Lady Cats rally to knock off HCHS in 52nd District finals


Jon Dickenson

Harlan County guard Ella Karst worked against Bell County’s Mataya Ausmus in the 52nd District Tournament finals on Thursday.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

MIDDLESBORO — After three straight losses to Bell County in the 52nd District Tournament finals, the Harlan County Lady Bears did what they needed to do for three quarters to end that streak as they took a 38-30 lead into the fourth period.
The Lady Cats did what they needed to do in the fourth quarter to make it four straight, opening with an 11-0 run on the way to posting a 48-44 victory.
“I thought for a while they were more physical than us,” Bell County coach David Teague said. “They had us pushed way out on the floor. We made some adjustments at halftime and tried to get some things on the back of it.
“Harlan County played hard. I had been out for a few games (due to a suspension following an ejection) and was ready to go. I got after them pretty good, and I was proud of their effort. They battled.”
The Lady Cats finally responded to Teague’s advice in the fourth quarter, beginning with sophomore guard Lauren McGeorge hitting back-to-back 3-pointers. Gracie Wilder followed with the tying basket, then Mataya Ausmus hit the go-ahead trey.
“That was huge,” Teague said. “We hadn’t shot the ball well for the most part. I also thought (Kaylee) Greer-Gann’s shot was big for us because she doesn’t shoot the ball a lot. It was unusual for her to shoot a jump shot. Those shots helped get our defense going and we were able to get into some things.”
The Lady Cats’ defense picked up after finding success on offense as Bell focused on taking the ball out of the hands of standout point guard Ella Karst, who had three baskets in each of the first two quarters and finished with a team-high 18 points.
“I thought we did a much, much better job the second half on Karst,” Teague said. “She is a heck of a player. I have as much respect for her as any player in the region.”
The Lady Bears missed eight of their first 10 shots from the field in the fourth quarter and three straight free throws.
“They made a little run, and we knew they’d make a spurt in the fourth quarter,” Harlan County coach Anthony Nolan said. “I’m really proud of the effort the whole game. We passed on a couple of chances to take shots, then we missed some free throws, then it snowballed on us. They became aggressive and we played not to lose. We didn’t play to win like we did for three quarters.
“You have to be the aggressor. We opened the door and Bell is talented enough to take advantage of it, and they did.”
Junior forward Gracie Wilder scored 18 points to lead the 23-9 Lady Cats, earning tournament most valuable honors in the process. Ausmus and McGeorge added 14 and 10 points, respectively.
Jaylin Smith added 10 points for the Lady Bears, who fell to 22-9.
“They were coachable all night and listened to me and got in position,” Nolan said. “We made it hard for them to hit shots. We held them below 50 points. On a normal night, that’s a win for Harlan County High School. We missed some free throws and there were some shots we should have taken in the fourth quarter that could have extended the lead. That’s a mentality that we need a couple to grow into. We’ll what we learned tonight and take it to the Arena next week. I’m extremely proud though of the effort they gave.”
Bell County scored the game’s first six points and led through much of the first quarter before Karst and Smith sparked an HCHS surge. The Lady Bears hit eight of 10 shots in the period and pulled into a 17-17 by the end of the quarter.
Bell hit only two of eight shots in the second quarter as the Lady Bears did a great job of cutting down the Lady Cats’ baseline drives and limiting Wilder around the basket. Karst had three of her team’s four baskets as HCHS took a 27-24 lead into the break.
Kylie Jones provided a huge lift in the third quarter with a pair of 3-pointers that extended the Lady Bears’ lead to eight going into the fourth period. Bell hit only two of 10 shots in the quarter.
Both teams advance to the 13th Region Tournament opening Monday at the Corbin Arena.





Bell County junior forward Gracie Wilder went up for a shot in the 52nd DIstrict Tournament finals Thursday against Harlan County. WIlder earned most valuable player honors as the Lady Cats rallied for a 48-44 victory. (Jon Dickenson)
The Harlan County Lady Bears placed second in the 52nd DIstrict Tournament. (Jon Dickenson)