Bell County’s Haylee Mills is guarded by Hailey Austin of Harlan County in Thursday’s championship game of the 52nd District Tournament. The Lady Cats downed HCHS 53-38. – Photo by Ray Welch.
By Paul Lunsford
LOG MOUNTAIN — Bell County pushed its district win streak to 23 games and captured its third consecutive 52nd District Championship with a 53-38 win over Harlan County on Thursday
The Lady Cats, now 24-7 on the season, was led by junior guard Mataya Ausmus scoring 11 points. Nadine Johnson, a sophomore guard, and Neveah Kerns, a senior center, each added 10.
The Lady Bears shot 31 percent (13 of 42) from the field and were 11 of 21 from the free-throw line while committing 24 turnovers.
“I thought the game plan was effective, but we missed a lot of easy shots and it always seems that costs you on the other end. Missed layups and free throws add up,”
Harlan County coach Anthony Nolan said. “We also got out of sync at times against the press. When we did what we practiced, we handled it well and got high-percentage shots. When we got away from what we talked about, they got in the passing lanes and they do a great job of that.”
Sophomore guard Ella Karst scored 10 points and Taylor Lunsford added nine for the 20-11 Lady Bears.
Bell County also struggled to hit shots, hitting 18 of 62 from the field for 29 percent.
“It wasn’t an offensive showcase tonight on either side, but sometimes you have to find ways to grind games out,” Bell County coach David Teague said. “Give Harlan County credit because they made us earn it. I’m proud of my girls. They stepped up and played.”
The Lady Cats held a 37-35 rebounding edge. Kerns led Bell with 18 rebounds. Lunsford led HCHS with eight boards.
“Nevaeh got so many offensive rebounds for us it was unreal,” Teague said. “If she wasn’t able to keep so many rebounds alive, I don’t know if we would win this game. She was so big in there and did a great job.”
“We were allowing them to get us too far under the basket on both offense and defense and it was kicking too far over our heads,” Nolan said. “A lot of that is basketball mentality, getting that separation That’s putting time in the gym and refining your skills, just like with free throws. It’s skill development, and that’s where the kids have to put in time on their own. The game plan was effective, but we have to be able to do the little things to get over the hump. Teams like Bell County will expose you when you have breakdowns like that.”
The loss by HC snaps a 10-game winning streak.
“We would miss a layup or free throw during those runs and they would feed off that,” Nolan said. “That puts a lot of pressure on your defense.”
Nolan said a lack of fundamentals taught at the youth levels is catching up with the high school program.
“Those are things we aren’t learning at a young age that you have to teach at the high school level. It slows the learning curve,” Nolan said. “Our county has to buy in to the fact that you have to develop that at a young age. We are feeling the effects at the high school level against state competition. That intra-county mentality hampers us.
When those skills aren’t developed by the high school level you are trying to play catch up.”
Bell County saw its home winning streak stretch to 12 games.
The Lady Cats will open 13th Region Tournament play against Jackson County (21-9) on Tuesday at the Corbin Arena. Harlan County meets North Laurel (23-5) on Monday.
Bell County defeated the Lady Generals on 75-49 at home on Feb. 15. Harlan County and North Laurel did not play during the regular season. HC owns an 8-6 series advantage against the Lady Jaguars.
The 13th Region Semifinals are scheduled for Friday at 6 and 7:30 p.m. with the championship game slated for Saturday at 7.
HARLAN COUNTY (20-11)
Ella Karst 3-9 4-5 10, Taytum Griffin 1-12 2-2 4, Hailey Austin 1-3 0-0 2, Jaylin Smith 3-12 2-2 8, Taylor Lunsford 4-5 1-6 9, Kylie Jones 1-3 0-0 2, Paige Phillips 0-1 1-4 0, Abigail Fields 0-0 2-2 2. Totals: 13-45 11-21 38.
BELL COUNTY (24-7)
Nadine Johnson 5-13 0-0 10, Mataya Ausmus 5-11 1-2 11, Ashtyn Meyers 4-14 0-0 9, Gracie WIlder 2-11 3-5 8, Nevaeh Kerns 2-4 6-8 10, Lauren McGeorge 1-7 3-5 5, Haylee Mills 0-1 0-0 0, Kayleigh Cox 0-0 0-0 0, Kamdyn Hoskins 0-1 0-0 0, Grace Wilder 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 18-62 13-16 53.
HCHS 7 15 12 4 — 38
BCHS 10 14 19 10 — 53
3-point goals: Harlan County 1-10 (Jones 1-2, Austin 0-1, Karst 0-3, Griffin 0-4), Bell County 4-22 (Ausmus 2-5, Wilder 1-4, Meyers 1-6, Kerns 0-1, Mills 0-1, McGeorge 0-5).
Rebounds: Harlan County 35 (Lunsford 8, Karst 6, Austin 6, Smith 6, Griffin 3, Jones 2, Phillips 3, Fields 1), Bell County 37 (Kerns 18, Johnson 4, Ausmus 4, Wilder 4, Mills 4, Meyers 2, McGeorge 1).
Turnovers: Harlan County 24, Bell County 12.