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After his team wasted a good start Monday night in a loss at 5th Region rival LaRue County, John Hardin coach Bryan Todd was hoping his Lady Bulldogs wouldn’t let the same thing happen as they returned to the court to face 17th District rival Central Hardin in a rare Thursday night homecoming game in Radcliff.
Powered by powerful senior Michelle Montgomery, the Lady Bulldogs didn’t stumble out of the gate again.
John Hardin’s 6-foot-2 center used her size advantage to impose her will on the smaller Lady Bruins, hitting four of her first five shots en route to a game-high 29 points as the Lady Bulldogs pulled away, 67-41.
“We needed to get off to a good start and Michelle made sure we got off to a good start, although Central Hardin really seemed to settle down after that,” said Todd, whose team completed its second straight regular-season sweep of Central Hardin. “She might have been the most ready to play out of anybody.”
But even Montgomery had to admit the Lady Bulldogs (16-4, 4-2 district) might not have been as ready as the Lady Bruins (1-14, 0-5). A pair of free throws from reserve sophomore wing Da’Inara White pushed John Hardin’s lead to 13 points late in the first quarter, but Central Hardin kept the hole from growing any larger until early in the third quarter.
“I thought we played hard, but Central Hardin played harder than us,” said Montgomery, who also had game highs in rebounds (nine) and blocks (seven). “That’s the truth. They really played hard.”
Especially Mariah Helton.
An eighth-grade reserve guard, Helton didn’t even score in the Lady Bruins’ 63-14 loss to John Hardin on Dec. 10. She scored 10 of her career-high 22 points in the second quarter to keep Central Hardin within breathing distance at the break, 32-21.
Without getting too descriptive, Montgomery defined Todd’s halftime pep talk as “nice.”
“It was nice. I’m not going to say he wasn’t nice, but he needed us to get going,” she said. “We needed to get yelled at and it worked. It was good coaching.”
Helton was the only Lady Bruin in double figures, although junior guard Aislynn Barnes added eight points, five rebounds and three steals.
“She’s young, but Mariah has no fear and she works as hard as she can,” said first-year Central Hardin coach Kristina Covington. “I tell all my girls to look to shoot first and pass second. When she did that, she had all sorts of open looks and she knocked them down.”
John Hardin pushed its lead to 15 for the first time at 36-21 on a layup by junior forward Zacchea Small – who finished with 15 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals – less than 2 minutes into the second half, but after Helton hit back-to-back 3s on consecutive possessions, the Lady Bruins’ deficit was down to just 37-27 with 4:51 left in the third quarter.
“I thought the effort was there and we did a lot of good things,” Covington said. “But we can’t get down like we did in the first quarter, because then you’re having to battle even harder the rest of the game.”
The Lady Bulldogs finally got comfortable after Montgomery and Small had four points each during an 11-0 run in 1:18 as John Hardin scored on five straight trips down the floor. After that, Central Hardin drew no closer than 17 points in the final 11 minutes.
“It would be easy for me to act like I was upset with my team, but give Central Hardin credit,” said Todd, whose team was without injured starting junior Nawdya Fletcher, who isn’t expected to be sidelined long with a leg injury suffered against LaRue County. “They shut down the drive and did as good of a job on Michelle as a smaller team can do on a 6-2 girl. They rebounded right with us. They were scrappy and they did what you have to do to make it a competitive game – and it was a competitive game.”
UP NEXT: John Hardin plays at North Bullitt at 6 p.m. Monday. Central Hardin hosts Fort Knox at 7:30 tonight.
Nathaniel Bryancan be reached at (270) 505-1758 or firstname.lastname@example.org.