on five-of-seven shooting in her first game back after missing three games last week following surgery on her wisdom teeth.
Harlan County returns to action Thursday at Hazard. South Laurel will play Male on Saturday.

Harlan County’s Taytum Griffin drove around South Laurel’s Aubrey Bundy in Tuesday’s game at HCHS. (John Henson)