Strong finish helps Bell hold off Lady Bears’ upset bid

Published 3:23 pm Friday, December 29, 2023

By John Henson, Contributing writer

LOG MOUNTAIN — With four straight 52nd District championships to their credit and four starters back, the Bell County Lady Cats entered the 2024 season as a huge favorite to repeat.

Bell County coach David Teague isn’t so sure that ranking is accurate, and the Harlan County Lady Bears did all they could on Wednesday, Dec. 20 to show there is some parity in this year’s district race as they battled to the final buzzer before falling 69-65 in the first day of play at the Short-Redmond Holiday Classic.

“I don’t that we’re that much better than anyone in our district right now,” Teague said. “We’re still trying to get our wind under us. We’ve been sick, and I’m not making any excuses because Harlan County played well. Harlan County is good enough to beat us and so is Harlan and anybody in our district.

“I was proud of the way we executed down the stretch. We didn’t shoot the ball well for a long stretch, but we had kids made big shots when we needed them.”

Even in defeat, the Lady Bears probably played their best game of the season and led through much of the night.

“I thought we were playing with fear the first four minutes, but we settled down and matched them on the glass from that point on. I thought that was a key factor,” Harlan County coach Anthony Nolan said. “I think we grew up in a lot of positions,. Sometimes one or two free throws or a charge call makes a difference in a game like this. These girls have to learn to win.”

Senior forward Gracie Jo Wilder was the difference for the 4-3 Lady Cats with a 39-point night, including hitting seven of eight shots in the decisive fourth quarter. Wilder hit five 3-pointers and used her length and athleticism to beat the Lady Bears numerous times along the baseline.

“Gracie Jo did a good job of going to the baseline. I told her she had to attack,” Teague said. “What doesn’t get seen sometimes is what a good job Kylee Greer-Gann did of sealing there. She helped open up that drive, and it was big for us.”

“She is a very versatile player. She shoots well and slashes to the basket,” Nolan said. “She’s an all-around great player and causes a matchup problem.”

Senior guard Ella Karst was just as dominant for the Lady Bears with a 38-point night that included a five-for-five night from the 3-point line.

“I don’t know if I’ve seen a kid shoot as well as she did the first half,” Teague said. “She was coming off ball screens and shooting deep. I thought Lauren (McGeorge) was doing a good job on her, but she is just that capable of doing that.”

“Ella is an impossible matchup sometimes with her speed and shooting ability,” Nolan said. “She set her teammates up really well tonight. I think the other kids can learn from her the way she competes. We just need a couple of other players to step up and fill those roles.”

Faith Hoskins added 10 points for the 2-6 Lady Bears. Reagan Clem added seven points, including a pair of fourth quarter 3s that kept HC in the game until the final seconds.

Kairi Lamb, Bell County’s 6-3 sophomore center, also caused problems for HCHS with a 13-point, 14-rebound night.

Harlan County led by two at halftime, thanks to 25-point first half from Karst, and was up by four going into the fourth quarter. Bell hit nine of 12 shots in the final quarter, led by 18 points from Wilder, to pull ahead.

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Bell County 69, Harlan County 65

HARLAN COUNTY (2-6)

Ella Karst 11-19 11-13 38, Cheyenne Rhymer 0-2 0-0 0, Faith Hoskins 4-7 0–0 10, Paige Phillips 0-7 4-8 4, Whitley Teague 3-10 0-0 6, Maddi Middleton 0-1 0-0 0, Reagan Clem 2-5 1-2 7, Jaylee Cochran 0-0 0-0 0, Lacey Robinson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 20-51 16-23 65.

BELL COUNTY (4-3)

Neveah Allen 2-5 0-0 6, Lauren McGeorge 3-11 2-3 9, Gracie Jo Wilder 12-21 10-12 39, Kylee Greer-Gann 0-0 0-0 0, Kairi Lamb 5-8 3-3 13, Addison Lucas 0-0 0-0 0, Lyla Scearse 0-0 2-2 2. Totals: 22-45 17-20 69.

Harlan County     5    1    2    7         5

Bell County             5    9    0    5         9

3-point goals: Harlan County 9-15 (Karst 5-5, Hoskins 2-2, Clem 2-5, Rhymer 0-1, Phillips 0-1, Middleton 0-1), Bell County 8-23 (Wilder 5-11, Allen 2-5, McGeorge 1-7). Rebounds: Harlan County 25 (Karst 7, Phillips 6, Rhymer 4, Teague 4, Hoskins 3, Clem 1), Bell County 21 (Lamb 14, Wilder 4, McGeorge 2, Lucas 1). Turnovers: Harlan County 13, Bell County 15, Fouled out: Harlan County (Hoskins).