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17TH DISTRICT GIRLS' BASKETBALL: North Hardin aware John Hardin is quite capable (02/21)

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By Nathaniel Bryan

The early game tonight at Ron Bevars Gymnasium appears to be a formality. The nightcap looks like anything but.

When the second-seeded North Hardin Lady Trojans (23-6) take on the third-seeded John Hardin Lady Bulldogs (22-7) in today’s 8 p.m. semifinal of the Girls’ 17th District Basketball Tournament, there is history on the line for both teams.

North Hardin, which swept the teams’ regular-season meetings, is shooting for a record seventh consecutive berth in next week’s 5th Region Tournament at Hart County. John Hardin, meanwhile, is shooting for its first.

“Hopefully, we never go into a game thinking we don’t have the chance to win,” John Hardin coach Bryan Todd said of his team’s lack of postseason success. “Hopefully, everyone thinks we can win.”

Although his team has both home-court advantage and history on its side, North Hardin coach Chris Corder is uneasy.

“Yeah, I’m a little bit nervous,” Corder said Wednesday night. “Any time your season can end after a game, if you’re not a little nervous, something’s wrong with you.”

North Hardin didn’t do much wrong against John Hardin in the regular season, winning 59-48 at the Dawg Pound on Dec. 14 behind 24 points and 20 rebounds from senior forward Chanel Roberts. The Lady Trojans won again Feb. 1, 64-42 as Roberts had 32 points and 14 rebounds and senior forward Brianna Edmunds added seven points and eight rebounds.

However, North Hardin has lost to John Hardin before – last year in the regular season, in fact. And with many of those players still playing for the Lady Bulldogs, Corder has told his team that the past is just that.

“They’re very talented,” Corder said of the Lady Bulldogs. “The thing I told the kids at the end of practice today about those two regular-season games is they mean nothing now.”

For John Hardin, maybe the last four games mean nothing now, either. Since its last meeting with North Hardin, John Hardin ended the regular season by reeling off wins against Caverna, Louisville Holy Cross, Bardstown Bethlehem and Trimble County.

“We’ve won the last four games and we’re pleased with that,” Todd said. “And we’re pleased with that. But it doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the regular season game or the last four games because it’s all about this game.”

With center Jenna Spencer out for the year with an injury, North Hardin doesn’t have a player with the experience or physical prowess of John Hardin senior center Michelle Montgomery (14.2 points, 9.3 rebounds per game).

A key for the Lady Trojans tonight will be handling Montgomery down low.

“Obviously Montgomery poses a task for us because we’re small,” Corder said. “We’ve done a decent job on her, but you have to be aware of where she is.”

Montgomery also has a solid supporting cast in junior forward Zacchea Small (11.3, 7.8), junior guard Nawdya Fletcher (10.2, 4.2), junior guard Tajah Haley (9.5, 2.6) and freshman guard Tyra Jackson (7.8, 2.2). Not many teams in the region and perhaps even the 200-plus team state have five starters averaging more than 7.5 points per game.

“They have everything you want in a good team. They have size, they’re athletic and they have a couple of good guards,” Corder said. “Like I said, they’re very talented.”

Although the teams are very familiar with each other – this is their 10th meeting in four seasons – Corder said he won’t have a lot of surprises for Todd and his Lady Bulldogs, who have set a single-season school record for wins.

“We play the way we play and we’re not going to trick you,” Corder said. “Bryan has enough of our films to know what we’re going to do. You’re still going to come out and give your best. As far as holding stuff back, we don’t operate that way.”

When it comes to tonight’s opening game at 6 between the top-seeded Elizabethtown Lady Panthers (20-7) and the fourth-seeded Central Hardin Lady Bruins (6-22), it might not matter how much film Central Hardin has on Elizabethtown. And it’s doubtful the Lady Panthers have held anything back against the Lady Bruins.

A pairing of Elizabethtown and Central Hardin was considered by some to be the region’s premier rivalry in the 1990s. Now it has lost its luster since Elizabethtown, the district tournament’s seven-time defending champion, is facing a Lady Bruin squad mired in its worst two-season stretch in the program’s proud history.

Never mind the fact Elizabethtown breezed to a 68-11 win over the Lady Bruins on Dec. 14 at Charlie Rawlings Memorial Gymnasium before rolling to a 63-18 win Jan. 3 at Bruin Gym.

“Really at this time of year, you have to respect everybody because it’s a lose-and-go-home game,” said Elizabethtown coach Tim Mudd. “You’ve got to come out ready to play. That’s always been the message I’ve tried to send. This time of year, you look at the next game and not down the road. So we have to win tomorrow night.”

Mudd said he hasn’t differentiated practices entering this postseason. He’s staying with what has worked in the past.

“We’re just trying to stay sharp. We’ve shot a lot. We’ve shot a lot of free throws as well. Everything we’ve usually done,” he said. “We don’t go up and down a whole lot this time of year. We want to keep their legs fresh.”

Nathaniel Bryancan be reached at (270) 505-1758 or nbryan@thenewsenterprise.com.