After nearly twenty-five years of tournament action, The Harlan Green Dragons became the first Boys’ Basketball team in Harlan County history to bring home a Championship trophy.
The Green Dragons arrived at Perry County Central on Tuesday and spent the next several days sending a very clear message to the rest of the region. Ranked 9th in the WYMT Mountain Top Ten, Harlan notched wins over four of the teams on the list while capturing their first WYMT Classic Championship. With their win Saturday, the Green Dragons remain undefeated improving to 5-0 on the season.
After hanging on for a one-point victory over Hazard in the opening round, the Dragons put on one of the most dominating performances in the last decade cruising to a 19-point victory over Breathitt County. The win set up a championship matchup with Perry County who defeated the Black Bears of Harlan County on a last-second buzzer-beater during the semifinal nightcap.
Harlan jumped out to an early lead behind a balanced attack that saw four Green Dragons find the scoring column. Junior, Kyler McClendon had a pair of three-pointers while Will Austin and Jaedyn Gist were aggressive in the paint. Austin would pick up his second foul late in the quarter before heading to the bench until second-half action. Perry County would connect on four three-pointers while taking a two-point lead, 20-18, to end the 1st quarter.
The Commodores would look to stretch their lead while Austin was on the bench, but the aggressive play of Matthew Pennington around the basket would help limit the scoring of Commodore big man Dylan Knight to one field goal. Kaleb McClendon connected on two long-range three-pointers to help the Dragons stay within striking distance. Perry would take a six-point advantage into the locker room leading 38-32.
The Dragons turned up the heat in the second half feeding off the dynamic duo of eighth grader Trenton Cole and freshman Dylan Cox who took turns guarding Commodore point guard Ridge Beverly. Beverly connected on three three-point goals in the 1st half. Cole and Cox would limit Beverly to zero field goals for the final two frames. Cox earned the WYMT Sixth-Man Award for his stellar efforts on the night. Senior Jaedyn Gist, the regions most underrated player, went to work attacking the basket scoring six points while Cox and Kaleb McClendon drained momentum swinging three-pointers to help the Green Dragons take the lead 45-43 to end the third quarter. The Commodores were limited to two field goals in the third period.
With a heavy dose of grit, confidence, and determination the Green Dragons connected on four of four from the free throw line down the stretch to keep the game out of reach. As they had done the night before, the Dragons protected the ball and attacked the basket late in the game to find wide-open looks from behind the arc. With five players that can knock down long-range shots, it was Kaleb McClendon who hit them when it mattered the most, nailing long balls from both corners on his way to scoring a game-high 23 points and capturing the tournament’s most valuable player award. Austin, Gist, and Kyler McClendon would all add buckets in the final frame before the Dragons won with a final score of 66-56.
The Dragons will return to action on Tuesday as they travel to 15th Region power and defending All-A State Champions Pikeville.
Gist, Austin, and Kaleb McClendon were all named to the All-Tournament Team.
Scoring: Harlan -Kyler McClendon 10, Austin 11, Kaleb McClendon 23, Cole 2, Gist 15, Pennington 2
Perry-Beverly 11, Sean 15, Day 11, Knight 8, Woods 11.