Harlan County escapes Bell Co.

Like a prize fight, Bell County and Harlan County went toe-to-toe during Monday’s district tournament game. The Lady Cats had the Lady Bears reeling after a third set victory, but they couldn’t deliver the knockout blow. Harlan County rallied back to win the final two sets and earn a 3-2 victory over Bell County.

“I was just so pleased by how well they did. (Harlan County) is really awesome, and we knew we were going to have a hard time,” said Bell coach Tracy Enix. “Everything we worked on to try and prepare for the game, they executed. It was stressful. District games are stressful. We had some young players and it’s scary for them, but they breathed and came through and did wonderful. I was so pleased with them.”

The win gives the Lady Bears a spot in Tuesday’s district championship game against Harlan. Bell County’s season ends with the Lady Cats earning four victories on the year.

Harlan County looked poised to control the first set after taking a 16-8 lead on an Emily Long kill. That’s when Bell County made their move scoring six consecutive points to cut the deficit to 16-14.

Emily Pendleton was a key contributor during that stint earning four kills with Calie Pannell grabbing an ace as well. A kill by Olivia Minor stopped the run temporarily before Pendleton and Pannell went back to work to help Bell County grab a 19-17 lead.

The Lady Black Bears regained the lead at 20-19 after a point by Krista Burke. A service error tied the game at 20-20 before an ace by Lexi Brock gave the Lady Cats a 21-20 lead. The two teams went back-and-forth before a service error and a point gave Bell County the 25-23 set victory.

It was the Lady Cats that got off to a hot start in the second set with a 4-0 lead with the help of three aces from senior Madison Mason. Burke responded with four aces of her own and a point to give the Lady Bears a 5-4 lead.

The lead changed two more times before Harlan County began to pull away. Midway through the set, the Lady Bears held a 19-14 lead. The Lady Cats made a run at the lead with points from Pendleton and Mason that cut the deficit to 19-17, but the Lady Bears pulled away for a 25-18 set victory to tie the game at 1-1.

After splitting the third and fourth sets, the two teams went to a game-deciding fifth set.

“I told them it was possible (to win the game), and they just had to believe they could do it,” said Enix about her conversation with the team after the third set. “They played hard. I made some coaching mistakes. That’s the thing I tried to teach them all year. We’re going to make some mistakes, and we just have to learn from it and not be scared to try.”

Harlan County wasted little time and climbed to a 6-1 lead in the fifth set. Bell scored on a service error before the Lady Bears rattled off four more points to increase the lead to 10-2.

The Lady Cats couldn’t find any of the momentum they had earlier in the game as Harlan County escaped with a 15-6 set victory to earn the 3-2 win.

Reach Anthony Cloud at 606-302-9090 or on Twitter @AnthonyCloudMDN