Third-quarter surge carries Bell into 52nd District finals

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Chris Jones

Harlan freshman Aymanni Wynn battled with Bell County’s Abby Cornett for a loose ball in 52nd DIstrict Tournament action Monday against Bell County. The Lady Cats rallied in the second half for a 58-39 victory.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

Trailing by two at halftime Monday at Harlan, the top-seeded Bell County Lady Cats were in danger of becoming an answer to a future trivia question on some of the biggest upset victims in 52nd District Tournament history.
Bell had been unable to match Harlan’s intensity level through the first half and missed 13 of 16 3-pointers against a 2-3 zone. The Lady Cats changed their approach in the second half and took over the game with their defense, using a 17-0 run in the third quarter to take control on the way to a 58-39 win.
“Harlan played really well in the first half. They did a good job in that zone and forced us way out on the floor. We kind of settled for jump shots,” Bell County coach David Teague said. “We did a better job attacking the second half. That allowed us to get more pressure on them. I tried to tell them in practice that Harlan always plays hard. We told them at halftime we had to match their aggressiveness and speed the game up a little bit. I think they responded well to that. I think our fullcourt press did a good job and we were able to get out in transition. That was huge for us the second half.”
Harlan had lost two regular season games against Bell but took care of the ball much better this time around, at least in the first half.
“I thought the first half we executed the game plan to perfection. I was really proud of my kids how they competed on every possession. We only had six turnovers the first half and that was a big improvement over the first two games and was a big key for us,” Harlan coach Tiffany Hamm said. “The second half the pressure got to us and they wore us down.”
Nadine Johnson and Ashtyn Meyers each scored 16 points to lead the 20-4 Lady Cats. Ashtyn Meyers and Talyah McQueen added 11 and 10 points, respectively.
The 8-15 Lady Dragons were led by eighth-grade forward Kylie Noe with 13 points.
After missing all eight of her shots in the first half and her first three in the second, Meyers helped spark the third-quarter run with three straight 3-pointers. Johnson also played a big role in several areas, including defense and on the boards as Bell reeled off 17 unanswered points to turn a two-point deficit early in the period into a 40-25 lead with two minutes left.
Baskets by Alli Thompson and Noe cut the deficit to 11 going into the fourth quarter, then two Wynn free throws made the score 40-31. McQueen hit four straight free throws as Bell started to pull away again while Harlan missed its first five shots from the field. Johnson led Bell with three baskets in the final period as the lead grew to as many as 21 points.
“Credit to them. I thought (Johnson) she forced a lot of things in the second half with a ton of offensive rebounds, a ton of deflections and a ton of steals,” Hamm said.
Bell County ran over a minute off the clock on the opening possession, passing the ball around the Harlan zone unable to find a shot. It proved to be a theme for much of the first half.
Harlan grabbed the early 4-0 lead on a basket and two free throws by Noe. Bell scored the next six points, but the Lady Dragons pulled even on a basket by Emma Owens. Bell scored the next seven points, highlighted by a basket and 3-pointer from Ausmus. Alli Thompson scored on a putback to cut the deficit to 13-8 after one quarter.
Bell extended its lead to 21-13 midway through the second quarter on a 3-pointer by Nadine Johnson, but Harlan slowly reclaimed the emotional advantage as the Lady Cats struggled to hit perimeter shots. Bell missed 13 of 15 from behind the 3-point line in the first half.
Angel Wynn and Thompson, both seniors, provided a lift off the bench as Wynn hit a 3-pointer to start a 10-0 Harlan run that Thompson finished on a putback. Abbi Fields added a basket and free throw as the Lady Dragons took a 23-21 lead at the break.
Hamm is excited about the Lady Dragons’ future with most of their top players returning, including all five starters in Monday night’s game
“I’m so thankful we got to play this season. We will miss our seniors, but we have a ton of kids coming back who got some experience,” Hamm said. “We just have to get better in the offseason and make another run at it next year.”