By Les Dixon
BARBOURVILLE — Clinging to a 26-25 lead at halftime, Barbourville coach Andrea Hillard stressed to her team in the locker room that if the Lady Tigers were going to beat Pineville, they must play better defense — her players must have listened.
Barbourville turned in one of its best defensive efforts of the season during the second half, holding the Lady Mountain Lions without a field goal during the game for 12 minutes, as Pineville’s first basket since the 4:05 mark of the third quarter came with five seconds remaining in the game, but the damage had already been done.
“That was a big part of the game,” Hillard said. “I told the girls we were going to have to play better defense and they did just that. I’m really proud of them.”
The Erslan twins also stepped up when needed most.
The Lady Tigers (20-10) were clinging to a 38-35 lead to begin the fourth quarter and that’s when Kayla and Kelsey Erslan took over.
The Barbourville duo combined to score the Lady Tigers first 12 points of the period, as Hillard’s squad raced out to a 50-37 lead and never looked back.
“They did a fantastic job for us when we needed them to,” she said. “The girls realize that we need to get them the ball, but they also look for the open player and get the ball back to their teammates — this was definitely a team win.
“I’m just glad to be able to get this win and now know we’re going to play in the region tournament,” Hillard added. “Of course you want to win a district championship, but you want to be able to secure a spot in the region first and we were able to do that tonight.”
It didn’t look as if the Lady Tigers were going to have an easy time advancing to the 51st District title game early on. After taking a 13-9 lead into the second quarter, Barbourville fell behind 25-21 with 2:39 remaining in the first half before closing out the period with a 5-0 run.
That was big,” Hillard said. “We were able to regain the lead and that was really big for our girls.”
Pineville managed to tie the game at 34 apiece with 4:05 remaining, but Kelsey Erslan scored four straight points to get her team a 38-35 edge heading into the final quarter of play.
That’s when the Lady Tigers took over. Led by the Erslan twins along with a basket by Kalan Liford, Barbourville managed to pull away and grab the 13-point win.
Pineville connected on only one-of-12 shot attempts during the fourth quarter and finished the game connecting on 15-of-48 from the floor.
Hillard’s squad finished the game hitting 21-of-44 shot attempts while turning in an 11-of-20 effort from the free-throw line.
Barbourville will now play Lynn Camp in the 51st District finals Friday. The two teams played three times so far this season with the Lady Tigers winning twice, including a 61-57 decision on Jan. 24.
51st District Girls Tournament
at Barbourville High School
Barbourville 54, Pineville 41
Pineville 9 16 10 6 41
Barbourville 13 13 12 16 54
Pineville (41) — Washington 14, Adams 10, Enix 5, Mullins 5, Gambrell 5, Barnes 2.
Barbourville (54) — Ka. Erslan 19, Ke. Erslan 14, Mills 11, Hicks 4, Liford 4, Bunch 2.