By John Henson For the Times-Tribune
HARLAN — With his Lady Panthers trailing by five points midway through the fourth quarter on Tuesday at Harlan, Knox Central coach Darren Mills wasted no time getting to the point during a timeout.
“Get the ball to Jenna,” said Mills. “Period."
The Lady Panthers followed their coach’s directions, and the 5-10 senior guard followed with five straight points to put Knox Central ahead. Harlan eighth grade guard Jordan Brock forced an overtime with two clutch free throws with 2.7 seconds left. Knox Central fell behind by four in the extra session with two more free throws by Brock and a basket by junior Jourdan Ledford. Mills came to the rescue again, hitting two free throws, then scoring off a drive to the hoop to cut the deficit to one. Mills hit the game-winning shot with 11.1 seconds lift and finished with 24 points in a 50-49 victory.
“I have a lot of faith in all my kids that they can put the ball on the floor and post up. We went for three or four minutes in the fourth quarter, and I don't think Jenna touched the ball. She’s one of the best scorers in the region. When you have a kid like that she has to be getting touches when the game is on the line,” Mills said. "You have to run the ball through her."
“Down the stretch they did a better job getting to the free throw line and attacking the rim,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said. “I think the layup we gave up to cut it to one was the key play. We didn’t challenge the shot or take a charge, so she kind of waltzed to the basket. You’ll have turnovers when you're inexperienced, but there is no excuse for poor defense."
Ledford scored 18 to lead the 6-10 Lady Dragons, who have lost six straight games. Emma Bianchi and Brock, both eighth graders, scored 12 and 10 points, respectively. Brock was especially effective with the game on the line, ripping a rebound away from 5-11 Megan Carnes before drawing a foul and sending the game to overtime.
“I told my girls they were about to get beat by an eighth grader,” Mills said. “Coach Akal does an excellent job, and his kids play extremely hard. I wish my kids would play a little harder like his kids do. They play hard. They aren't dirty, but they are physical and get after you. We aren't physically strong kids.”
The game went back and forth from start to finish and featured six lead changes in the first quarter alone. Ledford, Torri Mitchell, Brock and Emma Bianchi had baskets in an 8-2 Harlan run to close the period and give Harlan a 16-11 lead.
Led by two baskets from 6-2 junior forward Tyra McNeil, the Lady Panthers closed the second quarter with an 8-3 run to take a 27-26 lead at the break.
Knox Central led by four late in the third quarter before Harlan turned the momentum with its press. Bianchi had a basket and Ledford hit a three-pointer and two free throws in a 7-0 spurt that put the Lady Dragons up 37-34 going into the fourth period.
Both teams struggled offensively in the fourth quarter with each having only one field goal in the opening four minutes. Ledford's two free throws put Harlan up 41-36 with 3:51 left before Mills brought Knox Central back.
With the season at its midpoint, the Lady Panthers are 9-6 and on pace for the same record as a year ago when they finished 18-12 and won the 51st District championship.
“We have progressed each week, and we’re getting better,” Mills said. “We want to be in a position to win every game, and we're learning to do that. We're learning to play better defensively. We've come miles since the beginning of the year, but we still have miles to go.”
KNOX CENTRAL (9-6)
Cassie Shippy 3-10 0-0 8, Jenna Mills 9-22 5-8 24, Justice Lacefield 0-0 0-0 0, Kendra Hubbard 1-2 0-0 2, Megan Carnes 3-5 0-0 6, Tyra McNeil 2-2 3-4 7, Taylor Patterson 0-2 0-0 0, Cassie Hale 1-3 0-0 3, Robin Davis 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 19-47 8-12 50.
Jordan Brock 3-12 4-4 10, Jourdan Ledford 6-15 4-4 18, Torri Mitchell 2-9 0-1 5, Masie Charles 0-4 0-0 0, Emma Bianchi 5-9 2-2 12, Kelly Cox 0-2 0-0 0, Shanae Thomas 0-1 0-0 0, Kaitlin Jenkins 1-2 2-2 4, Katie King 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 17-54 12-13 49.