North extends regional win streak against HCHS to four


Les Nicholson

Harlan County point guard Ella Karst worked her way through the North Laurel defense in 13th Region Tournament action Monday. Karst led the Lady Bears with 18 points in a 62-38 loss that ended Harlan County’s season at 22-10.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

CORBIN — In winning their first 13th Region Tournament title in 2018, the Harlan County Lady Bears rolled past North Laurel 78-51 in the championship game.
North has spent much of the past five years avenging that loss. The Lady Jaguars knocked off HCHS 73-33 in the 2019 finals, then won 65-38 in the 2021 semifinals and 69-40 in the 2022 first round. North made it four straight on Monday, coasting to a 62-38 victory in another first-round game.
“It did take several years for us to get this going. It took three years to be competitive, but we’ve been toward the top of the region the last six or seven years,” said North Laurel coach Eddie Mahan. “The girls bought into the system, but we’ve also had a lot of great players. Emily Sizemore has been here for a lot of these…I look down the bench now and see seventh- and eighth-graders who will take over the reins. We’ve had several girls who started as seventh- and eighth-graders, including Emily.”
Sophomore guard Brooke Nichelson scored 23 points and Sizemore, now a senior, added 16 to lead the 27-6 Lady Jaguars, Gracie McKnight, a 6-foot-4 junior center, added 14 points on seven-of-seven shooting while making life difficult for the Lady Bears in the paint. The 27-6 Lady Jaguars will play the South Laurel-Knox Central winner on Friday in the opening semifinal.
Junior guard Ella Karst again led the Lady Bears, scoring 18 points as HCHS finished the season at 22-10.
North wasted no time taking control, scoring the first 10 points of the game led by two baskets each from Nicholson and 6-4 McKnight. Karst and Griffin sparked a mini-rally midway through the period with two baskets each to cut the deficit to 15-10. Sizemore’s basket gave North a seven-point lead after one period.
Harlan County was limited to only four points in the second quarter as North extended its lead to 28-14 at the break with the help of four straight points from Nicholson and a 3 by Gracie McKnight.
“We gave up some transition baskets in the first half, and we knew we couldn’t do that. Their length really bothered us also. We
were floating shots the first half, and were dodging contact. We passed up a lot of shots we should have taken and didn’t get to the line enough,” Harlan County coach Anthony Nolan said. “We got down so big early. It’s so hard to dig out of a hole like that against a team like North.”
“We know it’s going to take a strong defensive effort for us to make a run in this tournament,” Mahan said. “That was a focus coming into this,. They have some weapons and hit some tough, tough shots. I thought we played good defense. Even with that good defense, they were scoring early. I thought transition was key for us, and we were able to get to the rim. We didn’t shoot very well from 3 tonight, but when you have Chloe McKnight it gets you a lot of looks.”
Nichelson and McKnight teamed for five baskets in a 10-2 run to start the third quarter that pushed the lead to 22 and all but ended the Lady Bears’ hopes. North outscored HCHS 25-13 in the quarter to take a 53-27 lead into the final period.
Nolan had several players in the game in the fourth quarter who will move into leadership positions next season to join Karst. Kylie Jones, a sophomore, saw extensive action, along with juniors Paige Phillips and Faith Hoskins.
“Kylie has been a different kid the last week with her play against Bell County carrying over to tonight,” Nolan said. “Paige (Phillips) was more physical and hit that jump shot and showed some of her potential. Faith (Hoskins) took a while to adjust to what we do, but she played well tonight.”
The game marked the end of the high school carers of four HCHS starters — Jaylin Smith, Taytum Griffin, Hailey Austin and Taylor Lunsford.
“Our seniors will be hard to replace. They are great kids on and off the floor,” Nolan said. “They were written off a couple of years ago, but they continued to get better. I’m very proud to see them mature and grow over the last three years.”


North Laurel’s Brooke Nichelson went up against Harlan County’s Kylie Jones in regional tournament action Monday. Nichelson scored 23 points in the Lady Jaguars’ 62-38 victory. (Les Nicholson)


Harlan County’s Jaylin Smith battled for position against North Laurel’s Emily Sizemore and Jalyn Black in 13th Region Tournament action Monday. (Les Nicholson)