By Les Dixon
HARLAN COUNTY — Whitley County’s quest to win the 13th Region championship for the first time since winning it all in 1985 fell short Saturday with a disappointing 65-56 loss to Bell County.
The Lady Colonels (20-11) couldn’t overcome a slow start, as the Lady Bobcats’ Maci Morris scored 34 points and pulled down 11 rebounds while shooting a perfect 16-of-16 from the free-throw line during the win.
Whitley County head coach Larry Anderson, who is stepping down after 26 years as Lady Colonel coach, said he began to worry on Friday that his team might be in some trouble.
“I saw it yesterday in practice,” he admitted. “We just didn’t have it in practice. We stopped practice after about five minutes and talked about it — them not having the excitement when we came up here on Tuesday having to play Clay County. I don’t know if coming back from a big emotional win was hard to bring us back in.
“I told the coaches before the game we weren’t ready,” he added. “We didn’t have the excitement — we just weren’t ready. You’ve got to bring the excitement to every game in the region tournament and we just didn’t have it.”
Even with the slow start, Whitley County put up a fight.
The Lady Colonels trailed 22-13 after the first quarter and 35-24 at halftime on nine-of-27 shooting from the floor, but they forced 11 turnovers in the third quarter and cut their deficit to three points (43-40) going into the final quarter of play.
“We were able to get back in the game and we had some chances, but we just missed two many free throws late and they made theirs,” Anderson said.
After two free throws by Brandi Smith made the score 43-42, the Lady Bobcats took control of the game from free-throw line. Bell County hit 18-of-22 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter alone and 28-of-32 for the game.
Whitley County on the other hand struggled.
The Lady Colonels misfired on eight-of-15 free throw attempts in the game’s final eight minutes and went 16-of-25 for the game.
“See that’s just not us,” Anderson said. “It’s just one of those things.”
Whitley County also struggled from three-point range, shooting only three-of-20 for 15 percent.
“We had the same thing happen to us in the region last year (against North Laurel),” Anderson said. “We shot four-of-24 and lost. The problem when you live by the three, you die by it.
“We did a good job fighting back,” he added. “This is hard on being my last game, but the kids have given me so much. It’s odd to think I won’t be coaching next year. I’ll sit back and weigh my options. Some other opportunities have been offered, but I’ll don’t have to do anything right now and I don’t feel bad doing that.”
13th Region Girls Tournament at Harlan County High School
Bell County 65,
Whitley County 56
Whitley County 13 11 16 16 56
Bell County 22 13 8 22 65
Whitley County (56) — Powers 9, Smith 26, Johnson 12, Craig 7, Jones 2.
Bell County (65) — Morris 34, Sanders 15, Garnett 6, Smith 5, Johnson 1, Collins 4.