Lady Bears hold off Letcher comeback, knock off 14th Region’s top team

By John Henson, Managing Editor



Anthony Nolan is looking for four good quarters from his Harlan County Lady Bears. He got three on Thursday and that was good enough for the Lady Bears to knock off Letcher Central, the 14th Region’s top team, according to the RPI ratings.
Harlan County played well for three quarters against the visiting Lady Cougars, building an 11-point lead before Letcher fought back to within three with 2:13 left. The Lady Bears scored the final six points to post a 58-49 victory.
“We executed in the game like we do in practice,” Nolan said. “We knew they were a good team and would make a run. It seems like Banks has been there forever, and she has good players around her. I thought we stayed the course. We were nervous the first couple of minutes, but then we settled down and executed. We have to put four quarters together, but I think we’re getting close.”
Junior forward Jaylin Smith scored 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead the 13-10 Lady Bears in both categories.
“She’s physical like a forward but she can put the ball on the floor like a guard. She worked so hard on her game this summer and is a better all-around player,” Nolan said. “The kids are confident when she has the ball in her hands and so are we. She gives us that extra ball-handler and makes us a hard matchup at times.”
Sophomore guard Ella Karst added 15 points for HCHS.
The 17-8 Lady Cougars were led by sophomore guard Kiera Couch with 15 points. Junior guard Tori Holcomb and senior guard Kaylee R. Banks chipped in with 14 and 12 points, respectively.
After playing to a 12-12 tie after one quarter, the Lady Bears built a 13-point lead as Smith had four baskets in a 10-0 run. Holcomb hit two 3-pointers in the final minute of the half to cut the HCHS lead to 31-22 at halftime.
Taytum Griffin hit a 3-pointer and connected on two free throws in a 5-0 run as HCHS built a 40-27 advantage midway through the third period. A 3-pointer by Holcomb cut the deficit to six before Karst and Smith sparked a 7-2 run to close the quarter.
Harlan County missed its first six shots from the field in the fourth quarter as Letcher cut the deficit to 52-49. Karst hit one of two at the line for a four-point lead, then Smith helped put the game away as she grabbed a long rebounds off a missed 3 and went coast to coast for a game-clinching basket. Karst closed out the win with two free throws.
“We got good looks, but when you miss a couple of layups and then miss two foul shots it makes it tough on you because the other team always seems to convert,” Nolan said. “I was very proud we didn’t panic. I thought we showed a lot of maturity. We showed a lot of composure. The kids are stepping up and accepting their roles.”
Letcher Central will be at home against Knox Central on Saturday. Harlan County plays host to Jenkins on Saturday in a 3:30 p.m. game.
Samara Bailey poured in 25 points as the Lady Cougars rolled to a 45-27 junior varsity victory. Payge Damron added seven points, followed by Kara Halcomb with five and Alli Bailey, Emma Pavlik, Molly Beth and Taylor Baker with two each.
Cheyenne Rhymer scored 11 to lead the 2-7 Lady Bears. Maddi Middleton chipped in with six. Lacy Robinson and Hailee Hensley scored four each. Addison Gray added two.
Harlan County claimed a covid forfeit win over Red Bird on Tuesday when the Lady Cardinals did not have enough healthy players.