Harlan Co., Corbin meet for the 13th region championship

March 11, 2024

“No Respect.” Those are the words of Harlan County Coach Kyle Jones after his team's come-from-behind win over Clay County in the semi-finals of the 13th region tournament Saturday.

Some say that was the real championship game. It may have been.

But come Monday night, a new champion will be crowned between Jones’ Black Bears and the Corbin Redhounds.

Can anybody stop Harlan’s, Trent Noah? Clay County couldn’t, as he hung 43 points on the Tigers and singlehandedly (almost) carried his team to victory.

Corbin enters the championship contest, the benefactors of one of the most controversial games in recent memory. They beat a pesky Knox Central team to advance, one that saw their top three scorers all saddled with three or more fouls in the first half. Panther star center Gavin Chadwell had four in the first quarter alone.

Many questions surround this game. Can Noah lead his team to victory again? Can Corbin mimic South Laurel's game plan and slow him down? Will the Redhounds be the benefactors again of the whistle?

Can the Harlan County coach keep his emotions in check, or does this play to the advantage of the Redhound’s Tony Pietrowski, a stoic icon of 13th region basketball?

This championship game has more questions than a book of riddles.

The two teams met in Corbin on January 5th, and Harlan escaped with a 59-53 win. The Redhounds know they can compete, and nobody, other than their fanbase, is giving them a chance to win this game.

Some say Corbin is lucky to be in this position, but many forget the Redhounds were predicted as the number two preseason-rated team. Does this leave the Corbin players with a chip on their shoulder? Of course, it does. They have pride, and they’re going to give 110% to prove the naysayers wrong.

They’re the ones not feeling any respect.

Flip the page to Harlan County, a team that hasn’t lost a game to a 13th-region opponent in all year. The same team that had to overcome an excellent South Laurel team then met Clay County, coached by their former coach, Michael Jones. Emotions ran high throughout that game as the brother was coaching against brother.

After a regular season loss to Pikeville, Coach Jones says his team has been disrespected.

That leaves two coaches, two teams, and two fan bases with a chip on their shoulders, which always makes March Madness just a little more special.

Strange things happen in March. Basketball is like the weather; you never know what you’ll get daily.

Can the Black Bears reach down and find that same intensity for a third straight game against a Redhounds team that nobody thinks can win?

One could almost describe this game as a David vs. Goliath, but we aren’t. Corbin is far from David, and Harlan County isn’t a Goliath.

This is Harlan County, featuring Mr. Basketball candidate Trent Noah going against a blue-blood program of the 13th Region, the Corbin Redhounds.

For the last two years, Reed Sheppard and the North Laurel Jaguars have not given their opponents much of a chance to win. That’s not the case this year.

When the ball tips around 7:30 p.m. following the most extended pre-game introduction in high school sports history, it will be the Black Bears from Harlan County, a mountainous community founded by immigrant workers that came to mine coal for U.S. Steel vs. the big-industry, railroad-based community of Corbin—one of the top-rated school systems and communities in the state of Kentucky.

This is going to be fun!