Lady Bears overcome slow start to coast past Middlesboro


John Henson

Ella Karst scored 16 points in Harlan County’s 53-39 win Friday at Middlesboro. The Lady Bears play host to Barbourville on Saturday.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

MIDDLESBORO — A late departure from Harlan County High School followed by a late arrival at Middlesboro followed by a slow start in Friday’s game put the Harlan County Lady Bears in an early hole. None of that, however, could stop the Lady Bears in extending their late-season win streak to six as HCHS reeled off 16 unanswered points in the second quarter on the way to a 53-39 win.
“We had bus issues, so we were flat because we got here late. I anticipated we’d get off to a slow start, but that’s OK because we got through it and survived on the road,” Harlan County coach Anthony Nolan said.
Harlan County improved to 16-10 with the win and closed its district slate at 4-2 to clinch second in the 52nd District for the third straight year. Middlesboro fell to 9-14 overall and 1-5 in district acton, falling Into a tie for the third seed with Harlan. A coin flip is set during the district meeting Monday at Bell County High School to determine which team will play top-seeded Bell County and which will play Harlan County in first-round games.
Sophomore guard Ella Karst scored 16 points and junior forward Jaylin Smith added 10 to once again lead the Lady Bears, but junior guards Hailey Austin and Taytum Griffin continued their recent surge with nine points each. They helped answer the challenge when the Lady Jackets gave HCHS early troubles with a box-and-chaser focused on Karst.
“They tried some junk defenses against us tonight. That might have worked early in the season, but I don’t think it’s effective now,” Nolan said. “I think our kids showed they are capable of stepping up and knocking down shots.”
Sophomore center Halaya Brown scored nine points to lead the Lady Jackets, who lost three players to injuries during the course of the game, including standout senior forward Kailey Owens.
After a slow start, Harlan County tought back to take a 10-8 lead after one quarter following consecutive baskets from Griffin, Abbi Fields and Smith.
Middlesboro reclaimed the lead with a 9-2 run to open the second quarter before HCHS went on a 16-0 run capped by Karst’s rebound off a missed free throw followed by a 3-pointer. Mallory James ended a four-minute scoring drought with a basket to end the half, but the Lady Jackets trailed 28-19 at the break.
Karst hit four of five shots in the third quarter and Austin added two baskets as Harlan County extend its lead to 43-3 after three quarters. Austin and Paige Phillips had two baskets each in the fourth period as HCHS outscored the Lady Jackets 10-6.
Harlan County returns to action Saturday at 3 p.m. at home against Barbourville. Middlesboro travels to Perry Central on Sunday for a 2:30 p.m. game.