Dragons end 29-game losing streak against HCHS


Kim Henson

Harlan guard Jordan Akal looked for an opening against Harlan County’s Tyler Cole and Trent Noah in Friday’s district clash. Akal scored 35 as the Dragons rolled to a 74-50 win.


After three hard-fought losses against their county rivals a year ago, the Harlan Green Dragons left nothing to chance in the first meeting of the 2021 season. Harlan ended a 29-game losing streak to Harlan County, stretching back to the opening of HCHS in 2008, in dominating fashion Friday by rolling to a 74-50 victory.
“It was a district win and I’m proud of our boys because they’ve had to overcome a lot of adversity in the last month,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said, noting the Dragons sat through a long quarantine due to the coronavirus. “But it’s only one win. We may have to play those guys three more times.”
A Harlan County team that had thrived on its 3-point attack in winning 12 of its first 13 games this season, watched their offense wilt when those shots didn’t fall against Harlan. The Bears missed their first 17 3-point attempts, stretching into the fourth quarter before Jackson Huff ended the drought. By that point, HCHS was down by 15 and the Dragons weren’t going to allow a comeback this time.
“We’ve had games where we’ve played defense in spurts, so tonight was no different,” Akal said.
“This one is 100 percent on me. I have to do a better job of getting this team prepared,” Harlan County coach Michael Jones said. “I’m not going to fault these kids. This one is on me.”
Junior guard Jordan Akal took over the game in the second half, scoring 23 of his 35 points after halftime.
“They have a heck of a team, and they shoot it well,” Jones said. “When you have a player like Jordan, who is very hard to guard and one of the best in the state, and the shots start going in it makes it really hard to guard them.”
“I think he did a good job on both ends of the floor tonight and his leadership was important for us tonight,” the Harlan coach said of his son. “I thought Kyler (McLendon) opened some things up for him when he was able to penetrate. He played with confidence and set the tone with his aggressiveness.”
Kaleb McLendon and Jaedyn Gist each added 11 points for the Dragons, who shot 51 percent (25 of 49) from the field. The Bears shot only 33 percent (21 of 63) from the field and only 14 percent (three of 22) from behind the 3-point line.
Freshman guard Trent Noah led the Bears with 20 points. Tyler Cole added nine.
HCHS missed 14 of 20 shots in the first quarter but was able to build a 13-10 lead thanks in large part to Josh Turner’s work on the glass, including six rebounds and two baskets. Akal’s two free throws cut the deficit to 13-12 by the end of the period.
Baskets by Cole and Turner pushed the Harlan County lead to five before Harlan closed the half with a 16-3 run to go up 32-24 at halftime. Akal and Kyler McLendon each had two baskets in the quarter to lead the Dragons.
Akal dominated the third quarter as he hit three straight shots to extend the lead to double digits. Akal’s second 3 of the quarter gave Harlan a 46-33 lead going into the final period.
As their confidence grew, the Dragons’ offense took off in the fourth quarter, led by five baskets from Akal. Harlan hit seven of its first 10 shots in the period and blew the game open with a 10-0 run that pushed the lead to 64-41.
After starting the season with 12 wins in 13 games, the Bears have now lost three straight going back to the finals of the WYMT Mountain Classic on Monday.
“I told the kids we can tuck our heads and fold or get back in the gym and start working,” Jones said. “I know this group will get back Monday evening and be ready to work.”
Harlan County (12-4) will travel to Bell County on Tuesday as part of a girls/boys district doubleheader.
Harlan (8-2) will play host to Middlesboro on Monday and then travels to Richmond on Wednesday for the state All “A” Classic.


Harlan County’s Tyler Cole drove against Harlan’s Kyler McLendon in Friday’s game. (Kim Henson)