Trevor Hensley drives through the paint on his way to the goal against Elizabethton. The Blue Devils won the game, 62-58. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

From Staff Reports

Despite a loss in Three Rivers Conference play last week, the Unicoi County High School boys basketball team clinched at least a share of the conference title.

The Blue Devils (16-10, 9-2) lost on the road to the Sullivan East Patriots on Tuesday, Jan. 30, then bounced back with a home victory over the Elizabethton Cyclones on Friday, Feb. 2.

Against the Patriots, UCHS played without head coach Michael Smith who missed the game due to illness.

“I hated having to miss that game,” Smith said. “But, it was best for the team for me not to be there. I definitely didn’t want any of the guys to get sick.”

With senior guard Trevor Hensley on the bench due to foul trouble in the first half at East, senior post Troy Podvin stepped up and scored 19 first half points to lift his team to a 38-29 lead. The Blue Devils also played solid defense in the first half and kept East’s offense in check. The second half, however, would be a different story.

The Patriots went on a 15-4 run to take a 44-42 lead with three minutes to play in the third. Following a timeout by Ben Evely, who was coaching the team in Smith’s place, the Blue Devils went on a 7-0 run thanks to 3 points by freshman Brock Thompson and 4 by Hensley to take a 49-44 lead.

East then closed the quarter on a 10-5 run to tie the game at 54 going into the fourth. By that time, the Patriots’ offense had found its groove and at the halfway point of the quarter, East led 68-61.

Hensley then hit a three-pointer and junior Brett Strother scored to cut the lead to 2 points, 68-66. The Patriots then responded with three-pointer for a 71-66 advantage.

Junior Danny Lowery then hit a free throw for UCHS before East scored again. Trailing 73-67, the Blue Devils made another push thanks to free throws by Hensley and a bucket by Lowery for a 73-71 deficit with 50 seconds to play.

UCHS had to foul the Patriots down the stretch and East made free throws to hang on for the 80-75 victory.

“After watching the film, I thought we played well in stretches,” Smith said. “We didn’t do a good enough job defensively in the second half and that really hurt us.”

Podvin scored 21 points and had 9 rebounds in the loss. Thompson also scored 21 and had 8 rebounds. Hensley scored 17 and had 6 rebounds. Lowery scored 5. Strother scored 5. Junior Gavin Casey scored 4. Sophomore Brett Lingerfelt scored 2.

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With their 62-58 victory over Elizabethton, the Blue Devils secured at least a share of the conference title.

“I was very excited to get the win and to clinch that,” Smith said. “I thought it was a good game. Elizabethton came to play. They gave us their best shot to get the win.”

After trailing 28-26 at halftime, the Blue Devils scrapped their way back into the lead in the third quarter and held on to get the victory in the fourth.

Hensley scored 22 points and had 4 rebounds. Podvin scored 18 and had 8 rebounds. Thompson scored 13. Lingerfelt scored 3. Casey, Strother and Lowery scored 2 points each.

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The Blue Devils hosted Sullivan Central on Tuesday, Feb. 6, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline. With a victory, the team clinched the Three Rivers Conference championship and the top seed in next week’s District 1-AA tournament to be played at Elizabethton.

If UCHS lost to Central, the results of games being played by East and Johnson County this week will determine if the Blue Devils will share the conference crown and what their seed will be in the tournament.

As of the press deadline, UCHS was in the top spot with a record of 9-2. The remaining standings were: Sullivan East at 7-3; Johnson County at 6-3; Sullivan South at 4-4; Elizabethton at 4-6; Sullivan Central at 4-6; and Happy Valley at 0-9.

The Blue Devils are scheduled to travel to David Crockett to face the Pioneers in non-conference action on Thursday, Feb. 8. The junior varsity team is scheduled to play at 6:30 p.m. and the varsity is scheduled to play at 8 p.m.

UCHS will wrap up the regular season against non-conference foe Cloudland in Erwin on Saturday, Feb. 10. The junior varsity team will play at 5 p.m. and the varsity will play at 8 p.m. The program will recognize its senior players on Saturday.