Bears complete opening-week sweep with victory at Letcher

Harlan+County+senior+forward+Josh+Turner+pull+down+one+of+his+10+rebounds+on+Saturday+in+the+Bears%27+victory+over+Letcher+Central.

Kim Henson

Harlan County senior forward Josh Turner pull down one of his 10 rebounds on Saturday in the Bears’ victory over Letcher Central.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

WHITESBURG — Three out-of-region road trips in the season’s opening week provided a test of both skill and endurance for the Harlan County Black Bears. HCHS coach Michael Jones was more than satisfied with the results following three double-digit wins as the Bears followed victories at Barren County and Martin County with a 55-35 win Saturday at Letcher Central.
“I’m proud of this team. They are growing up on the road. We have a lot we need to correct, and we know that, but to play three teams with different styles in three different regions and come out with three double-digit wins shows we’re headed in the right direction,” Jones said.
Letcher Central struggled against Harlan County’s 2-3 zone most of the night, shooting 35 percent (11 of 31) from the field. The Cougars were held to seven points in the second quarter as HCHS took the lead and four points in the third quarter as the Bears took control.
“I’ve always thought of Mike’s teams as gritty man-to-man teams, but I’ve noticed they have been playing a zone and obviously plan on doing that this year,” Letcher Central coach Winston Lee said. “What’s so disappointing is that we have been working on it, but they are really good at it. They communicate and cover and have some length.”
“For whatever reason, we weren’t adjusting to the overload they were running early. We talked about it and adjusted. We were a lot better defensively after that,” Jones said.
WIth standout point guard Trent Noah held scoreless over the first three quarters, senior wing Tyler Cole carried the HCHS offense with 26 points, including five 3-pointers. Senior forward Josh Turner also had a big game with eight points and 10 rebounds. Jackson Huff added 10 points.
“Cole really carried us tonight,” Jones said. “I thought Josh Turner was a beast. He was great on defense and on the boards. For Trent to score four points and for us to go on the road and win by 20 says a lot about what we can become at the end of the year.”
“We did a great job defensively on Noah, but we let Cole get loose too many times,” Lee said. “They were tougher than us, especially with second shots. We were one shot and done and couldn’t even sniff the basket. I think it comes down to physicality. Our kids just have to decide they aren’t going to let this zone beat them. We didn’t have the mental toughness, to go along with physical toughness. It’s back to the drawing board for us. Ultimately, we have to find a way to be more physical.”
Junior guard Nigel Nichols led the 1-2 Cougars with 11 points.
A pair of 3-pointers by Nichols and one by Isaiah Adams helped Letcher build an early 11-7 lead, but that was the last 3 of the quarter against the HCHS zone as the Bears cut the deficit to one, at 13-12, by the end of the period. Huff hit a pair of 3-pointers to carry the Harlan County offense in the early going.
Cole took over in the second quarter, hitting all four of his shots, including three 3-pointers. Joby Johnson hit a 3 and another jumper to get Letcher within three before Cole’s basket to close the half pushed the Bears’ lead to 25-20 at the break.
Bodie Bentley had a basket early in the third quarter for the Cougars, but it proved to be the only field goal of the period for Letcher as HCHS pulled away with the help of four baskets by Cole to stretch the lead to 39-24.
Noah ended his drought with a jumper in the lane, then dunked off the fast break to push the Bears’ advantage to 46-26. Huff added two baskets as HCHS led by as many as 23.
Harlan County returns to action Tuesday at home against Bell County in a girls/boys district doubleheader. Letcher Central travels to June Buchanan on Tuesday.
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Letcher Central improved to 3-0 in junior varsity action with a 45-31 victory.
Daelyn Shepherd scored 14 and Peyton Wright added 10 for the Cougars. Cooper Bailey tossed in eight, followed by Brady Boggs with six, Peyton Dixon with four and Max Roark with three.
Jeremiah Clem led the 1-1 Bears with 10 points. Caleb Johnson tossed in seven, followed by Ethan Rhymer with six, Tristan Cooper with five, Jared Rhymer with two and Brayden Hensley with one.
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Letcher opened its junior varsity schedule with a 50-33 win over East Ridge. Wright poured in 19 to lead the Cougars and was followed by Shepherd with 11, Bailey with eight, Dixon with six, Boggs with two and Jacob Isaac with one.
The Cougars rolled past Lee County 58-30 as Dixon scored 14 to lead Letcher. Bailey scored eight, followed by Boggs and Roark with seven each, Wright with six, Isaac with five and Colin Bates, Jacob McCool and Gavin Gibson with two each.

Harlan County senior guard Tyler Cole went to the basket for two of his 26 points in the Bears’ 55-35 win Saturday at Letcher Central. (Kim Henson)
Letcher Central senior forward Joby Johnson put up a shot over Harlan County’s Josh Turner in Saturday’s game. Johnson scored five points in the Cougars’ 55-35 loss. (Kim Henson)