Bears edge Bobcats in district thriller

Published 4:25 pm Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Ranked among the 13th Region’s best players coming into the season, Harlan County senior guard Alex Pace hadn’t been quite himself through the Black Bears’ first four games.

He picked a good time to break out of a mini-slump as far as the Bears are concerned as he scored 30 on Tuesday to help Harlan County edge visiting Bell County 73-67. Taylor Spurlock and Gabe Price added 16 and 15 points, respectively, as the Bears broke a two-game losing streak and improved to 3-2 overall.

“Alex shot the ball extremely well tonight, and knew that was coming,” Harlan County coach Michael Jones said. “I told the kids I knewwe would start hitting shots, because I know how well we can shoot it. We just have to defend and block out better.”

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Both coaches found plenty to like about their effort on Tuesday and plenty of areas that needed work. They also both agreed that the 52nd District this year may be as balanced as it has been in a long time.

“It’s pretty balanced. I think it’s going to come down to who is playing the best at the end of the year,” Bell County coach Frankie Smithsaid. “I still don’t think we’re playing that good right now. We’re 1-4 right now, but that doesn’t alarm me because our attitude is good right now and we’ve lost to some good teams.”

“It was a good atmosphere for our kids and both teams played hard,” Jones said. “We have some things we have to correct, and I know Bell has things they want to correct. I said before the year it’s the best district in the region, and we’re lucky to come out with a win.”

Senior guard Sawyer Brock led a balanced attack for Bell County (1-4) with 17 points. Senior center Tyler Partin added 16 points despite early foul problems, and lightning quick junior guard London Stephney contributed 15 points and led a Bell defense that forced 24 HCHS turnovers.

“We weren’t being strong with the ball and we were making silly passes,” Jones said. “We’re taught to put the ball out in front of us, but we didn’t do that very well tonight. We got the double-digit lead and then only scored four points in the third quarter because we didn’t protect the ball and didn’t do the things defensively that got us the lead.”

“I thought our energy was good and the press gave them some issues,” Smith said. “We had to get out of it in the second quarter when they started hitting some shots. We were back at full strength in the second half, and our press was much better.”

Bell’s press caused problems for the Bears early as the Bobcats built a 12-5 lead. Harlan County reeled off eight straight points onbaskets by Elisha Smallwood, Pace and Spurlock to go up by one. After several lead changes, Bell freshman Dawson Woolum hit a 40-footer at the buzzer to put the Bobcats up 20-19.

Harlan County took control in the second quarter as Pace hit three 3-pointers while Bell connected on only two of 12 shots. A long 3-pointer by Price to close the half extended the Bears’ lead to 39-28.

HCHS led by 13 midway through the third quarter when Bell went on a 14-0 run to go up by one, at 44-43, after three periods. Brock led the Bobcats, hitting four of five shots in the period.

“We didn’t quit. We played with some passion tonight, but we have to find someone else to score besides Sawyer and London,” Smithsaid.

Harlan County went back up by five midway through the fourth quarter before Bell rallied again, tying the game at 61-61 on a basket by Partin with 21 seconds to play. Both teams missed opportunities in the closing seconds of regulation.

A big basket by James Smith put the Bears up by three in overtime as HCHS went on a 12-2 run to take control. Spurlock, Pace andPrice each hit two free throws to put the game away.

Harlan County travels to Harlan on Friday. Bell County plays host to Cumberland Gap, Tenn. on Friday.

Lady Bears top Bell Co. 70-41

No one in the 13th Region lost more talent since last season than the Harlan County Lady Bears, but Bell County coach David Teague had no problem picking a favorite in this year’s 52nd District race.

“They have a lot of experience. Their kids have played in a lot of big games,” Teague said after his Lady Cats fell 70-42 on Tuesday at Harlan County. “It’s good for us to play against a veteran team like that. I thought we did some good things. We were in the game and they made a run late in the first half, and we could never recover.”

Harlan County (3-0) showed good ball movement and unselfishness most of the night as four reached double figures, led by guard K.K. Johnson and center Breann Turner with 16 points each. Phebe McHargue and Morgan Blakley added 13 and 11 points, respectively.

Freshman guard Ashton Myers scored 14 and junior guard Abby Harris added 12 for the 3-2 Lady Cats.

Johnson, McHargue and Turner each had two baskets in the opening quarter as the Lady Bears built a 15-9 lead, closing the period with a 7-3 run after Bell had pulled within two on a basket by Harris.

The Lady Bears began to pull away in the second quarter, hitting six of their first seven shots to build a double-digit advantage midway through the period. Turner had three baskets in the quarter as the HCHS guards did a good job of pushing the ball inside. Johnson and McHargue added two baskets each as the lead grew to 32-19 by halftime.

Harlan County hit its first five shots in the second half, using a 10-0 run to build a 42-19 lead. The Lady Bears hit 10 of 14 shots in the quarter, led by three baskets from Blakley, to extend their lead to 53-31.

Bell County will play host to Cumberland Gap, Tenn., on Friday.