Middlesboro falls to Harlan in district opener

Published 11:14 am Wednesday, December 20, 2023

By John Henson

Contributing Writer

With an offense built around a trio of players with over a decade of varsity experience as starters between them, the Harlan Lady Dragons and first-year coach Mackenzie King Varner are confident they can score with just about anyone.

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Playing hard on the defensive end, Varner says, will be the difference this season for the Lady Dragons.

The Lady Dragons gave that defensive effort early in Friday’s district opener against visiting Middlesboro, forcing 10 turnovers in the opening period to build a 24-10 lead before coasting to a 69-51 victory.

“I think our defense is working for us. I think being able to get lots of stops will help us toward the end of the season and in the tournament,” Varner said. “We can score whenever we want to, but we have to be able to get stops.”

Senior point guard Emma Owens led the early surge, hitting five straight shots in the first quarter on the way to a 20-point night. Junior wings Aymanni Wynn and Kylie Noe added 17 points each.

Junior guard Keevi Betts was the only consistent offensive threat for the 2-4 Lady Jackets with 23 points.

The Harlan lead grew to 29-10 early in the second quarter on baskets by Noe and Owens, but the Lady Dragons’ offense fell silent the remainder of the half. Betts reeled off seven straight points to cut the deficit to 12 before Peyshaunce Wynn’s three-point play to close the half made the score 32-17 at the break.

“We’re working on that. We have a habit of taking plays off,” Varner said. “We have to be able to play a full game and play every possession.”

Aymanni Wynn had two baskets while Noe, Owens, Addison Jackson and Peyshaunce Wynn added one each as the Harlan lead grew to 52-27 after three quarters. The Harlan defense came back to life, forcing the Lady Jackets into 10 turnovers while allowing only seven shot attempts.

Harlan appeared ready to start a running clock midway through the fourth quarter as the lead reached 34 twice on baskets by Noe and Owens, but Middlesboro responded with a 14-0 run sparked by a pair of 3-pointers from Emily Lambert.

Harlan returns to action Saturday in a 3 p.m. game at home against Belfry.