From Staff Reports
The Unicoi County High School girls basketball team (9-5, 3-1) stayed in the hunt for a Three Rivers Conference championship with a victory over Sullivan East on Friday, Jan. 5.
Playing before their home crowd in Erwin, the Lady Devils locked down on defense, particularly in the first half, as a 9-4 lead at the end of the first quarter ballooned to a 29-12 lead at halftime.
“Our defensive intensity was good early in the game,” Lady Devil head coach Kerri King said. “On offense, because they were trying to take Halie (Padgett) away, we were patient and Halie used offensive rebounds to keep herself in play. I feel like all the girls were composed and let the game come to them and didn’t force things inside to Halie when they were taking that away.”
Padgett scored 13 points in the first half. Kaylee Hendrickson and Chloe Powers each hit 2 three-pointers.
The Lady Devils have occasionally struggled in the third quarter during games this season and that was the case against East on Friday – at least for the early minutes of the quarter.
The Lady Patriots opened the quarter with a 5-0 run in the first four minutes to trail by only 12 points, 29-17. The run ended thanks to 9 unanswered points by Padgett – a stretch during which she scored the 1,000th point of her career.
“I am very proud of Halie and happy for her that she reached this milestone,” King said. “I knew she would and that it would just be a matter of time. It’s a great accomplishment, especially when you think about how many games she had to miss due to injuries.”
The Lady Devils took a 38-19 lead into the final frame, but the Lady Patriots would not go quietly.
“They kept pressing us and we handled it well at first. Then, they turned us over some because we didn’t do a good job reacting to it,” King said. “When you’re playing with as big a lead as we had, as much as you don’t want to let up in intensity that is going to happen.”
East cut the lead to 13 points, 44-31, with four minutes to play. The Lady Devils then closed the game on a 6-3 run, thanks to baskets by Padgett and Hendrickson and free throws by Kaitlin Bailey, to win the game, 50-36.
“The difference in that game from other games in the past is that they made a run on us, we stopped it and we answered it,” King said. “That shows growth by our players.”
The win kept the Lady Devils tied for the top spot in the league with Sullivan Central (3-1) and Sullivan South (2-1). The ladies’ only conference loss came at the hands of South’s Lady Rebels in December.
As of The Erwin Record’s press deadline, rounding out the standings were Johnson County at 1-2, Sullivan East at 1-2 and Happy Valley at 0-2.
There are no unbeaten teams in the league, which comes as no surprise to King.
“We knew going into the season that there would be a lot of parity in the conference,” King said. “Any team can beat anyone else every night.”
Padgett had a double-double with 26 points and 16 rebounds. Hendrickson scored 8 and had 4 rebounds, 4 steals and 3 assists. Powers scored 8. Kenedy King scored 4 and had 6 rebounds and 3 steals. Bailey scored 4 and had 9 rebounds.
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A lackluster effort led to a 52-37 loss to Science Hill on Tuesday, Jan. 2, in Erwin.
“We played with complacency from the start,” King said. “They didn’t blow us out, but their lead stayed anywhere from 8 to 15 points the majority of the game. That didn’t put us into a place of giving up, but we never played with any more urgency.”
After trailing by 15 points, 29-14, at halftime, the Lady Devils played even basketball with the Lady Hilltoppers in the second half.
“We had plenty of opportunities to capitalize on turnovers we forced, but we didn’t,” King said. “We cut it to 10 in the second half, but still didn’t play with any urgency.”
Padgett scored 12. Powers and Bailey each had 6. Ashtan Vance and Hendrickson each scored 4.
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The Lady Devils faced Elizabethton on Tuesday, Jan. 9, following The Erwin Record’s press deadline. They are scheduled to travel to Sullivan Central on Friday, Jan. 12, and to Hampton on Monday, Jan. 15. The junior varsity team will take the court at 3:30 p.m. each day; the varsity squad will play at 6:30 p.m.