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The brackets are set, and now let the games begin.
The 13th Region Girls Basketball Tournament draw was held Saturday at The Arena, and one thing is for certain — Derrick Akal's Harlan County Lady Green Dragons will enter as the favorite to cut down the nets Saturday night.
The Lady Green Dragons sport the best overall record (24-4) and record against 13th Region teams (14-2) while riding a five-game win streak that includes a 75-56 win over rival Harlan County during this past Friday’s 52nd District championship, and is led by junior guard Jordan Brock, who is averaging 20 points a game.
His team might be considered the favorite, but Akal is quick to point out his team isn’t overlooking anyone.
“To be honest, I believe any team that has made it this far has a chance,” he said. “Believe me, we’re not going to overlook anyone. We are taking things one game at a time. We’ve made it to the region title game before as a runner-up, so we know anything can happen.
“I do like our chances, but I’m sure the other coaches like their chances, too,” he added. “The big thing for us is to take things one game at a time, and handle the task at hand.”
Even though Akal won’t come out and say his team is the region favorite, some other coaches will.
“I think you’ve got a lot of teams that could say they have a very good chance,” Harlan County coach Debbie Green said. “I believe we are one of those teams, but Harlan is right there. North Laurel has a very good team, too. This is going to be a good tournament. We just need to go out there, and play like we know we can.”
Green’s Lady Black Bears (21-8) are one of two teams (Bell County was the other) that defeated the Lady Green Dragons this season, so it can be done.
“We are a good team, but they’re still things we need to improve on,” Green said. “It’s here now, so we’ve got to be ready to play.”
One team that’s been high on the region radar the entire season is Eddie Mahan’s North Laurel Lady Jaguars (22-9 overall, 14-2 against 13th Region opponents).
The Lady Jaguars were riding high late in the season by putting together an impressive 14-game win streak, but they faltered down the stretch, going 3-3 during their last six games, including a 59-56 loss to Clay County in the 49th District title game.
“To lose that game is tough,” Mahan said. “To be up by three points with 20 seconds to go and think you’ve got the win wrapped up to only lose in overtime, it’s tough,” Mahan said. “So yeah, we’ve got to take a step back, and get ready for what’s ahead.
“Do I like our chances? Yes, I do,” he added. “But we’ve got to come ready to play, and be able to score on offense and play defense. We’ve got the talent to make a run, but we’ve got to be able to put it together.”
Another team to keep an eye on is Ivy Burchell’s Clay County Lady Tigers (16-13, 12-6). After enduring a four-game losing skid in late January, Clay County is 8-1 since, including wins over Knox Central, Corbin and North Laurel.
“I don’t think we are a favorite, but we are a team that can make some noise,” Burchell said. “There are times that we have played really good, and they’re times we haven’t. I thought we answered the bell against North Laurel late in the game, but at times this season, we’ve not been able to do that.
“Harlan has to be considered the favorite, and then probably Harlan County and North Laurel,” he added. “But if we can play like we have been, we might be able to surprise.”
South Laurel (15-16, 6-10), Pineville (22-7, 14-7) and Knox Central (9-15, 9-7) will also try to sneak up and make some noise, too.
“It’s not going to be easy, but I do like the way we have been playing,” South Laurel coach Troy Lee Thomas said. “We need to worry about Pineville first, and see what we can do from there on.”
The Lady Mountain Lions’ 22 wins rank second in the 13th Region, and they also captured the 51st District crown this past Friday, and they’ll get a chance to show everyone their play so far hasn't been a fluke.
“I don't believe a lot of people know much about our team, but we’re excited to be here, and we’re excited to see if we can make some noise,” Pineville coach Jamie Mills said.
51st District runner-up Knox Central is hoping to shock the region when the Lady Panthers face-off against Harlan in opening round action.
“It’s not going to be easy, but you’ve got to play them sometime in the tournament,” Lady Panther coach Wendi Messer said. “We’ve got to play better than we have been, and we’ve got to make the plays, and see what happens.”
Corbin and North Laurel will tip the tournament off today at 6:30 p.m. while Harlan and Knox Central will follow at 8 p.m.. The Lady Jaguars handed the Lady Redhounds a 63-50 loss on Feb. 8, as Kayla Bruner scored a game-high 33 points. This will mark he first meeting between the Lady Green Dragons and Lady Panthers this season.
Clay County and Harlan County will open things up Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. while Pineville and South Laurel will follow at 8 p.m.
The Lady Black Bears opened the season with a 54-32 win over the Lady Tigers, as Blair Green led the way with 18 points, while the Lady Mountain Lions and Lady Cardinals haven’t played each other this season.