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Dragons break 18-year All ‘A’ title drought with win over Jackets

WILLIAMSBURG — Harlan made its first appearance in the state All “A” Classic in the first year of its existence in 1990 and followed with nine over the first 13 years of the tournament, including state titles in 1994 and 1995. The Dragons had been waiting 18 years for that 10th trip to state competition — a wait that ended Tuesday as the Green Dragons blitzed defending champ Middlesboro 81-65 in a rematch of last year’s championship game.

The title was delivered by a sophomore-dominated squad that started the season 1-6 but has since won six of seven.

“Our young guys came out here and performed, ahead of schedule, against a senior-led team that is well coached with coach (Lewis) Morris,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said. “I’m proud of them. They bring energy and intensity to every game, no matter what.”

Two sophomore guards, Jordan Akal and Kaleb McLendon, carried the Harlan offense on Tuesday with 37 and 20 points, respectively, as they teamed to hit 11 of 20 from behind the 3-point line.

“We take those exact shots every day in practice, and Kaleb has been shooting a high percentage,” Akal said. “It’s not like he can’t make those shots, and the looks he had were good looks. It was big for a sophomore to step up like that in a championship game. I think Kaleb bought Jordan some time. He kept us in the game in the first quarter. Jordan got going after that and started making shots, but I thought it was a total team effort. Everyone played well. I think this is the first time we’ve had 80-plus so far this year.”

Three seniors led the 9-7 Jackets as Jabari Kyle scored 23, followed by T.J. Patterson with 18 and Trey Brock with 10.

The district rivals traded 3-point punches through much of the first quarter, including treys on five straight possessions midway through the period. McLendon hit two of his three for the quarter in that stretch to tie the game at 12. Five straight points by Patterson gave the Jackets a 21-17 lead after one quarter.

McLendon added three more 3s in the second quarter, plus a two, but the Jackets were unable to keep up as Harlan’s lead reached seven with the help of three baskets by Akal. A free throw by Kyle to close the half cut the Jackets’ deficit to 34-28 at the break.

Harlan all but put the game away with a 13-0 run to open the second half. Akal hit four straight shots, including three 3-pointers, and senior center Jon Eldridge added three baskets as the Dragons led by as many as 20 before taking a 60-43 advantage into the final period. Middlesboro missed its first six shots in the period and hit only three of 16 in the quarter while Harlan connected on 10 of 14.

The Jackets made a couple of mini runs in the fourth quarter, getting as close as 15, but Harlan continually beat the Middlesboro press for layups to stay in control. Akal and Jaedyn Gist each had three baskets in the period as Harlan hit seven of 12 shots.

Harlan will travel to Harlan County on Saturday for a girls/boys doubleheader. The Dragons will play the 15th Region winner on Jan. 23 in the first round of All “A” Classic state competition at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond.

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Harlan 81, Middlesboro 65

MIDDLESBORO (9-7)

Jabari Kyle 9-23 4-5 23, Jordan Davis 1-3 0-0 3, Trey Brock 4-14 0-0 10, T.J. Patterson 5-12 7-11 18, Jay Tyler West 0-0 0-0 0, Eric Helton 0-1 0-0 0, Caleb Bogonko 1-1 1-1 3, Cayden Grigsby 1-1 0-0 3, Bryson Barnard 2-4 0-0 5, Blaine Woody 0-0 0-0 0, Ethan Barton 0-0 0-0 0, Trey Kyle 0-1 0-0 0, Anthony Wallace 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 23-60 12-17 60.

HARLAN (7-7)

Jordan Akal 13-24 6-7 37, Kaleb McLendon 7-9 0-0 20, Jaedyn Gist 6-8 2-2 14, Johann Gist 0-1 0-0 0, Jon Eldridge 2-8 0-0 4, Jayden Ward 2-4 2-3 6, Charles David Morton 0-1 0-0 0, Kyler McLendon 0-0 0-0 0, Trey Barnes 0-0 0-0 0, John Mark Bryson 0-0 0-0 0, Cameron Maples 0-0 0-0 0, Matthew Pennington 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 30-56 10-13 81.

Middlesboro 21 7 15 18 — 65

Harlan 17 17 26 21 — 81

3-point goals: Middlesboro 7-22 (Brock 2-7, Grigsby 1-1, Barnard 1-2, Davis 1-3, Patterson 1-3, Kyle 1-5, Helton 0-1), Harlan 11-24 (McLendon 6-7, Akal 5-13, Johann Gist 0-1, Morton 0-1, Eldridge 0-2). Rebounds; Middlesboro 35 (Patterson 14, Jabari Kyle 7, Brock 5, Helton 3, Davis 2, West 1, Bogonko 1, Barton 1, Trey Kyle 1). Turnovers: Middlesboro 13, Harlan 13. Fouled out: None.

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All ‘A’ regional champs

Boys champs

2020 Harlan

2019 Middlesboro

2018 Lynn Camp

2017 Pineville

2016 Pineville

2015 Williamsburg

2014 Jackson County

2013 Middlesboro

2012 Barbourville

2011 Barbourville

2010 Williamsburg

2009 Pineville

2008 Pineville

2007 Cumberland

2006 Barbourville

2005 Barbourville

2004 Barbourville

2003 Corbin

2002 Harlan

2001 Jackson County

2000 Harlan

1999 Harlan

1998 Harlan

1997 Barbourville

1996 Harlan

1995 Harlan

1994 Harlan

1993 Harlan

1992 Oneida Baptist

1991 Cumberland

1990 Harlan