Lady Cats find success in paint, defeat Harlan in district finals

Published 3:48 pm Monday, March 4, 2024

By John Henson

Contributing Sports Writer

Even though his team has been favored since last summer for a fifth straight 52nd District Tournament title, coach David Teague continued to insist it wouldn’t be as easy as many seemed to think.

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Bell County’s streak of district wins ended earlier this season with a loss at Harlan County, then the Lady Cats found themselves locked in a tie game Thursday against Harlan in the district tourney finals at HCHS.

That was when the Lady Cats went to their strength, pounding the ball inside to 6-3 sophomore Kairi Lamb and 6-1 senior Gracie Jo Wilder. Bell outscored Harlan 14-3 over the final three minutes of the third quarter to build an 11-point lead on the way to a 60-54 victory.

“I thought the kids did a better job of being more disciplined and patient. I don’t usually hold the ball that much, but sometimes you have to do that to get the ball where you want,” Teague said. “You have to give credit to Harlan. They guarded us, and it was a heck of a battle.”

“They had to fight for everything, and that’s what we wanted. We wanted to make them work for it,” Harlan coach Mackenzie King Varner said.

Wilder earned tournament most valuable player honors with a 27-point night to lead the 18-13 Lady Cats. Lamb hit seven of eight shots to finish with 17 points and eight rebounds.

Kylie Noe scored 14 points and Aymanni Wynn added 12 to lead the 18-13 Lady Dragons, but the two were held below their average as Bell’s size limited their open shots around the basket. Junior forward Addison Jackson had perhaps her best game of the season with 10 points.

“I told our girls we had to do a good job on Wynn and Noe and (Emma) Owens. Those are their three main ones,” Teague said. “I thought we did a good job on them for the most part. Give the other kids credit though. They made some shots.”

There were several lead changes in the opening quarter before two baskets by Wilder and one from Lamb put Bell up 14-13 after one period. Harlan pulled even at 26-all at halftime despite four baskets from Wilder.

The two teams had one basket each in the first four minutes of the second half before Teague’s patience eventually paid off with Lamb hitting three straight shots and Wilder connecting on two to help Bell take a 42-33 lead.

“We had a lot of possessions where we didn’t score, and that was tough,” Varner said of the third-quarter drought.

Bell’s lead grew to 13 with 3:06 left before Harlan made a late run. Aymanni Wynn and Peyshaunce Wynn each scored off steals to cut the deficit to seven. Jackson hit a pair of 3s as Harlan closed to within five with 20 seconds to play before Kylee Greer-Gann put the game away with two free throws.

“I told you earlier in the year I thought the district was closer than most people thought, and I think the games through the year kind of proved that,” Teague said. “I’m as proud of this one as any of them because it was a battle. Getting five straight is an accomplishment for the kids we’ve had over those years.”

Both teams return to action next week in 13th Region Tournament action at The Corbin Arena.

Harlan will making its first trip to the 13th Region Tournament since 2018 and posted its first winning record during that time.

“We’re excited to go to the region. It’s been a really good season for us,” Varner said.


Bell County 60, Harlan 54

HARLAN (18-13)

Emma Owens 2-7 1-2 7, Peyshaunce Wynn 3-7 1-2 8, Aymanni Wynn 4-11 4-6 12, Addison Jackson 4-7 0-0 10, Kylie Noe 5-10 4-7 14, Addison Campbell 1-4 0-0 3. Totals: 19-46 10-17 54.


Neveah Allen 1-6 2-2 5, Lauren McGeorge 1-7 3-4 5, Gracie Jo Wilder 11-18 3-5 27, Kylee Greer-Gann 0-1 4-4 4, Kairi Lamb 7-8 3-4 17, Addyson Lucas 0-0 2-4 2, Lyla Scearse 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 20-40 17-23 60.