Halie Padgett (#20) goes up for a shot while teammate Rachel Lynch goes for a rebound against Signal Mountain. (Photo contributed by Melissa Griffith)

From Staff Reports

A holiday tournament three hours from home has helped prepare the Unicoi County High School girls basketball team (10-5, 2-1) to compete in the Three Rivers Conference.

“We played some good teams,” Lady Devil head coach Kerri King said of the Cleveland Holiday Classic Powered by Under Armour hosted by Cleveland High School last week. “Our team was put in situations that helped us gain needed experience as we go into the busiest and most important part of the season.”

The tournament also gave the ladies experience playing with a lead against competitive teams. The team has taken leads into halftime on several occasions, only to see that lead disappear in the third quarter.

“I think any time you play teams you haven’t played before and don’t know anything about makes adjustments important,” King said. “I feel like we have done a good job this season of being intense early in games and taking a lead into halftime. But, adjustments after halftime – in the third quarter – have been a struggle for us. So, maybe if we’re seeing the game fresh and new and have to make adjustments on the fly that will become more second nature to us. We have struggled doing that at times this season.”

The Lady Devils opened the tournament, which they also played in during 2016, against Signal Mountain (7-10) on Wednesday, Dec. 27, and found themselves up 15-5 with less than one minute to play in the quarter. Signal Mountain then went on an 8-0 run, which extended into the second quarter, before senior post Halie Padgett drained a three-pointer for a score of 18-13 in favor of UCHS.

This sparked an 8-0 run by the lady Devils on 6 points by Padgett and 2 by sophomore Kaitlin Bailey to give UCHS a 26-18 lead with less than 3 minutes to play in the half. The teams traded baskets during the final minutes and the Lady Devils led 28-20 at the break.

UCHS would not make a basket from the field in the third quarter which allowed Signal Mountain to take control of the game and a 39-36 lead going into the final quarter.

“We had intensity early,” King said. “We were executing and doing a good job. After halftime, they made a run and made shots. We didn’t react to it like we should have.”

The Lady Devils slowly chipped away at Signal Mountain’s advantage in the final quarter; however, the UCHS team could not get stops on the defensive end when they needed them most.

“We tried to come back late in the game, but our intensity was half-hearted at that time and we didn’t have success because of that,” King said.

Signal Mountain held on to win the game, 53-49.

Padgett led the Lady Devils with 30 points, 9 rebounds and 3 steals. Bailey scored 9 points and had 9 rebounds. Ashtan Vance scored 4 points and had 5 rebounds. Chloe Powers scored 3 points. Kenedy King scored 2 points and Kaylee Hendrickson scored 1.

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Following the loss on Dec. 27, King’s Lady Devils bounced back with two blowout victories. On Thursday, Dec. 28, the team took a 5-point lead at the end of the first quarter and expanded it to a 59-34 victory over Sequoyah (2-8).

“That was a game that potentially could have gone either way for us – but, because we responded well to what we did the day before we put that game out of reach for them,” King said. “It was a good thing to see the players responded to what we had talked about the day before.”

Padgett again led the team in scoring – this time with 25 points to go along with 10 rebounds.

Hendrickson scored 13 to go along with 5 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals. Bailey scored 9 and had 7 rebounds and 4 assists. Powers scored 8. Rachel Lynch, King and Vance each scored 2.

The Lady Devils earned a comfortable blowout victory over Watertown (3-13) on Friday, Dec. 29.

“Against Watertown we were subbing freely and frequently throughout the game,” King said. “Every player came in and gave us good minutes – everybody contributed.”

UCHS won the game 51-22.

Padgett scored 20 and had 6 rebounds and 3 steals. Vance scored 10 points to go along with 4 rebounds and 3 steals. Bailey scored 8 with 6 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 assists. Powers scored 5 with 6 rebounds and 2 steals. Kaylia Street and Allee Griffith scored 3 points each. Hendrickson scored 2 and had 3 rebounds and 3 assists.

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The Lady Devils hosted Science Hill in non-conference action on Tuesday, Jan. 2, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue.

The team will host Sullivan East on Friday, Jan. 5, and travel to Elizabethton for Three Rivers Conference games. The junior varsity squad will play each day at 3:30 p.m.; the varsity team will play at 6:30 p.m.

“We have played a tough non-conference schedule,” King said. “I really believe that has prepared us to compete against the teams in our conference. We have to treat every conference game with importance. If we can do that, then we will put ourselves in a better position than other teams.”