Dragons answer Akal’s challenge, advance in WYMT Mountain Classic

By John Henson, Managing Editor


HINDMAN — A police officer and former Army staff sergeant, Harlan coach Derrick Akal has a knack for getting his point across during timeouts..
With his Green Dragons clinging to a one-point lead Wednesday in the opening round of the WYMT Mountain Classic against Knott Central, Akal asked for more energy during a television timeout midway through the third quarter. The Dragons responded with a 10-2 run that extended into the fourth period on the way to a 43-39 win.
“I told our guys that we’re an experienced team and in games like this you have to have fun and have energy,” said Akal. “If not, the pressure can start to build up on their home floor. I just felt we weren’t having enough fun. We still have a lot of work to do.”
Playing their first game of the season, the Dragons struggled to score as they shot 31 percent (16 of 51) from the field and 24 percent (eight of 33) from the 3-point line.
“We hadn’t played in a game since losing to Corbin in the regional tournament last year,” Akal said. “I expected offensively we’d struggle, but I was proud of our defense. I expected it to be a physical game. I’m proud of my guys.”
Junior forward Jaedyn Gist was the only consistent scorer for the Dragons much of the night as he accounted for four of the Dragons’ five baskets in the first quarter on the way to a 16-point, eight-rebound performance.
“Jaedyn has worked on his shot and made a couple of 3s early and got energized,” Akal said. “He hit the boards and was a warrior tonight.”
Jordan Akal, the Dragons’ standout senior guard, added 14 points on a rare off-night as he hit five of 20 shots from the field.
“For me, if Jordan is getting off 20 shots over the long haul then I’m fine,” said the Harlan coach. “He struggled on the offensive end, but did a good job on defense. Our guys stayed together.”
Knott also struggled on the offensive end after losing their top two players from last year’s 14th Region championship team.
“We’re a young team and these guys haven’t played together very much,” Knott Central coach B.B. King said. “I’m proud of our kids. They fought hard, and that’s all you can ask as coaches. I thought our zone and triangle-and-two affected them and helped bring our kids back.”
Jayden Huff, a sophomore guard, led the 1-2 Patriots with 14 points.
Gist had four of Harlan’s five baskets in the first quarter as the Dragons grabbed a 12-4 lead before Knott cut the deficit to two going into the second period with six straight points.
Harlan hit only three of 13 shots in the second quarter and Knott hit three of 11 as both teams struggled to score.Gist and Akal each hit 3s in the period and the Dragons led 20-17 at halftime.
Knott connected on five of nine shots in the third quarter and took a brief one-point when Huff scored to make it 26-25. Kaleb McLendon and Akal hit 3-pointers in a 9-2 run to close the period as Harlan went ahead 34-28.
The lead grew to nine before Huff sparked another Knott run that cut the Harlan lead to 40-38 with 43 seconds left. Akal scored on a putback with 25 seconds to play and drew a foul. His three-point play extended the lead back to five and put the game away.
Harlan advances to Friday’s semifinals to take on Perry Central. The Commodores rolled past Paintsville 64-47 in the second game Wednesday.